12 January 2010

The hardest part

When you're the one looking at "what went wrong?" in a situation, you really need to focus on the facts at hand. Did the person die because a pharmaceutical company did something wrong, or was it the family's negligence in caring for the person that caused the death? Did the kid get cancer because of an exposure to a toxic chemical, or because there was a genetic predisposition in that family, demonstrated by the three other relatives with the same cancer? Did people die in a landslide because someone overwatered or illegally graded a slope, or was it simply bad luck?

What you don't want to know? You don't want to know that the kid loved Legos and strawberry ice cream. You don't want to think about the pregnant woman buried in the mud, and you don't want to worry that she woke up when the mountain moved over her and you hope to god that she went quietly as she slept, that she never knew what hit her. You don't want to hear the man proudly proclaiming that he never met a vegetable that he ate because there's some humor there, but he's long since died and the lack of vegetables didn't help. You go home and you hug your kids at night, knowing that someone, somewhere no longer has one to hug.

You don't want to know that.

The easy stuff is the angle of repose, and how air conditioner dust is properly collected. Tracing the evidence of the blast radius with your finger on a photograph, if you can contain the thought of what the blast did to the people in the tower, of what exactly that debris you are tracing comprises. Examining video of enormous dust storms, looking at the place the fault ruptured the crust of the earth. Seeing how the buildings fell down, recognizing the trajectory of a crane's collapse.

That's the easy part.

Haiti, of all places. Of all the places that could not afford an M7 earthquake. We've already looked at the plates, and talked about the historical seismicity. We have intimate familiarity with strike-slip faults and aftershock sequences. But I can't bear to think about the human toll, the people buried under badly built structures, the newly-minted orphans and childless parents, the potential for disease yet to come, the damage and devastation in the place that could least afford it, and none of us will even begin to be able to comprehend it until the sun rises.

That's the hardest part.

Go listen to some good music: "The Hardest Part" from the album X & Y by Coldplay. It takes a toll. You try to put it away, the knowing stuff, but it takes a toll. And the toll is never really paid.

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