the news of the Japanese earthquake is terrible.

US Navy Photo from StrategyPage.

But a few stories below the fold show how such disasters sometimes bring out the best in people.

BelmontClubBlog points out how the US Navy is there, assisting the Japanese Navy in areas where the infrastructure makes other ways to deliver aid difficult:

“…The US Navy, in particular, has developed ways of carting around its own airports, docks, field hospitals, communications facilities, barracks, warehouses and fuel depots… these same capabilities are superlatively effective at providing assistance when the supporting infrastructure breaks down. The USN has been doing this so routinely since World War 2 that the world often forgets how prodigious this capability is…”

They helped in Haiti, in the Philippines and of course after tsunami in Indonesia.

But of course, many countries are sending workers to help. The BBC news program last night showed some from Los Angeles arriving with the searcher dogs, and the Philippines is sending search and rescue teams, as is China. I even read a story that Mongolia was sending help. In all, 88 nations are sending help.

But the big worry in the Philippine headlines is about the meltdown of the nuclear plants, and if the radiation will sneak down here (unlikely).

The story has the Philippines in an uproar, maybe because the “green” movement is strong here in Manila and in the media.

Lately, there has been talk if the mothballed nuclear plant in Bataan should be fixed and put on line, but the story of the meltdown problems of the nuclear plants in Japan has a lot of Pinoys glad that they didn’t. You see, the plant was never opened because they discovered “too late” that the nuclear plant was built on a major fault line. Lots of money and bribery was suspected in the deal, but like most corruption stories, it’s more rumors than facts, since folks tend to get amnesia and witnesses tend to disappear in a lot of the serious corruption investigations here.

I lived through Three Mile Island, and so am not anxious about nuclear power. Yes, it’s “safe” but anything that involves humans is prone to mistakes, and it only takes one Homer Simpson type to endanger up Harrisburg or Detroit.

On the other hand, every other method of generating electricity has it’s “downside” too.

Instapundit pointed out:

… reader James White comments: “There’s no question the conventional wisdom is this will probably kill nuclear power off for the foreseeable future. The question is, is that true? If we can build containment vessels that hold despite an 8.9 quake, tsunamis, and multiple hydrogen explosions, maybe nukes are the way to go after all.”

another points out that a tsunami destroying a solar energy complex would result in the ocean contaminated with toxic metals.

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The Philippines, of course, is earthquake prone, and we have minor ones all the time.
The last “big one” was the 1990 earthquake (level 7.8) that hit Baguio. A hotel there collapsed, and one school in nearby Cabanatuan area collapsed …indeed, almost 2000 people were killed, mostly in the mountains. Yet if you have ever seen the construction on the steep hills around Baguio, you would just thank God that so few died.

A 2004 report estimated if Manila was hit by a 7.2 earthquake, we’d have half a million damaged homes and 40 thousand dead in the quake and aftermath.

We have construction codes here, and even when we built our office/shop attachment to our home, we had to get an architect to check the plans and the city to approve it. We had to reinforce the pillars of a bedroom annex when they found it might not support the roof.

Traditional houses are raised on pillars because of flooding (and termites) but new houses tend to be concrete block with steel rods reinforcing the walls and pillars, so that in the event of an earthquake, the crumbling concrete would sag but not fall down completely.

The bad news? We follow the law. That isn’t true of everyone. Even in Haiti’s devestating earthquake, it was bad contruction as much as poverty that caused many of the deaths.

When one sees beautiful modern cities, one forgets that they often aren’t made to the highest building codes, even when there are building codes on the books. Man contributes to the devestation by mistakes, carelessness, and because someone cut corners in building or bribed an official to look the other way.

A lot of those drowned in Manila during Typhoon Ondoy died because someone allowed houses to be built in a flood prone area. Others died because drainage was blocked by garbage (due to littering but also due to lack of garbage cleanup). In Laguna, the area’s drainage was blocked by illegal fishponds. Others died because of misjudgement: They released water from irrigation dams north of Manila to save us from floods and prevent dam breakage, but the timing of the release made the floods in Manila worse.

The Sichuan earthquake caused a major scandal in China because the schools collapsed.Yes, there were earthquake codes, but corruption allowed authorities to look the other way when shoddy construction was done. The 2003 earthquake in Bam Iran also had many lives lost for the same reason.Dr. Ebtekar remembers the Bam earthquake in Iran, and she is worried what would happen if it hit Tehran where she now serves on the city council, since that city also has many buildings not built to withstand tremors.

Thanks to the strict building codes of Japan, but also thanks to the strict moral code of Japan,  few Japanese died in such a huge earthquake. Yes, I know, ten thousand may have died: but it could have been hundreds of thousands.

But there is the ugly side of disasters: It brings out the “Job’s comforters” who  blame the victim for their sufferings. The papers will quote so called religious who will find in the earthquakes the judgement of a wrathful god (or in the case of environmentalists, an angry Gaia). Yet the irony is that those who suffer are often not the ones who live sinful lives, or even the ones who took bribes or did shoddy work that contributed to the death toll. For such men I hope there is a hell, or at least they spend a long time in purgatory to make up for the suffering they themselves caused.

But the good news is that religions point out that we ourselves are the “hands of God” bringing comfort and food and assistance to those in need.

And one can see this goodness in the huge outpouring of donations and help for those suffering in Japan.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. she blogs at Finest Kind clinic and fishmarket.

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