Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Day the Earth Shook in Douglasville

The big news this week is the massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor explosions in Japan.

How much can a country take?

We are still finding out the full magnitude of the tragedy, but as of yesterday morning news outlets were reporting the following:

*Japan's prime minister is calling the crisis the worst since World War II
*Police estimate more than 10,000 people have been killed in one area
*There are fears a second nuclear reactor will explode
*22 people are confirmed to have radiation poisoning following the first reactor blast and
*A 60-year old man was found alive 9 miles out to sea, clinging to the roof of his house.

In today's technology laden world we have instant news from the Internet, our smart phones, television, and radio. All of that instant contact and instant news is in fact the prime ingredient which fuels the global economy.

While we aren't experiencing the quake first hand, we are deeply involved in the humanity of the situation, and we realize the tragedy can and will have lasting effects for sometime not just in Japan but across the globe.

Financial news outlets were reporting on Friday the quake caused a selloff in global stock markets, led by sharp drops in insurance companies since they will experience large losses as a result of the claims associated with the earthquake. The prospect of a short-term drop in demand for crude from Japan, the world's largest oil consumer, sent oil prices below $100 for the first time this month. Japanese exporters like Honda, Toyota, and Sony will more than likely experience major disruptions at their production plants.

The Japanese tragedy got me to thinking about more regional tragic events and how they impact us locally. I targeted my thoughts specifically on the Charleston Earthquake which occurred on August 31, 1886 with reportedly 13 terrific jolts and estimated at 7.3 on the Richter scale. The 1886 quake destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and killed 60-110 people.

Right now we are seeing reporters from CNN and FOX and local correspondents as well swarming to the hard hit areas of Japan to bring us pictures and stories. People often think because they didn't have instant news in 1886 that it took forever to get the facts regarding what had happened in Charleston.

In fact, practically the moment he heard about the quake, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, Henry W. Grady, set off for Augusta and then using a combination of trains and a boat ride he managed to get to Charleston.  Grady reported from there for three days providing an accurate account of the situation.

Back then the Constitution was a weekly paper and most of the September 7, 1886 issue was dedicated to the coverage. Each page of the paper was six columns deep containing hundreds and hundreds of words detailing how the city of Charleston and the surrounding area had been destroyed, up to date information from scientists regarding what was known about earthquakes at the time and first-hand accounts regarding how citizens of Charleston had been affected. Headlines and taglines embedded within the paper told the story - "The Quaking Earth, Charleston in Ruins, The people homeless, terror stricken and desperate, and Damage to property estimated at ten million."

Folks didn't have instant news back then, but locally there really wasn't any need for it. You see, the Charleston quake was felt in Atlanta and right here in Douglasville. In fact, it was felt all over the southeastern United States.

The Atlanta Constitution reported the situation as it happened within their five-story building located at the corner of Alabama and Forsyth Streets. "At five minutes before 9 p.m. there was a little tremor of the like unto movement created by a dog trotting across [the floor]. Quickly that changed to a shaking such as a wagon produces [as it crosses a bridge]. A second more and the entire building began to shake convulsively, and began rocking and trembling the movement being from east to west and west to east. It seemed that the electric light chandeliers would fall, so terrible was the shock....You cannot imagine the situation if you have never been there."

Fannie Mae Davis states that at the time she wrote her history of Douglas County several old timers in town who were children back then remembered experiencing the tremors and were confused by them. Davis writes several members were at the Methodist Church located, in 1886, at the corner of Broad Street and Rose Avenue. As the tremors hit the music minister was directing the worshipers to sing "How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord."

Ironic, isn't it?

Davis adds when the folks became a bit restless in the pews the pastor tried to calm the situation by trying to explain the tremors away by stating, "It's nothing more than the hogs scratching their shoulders against the sills underneath the building."

Apparently it was common to have someone's hogs milling about underneath buildings those days including churches.

Like many people across the state the citizens of Douglasville experienced their houses shaking violently and one citizen stated, "It appeared as if a heavy pressure was endeavoring to force the doors from their hinges."

People who had retired for the evening suddenly showed up out in the streets in various modes of dress and undress wondering what was going on. Dishes and window panes rattled and folks wondered if it was the end of the world.

The Constitution reported in the days leading up to the actual earthquake a house constructed of hewn logs in Dodge County shook violently periodically for up to two hours at a time. A jury deliberating a case in Eastman, Georgia had been deadlocked. After the tremors subsided they reached a verdict within three minutes. People who were known to have no religion were suddenly calling for prayer, and in Griffin, Georgia a known moonshiner exited his house half dressed shot gun in hand yelling the revenuers were blowing up his still. He soon discovered it wasn't so.

There were stories of people losing their minds due to the shaking and rumbling and even a report of a suicide in Georgia linked to the earthquake.

Yes, experiencing the tragedy in Japan via all of our 21st century news sources is nothing new for the citizens of Douglasville. It seems we are old hands with trying to make sense of horrific events and wanting to help in some way even if it's through our thoughts and prayers.

If you would like to make a donation for Japanese relief efforts visit the Red Cross site.

You can view several pictures regarding the Charleston, 1886 quake here. 

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