Thursday, August 06, 2009

the tsunamis are coming; the tsunamis are coming

"Emergency. Everybody to get from street.

"Emergency. Everybody to get from street."

With those lines, Alan Arkin, as Lt. Rozanov, attempts to create a diversion on Gloucester Island to get back to his submarine. Of course, the lines are delivered in a cheesy Slavic accent. You need to add your own Tillamook to this piece.

The movie was "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming." One of those 1960s comedies whose script was as funny as its politics were naive.

The ploy, of course, being a mere MacGuffin, did not work.

But the version visited upon Melaque on Wednesday did -- sort of.

The Mexican state of Jalisco has installed a series of 27 units to detect tsunamis on the 290 kilometers (180 miles) of its Pacific coast to give warning to fishermen and coast dwellers. That second category is near and dear to my heart -- and the rest of my body.

If unusual wave activity is detected, a recorded message is supposed to be announced on speakers prominent enough (portrayed above) to restore Winston Smith's trust in the Ministry of Truth:

This is a message from the State Civil Protection System. A seismic shock has been recorded that may cause a tsunami. We ask you to locate evacuation routes and remain alert to further messages.

Of course, that is not the message that I thought would be announced -- at least not with those words. It would be announced in Spanish, not English. Or so I thought.

On Wednesday I found out that I was half correct. The announcement is in Spanish -- then, in English.

Perhaps it is a ploy to convince Americans and Canadians that they will not be left to play extras in an Irwin Allen film if the great flood comes. There is nothing more disconcerting than sitting on your veranda watching the ocean recede while all of your Spanish-speaking neighbors are reenacting The Grapes of Wrath.

Well, there is one thing more disconcerting. Watching the receding ocean change its direction to prove that global warming is not the only way to increase tide levels.

I was on my way back to the house after a morning of Spanish lessons and vegetable shopping when I heard several chords -- as if Gabriel might be sounding the final trump.

I was wrong -- unless God had decided to announce the Second Coming with a bureaucratic warning in Spanish.

The end of days was not upon us. At least, not in reality.

The male bureaucratic voice announced in ribbon and seal tones that this was merely a test of the tsunami and cyclone (I was not aware of that additional purpose) warning system.

The test consisted of ever-escalating code colors and dire warnings. Unfortunately, none of the subsequent warnings were identified as being mere drills. They were authentic enough to cause my neighbors to ask me if we should be doing something.

I checked the streets. Some of the tourists in fact were packing up to leave the area. It was almost as if Orson Welles had been reanimated to plop Grover's Corner in Jalisco. But not quite that panicked.

At least, I feel a bit more comfortable with the warning system. Most of it appears to be well-considered -- with the obvious exception of the drills.

What no one has rehearsed is how to evacuate the 10,000 people who are shoehorned onto this narrow alluvial plain. Hills are close. But the roads are very narrow.

And I do not think I am being ethnically insensitive to point out that queuing up is not a Mexican habit.

Perhaps, I should merely hold out for one of those Russian submarines that Hollywood finds so helpful as a plot device. MacGuffin or not.


Anonymous said...

Wow. That warning must have made you a little apprehensive. It was good they announced later that it was a test. It would be good to plan an escape route, just in case.

The Russian subs aren’t nearby.. They are hanging around the east coast.


Julian in SC said...

As an old submariner from the Cold War days ('68 - '72) I thoroughly enjoyed "The Russians Are Coming - The Russians Are Coming". Turns out that it was probably more accurate than many scenarios than were put out by the Naval War College. Of course, now under Putin who knows? I agree with your Mom, they don't have the resources to bug both coasts at the same time *grin*.

Chrissy y Keith said...

I am glad they finally got them up and working. It is a big reason we sold our water front property in Troncones. We were in a pretty big earthquake in Manzanillo one time, damaged the hotel we were in. Anyway, after will lived through that, we had no way to know if we should expect a wave. It was around 11PM so the darkness made the idea of leaving not a good idea and also made it difficult to see the ocean.

Constantino said...

If that system is planned to work like other projects down here, they will do a few tests, and when the time comes all will ignore, figuring it is another test, or the system will not work because some of the speakers or parts required have been 90% of the roadside call boxes.
That's my observation,but I could be wrong.....

Nancy said...

In the early 60's there were a bunch of earthquakes off the coast of Alaska that were expected to cause tsunamis in California. We were at our beach house at Stinson Beach north of SF at the time and the whole area was evacuated to the hills high above the water. I remember my mother freaking about getting her family pictures to take with her, and my grandparents (who had their Airstream trailer) serving everyone hot chocolate as we waited for the all clear. It was very scary at first with firemen banging on the doors in the night with sirens and everything. I think I was about 7 maybe?

I need to check into the warning systems here in Mazatlan.

Ruth said...

When they test the tsunami warning system in Cannon Beach they use the sound of cows mooing. If it is cows mooing you know it is just a test.

norm said...

One of my Buds was killed by a freak set of waves over Cabo way last Spring. The first one was about 20 feet high and swept a man fishing next to him off the rocks they were fishing from, he went into the water to help the guy and a bigger wave came in and smashed him on the sea floor. I looked it up on the US Geologic Web site for the time it happened and it was maybe caused by a little 2.7 quake just off shore, too small to even feel. I think it depends on how much surface displacement happens, as to the shore getting smacked with a big wave or two.
Your on the edge of a subduction zone so any warning is going to be very close to the wave. The safer place is your top floor in the back away from the beach. That is if the quake does not knock down the house...If it's not one thing it's another.

Charley said...

Is that the same movie where Alan Arkin is teaching someone to be a paramilitary, and he keeps yelling "Serpentine, serpentine!"?

Steve Cotton said...

Mom -- No apprehension here. I heard the "drill" announcement.

Julian -- Come to think of it, I am not certain I would want to get aboard a submarine in the bay with a tsunami on the way.

Chrissy -- I suspect there is more danger from an earthquake than from a tsunami, but you never know.

Constantino -- But you are the electronics expert.

Nancy -- We actually had a tsunami (we called them "tidal waves" in the unenlightened 60s) hit the Oregon coast as a consequence of the Easter earthquake in Anchorage. I seem to recall that several people camping on the beach drowned.

Ruth -- We have enough barnyard sounds in our little burg that even the testers would be confused if they used moos.

Norm -- The area of the beach I live on is actually higher ground than most of the town. Riding out things on the roof may not be a bad idea. But you are correct, there may be no roof if the earthquake is bad enough.

Charley -- Isn't that the "In Laws"? Much later.

Calypso said...

Ah well I feel better knowing you have that early warning system - we wouldn't want Steve washed away or even washed up.

Islagringo said...

The third thing I watch the ocean for, after shark fins and dead bodies, is receeding shore line. I have nightmares about being stuck on a low lying island with a huge wave approaching and nowhere to go. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

OK, so the speaker bit works. As of now. But what you don't know is if the warning bit works. Will they actually know with enough notice to actually give people time to evacuate? I wouldn't hold my breath. Unless, of course, I was already under a tsunami.

I don't think waiting it out on the roof is a good idea. If it's big enough, you could be swept off, whereas inside you have a fighting chance.

Hopefully you will never need that warning for real.

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where theoretically we could be swept away by a tsunami, living a couple blocks from the beach. But somehow, no one seems worried. Including me.

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- There are those who say I was washed up long ago -- or was it that I was something that the dog dragged in? My life is just one long cliche.

Islagringo -- Always glad to be of service during your Pacific oh-so-close-to-the-ocean vacation.

Kim __ I long ago learned that "put not your trust in princes" is not only a good Bible verse, it is great political philosophy -- not to mention a valid music review, as well.