Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chapter Fifteen

Scott tunes it to one of the local public broadcasting stations As the family gathers around. This particular station runs out of the local university which is just a few miles from their house and it is usually dependable. They broadcast a wide variety of programming in addition to their news segments. As everyone quiets down, the announcer comes on …

"You are listening to WUSF 89.7 on your radio dial. Welcome to your nightly recap of local, state, national, and world news. As a reminder our broadcasting schedules for both radio and public television are available at http://www.wusf.usf.edu/ and you can listen to and view portions of our broadcasts with Windows Media Player, iTunes, QuickTime, RealAudio, and RealPlayer.
In Tampa today, College Hill again erupted in pandemonium. These riots are worse than the 1967 and 1987 riots in this same area. Just as police and National Guard troops reasserted their control, a small group of protestors lobbed firebombs into the few remaining public housing structures still standing. Fire swept across the complex then burned several blocks of businesses including the only remaining grocery store serving the area. With insufficient water pressure, and fire department personnel unable to enter the area, the flames only halted once they met a firebreak caused by a conflagration that occurred during last month’s riot. In response, people living in the affected neighborhoods attempted to evacuate but me with armed resistance by residents living surrounding blocks who were determined to keep the violence from spreading to their streets.

In another part of Hillsborough County, there was a food riot in Riverview when patrons found all the Public grocery stores were closed in observance of Thanksgiving. When National Guard troops were pulled to cover the riot in Tampa, several stores were broken into and looted. Representatives for the chain say now, instead of being closed for one day, it will be at least a week before they reopen. One source who wished to remain anonymous, speculated that several of the stores would not reopen at all due to extensive damage and lack of stock.

At the state level, there is heated debate over when to reopen public schools. Talk is so heated and the advisability so hotly debated that even thinking about it has been tabled until the first of the New Year. Many schools are currently in use as hospital overflow sites or juvenile living facilities. It is unknown how quickly they can be vacated and sanitized for student use as educational facilities once again.

Parts of the Miami-Dade area are nothing but smoldering ruins after several rafts washed ashore containing the picked over corpses of refugees from the Caribbean. The discovery caused panic in the streets that led to several violent protests. Gang violence has been particularly vicious as different factions vie over territory and control of supply distribution locations.

On a more optimistic not, the Disney Corporation in Orlando has taken the bold step of expanding its experimental hydroponics farm that was on display at their "The Land" exhibit in E.P.C.O.T. Several fish farms around the state are partnering the endeavor and have expanded production and added their own hydroponics division. The initial results from this partnership look very promising. Lotta Badneuse will have more on this tomorrow during her Business & Economy segment.

After another emergency meeting, the Governor has signed legislation mandating that all citrus groves in Florida must now and henceforth register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This mandate requires that all groves, regardless of size, will be adequately maintained and harvested to alleviate community hunger. If an owner does not come forward or fails to register their crop, the State will commandeer the harvest for public use without compensation.

The GoldKist chicken processing plant in Suwannee County has finally received permission to re-open after several decontamination efforts. The problem is there are no chickens to process. They’ve all been culled except for a small population that appears to be genetically immune to the current panflu strain. Good news if this breed can pass on the immunity consistently over several generations. However, researchers warn that the current panflu virus can still mutate into one the animals are not immune to. Cross contamination between the avian and mammal/human strains of the virus is still a problem in many areas.

In national news, the continued violence and civil unrest in Los Angeles and New York City resists all efforts to contain it. Block upon city block in both metropolitan areas are picked over wastelands that more cloesly resemble the war torn slums of the Middle East that anything formerly seen in the USA. NYC has particularly suffered as surrounding areas chose to blockade the city rather than accept another disorganized mass emigration like the one that came after the first pandemic case was diagnosed in Manhattan. Residents in both cities must live in a siege like state just to survive.

The Philadelphia riots appear to be over, at least for now. But casualties from the riots rival those from the pandemic in that area and clean up is hampered by lack of personnel and resources.

Chicago continues to recover from the fire that razed half the city when high winds pushed the flames all the way to the banks of Lake Michigan. News coming out of the area suggest that thousands of bodies remain in the ruins. All officials can do for most of the bodies is note the location they are found. Many of the bodies are either burned beyond recognition or have no official identification on them. Thus far there are 527 John Does, 726 Jane Does, and 426 unknowns (bodies burned so badly that sex is indeterminate). The city would not have recovered the bodies that it has if not for a large brigade of citizen volunteers.

All across the country, every available agricultural field is in planning stages for spring planting. Many farmers are considering the feasibility of converting pastureland to food production in anticipation of extraordinary demand next season. But, fuel costs and lack of spare parts has the industry applying to the federal government for assistance. Legislation at both the state and federal levels is being written to address the need for expanded subsidies.

US ranch cattle and dairy farmers are already receiving federal assistance in caring for their cattle herds. Bovines are one of the few domesticated food animals to so far escape vulnerability to the current panflu strain. Researchers at BYU continue to caution that there remains a risk of human to cow infection resulting in a cow flu. If this happens, the last major domesticated meat source may be gone from the menu.

Investigation has finally pinpointed the cause for the unusually early spike in panflu cases that swept Washington, DC metro area at the very beginning of the pandemic to a diplomatic envoy from Bangladesh. The envoy had come to apply for international assistance as they had exhausted all European and Asian assistance.

According to business and aviation reports, every commercial airline company has now declared bankruptcy. The price of fuel, quarantine issues, and restricted international air travel has essentially ground the industry to a halt. With Congress unable to muster more than half of its members, it is uncertain whether there will be a Federal "bail out" in time to keep the companies from closing their doors permanently.

In other business news, the technology industries are getting stronger. This is partly fueled by the higher demand for distance communication strategies. The higher demand is also affected by the loss of trained technicians to absenteeism and attrition. Higher demand plus low supply equals higher prices.

Globally the economic outlook is much grimmer.

Many countries that survived on food imports in prepandemic times now have people starving in the streets. There are entire countries in Africa that appear to have simply ceased to exist and dark reports of cannibalism are being whispered.

Russia and the Ukraine have a partnership agreement to get the Ukrainian wheat harvested. Eastern Europe is doing unusually well compared to some areas of Eurasia. The many hard years under Communism and subsequent attempts at capitalism taught the people how to live on practically nothing and expect even less. True, there have been many thousands of deaths, and continued terrorism by various rebel and religious factions threatens to destabilize the region, but they are still holding their own at this time.

Egypt and Indonesia though initially somewhat experienced in dealing with panflu from their cases before the strain became efficiently transmitted from human to human, quickly collapsed under the weight of a CFR greater than 69%. Vaccine production in Egypt has been halted. The United Nations hopes to get troops into the country to ascertain if the plants can be salvaged and put back on line, but the timeline for this is uncertain.

The entire Middle East has degenerated back to the tribal way of life and warfare. There are huge caches of weapons – chemical and conventional – that are being used against close neighbors. Not even the most intrepid foreign correspondent will now venture into the region. From last reports, all of the strong, stabilizing personalities in the area have either succumbed to panflu or to assassination. The world is waiting to see if a leader will emerge who is more interested in peace than personal glory. The world holds its breath waiting to see if one of the groups will set off a nuclear explosion or a terrorist group will export a dirty bomb.

Western Europe is fairing only slightly better than Eastern Europe. Paris has seen a great fire that weakened one of the supporting legs of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre has been ransacked and is suffering from serious smoke damage. The Catholic Church has been forced to partner with the national governments of Spain and Portugal to keep the countries stabilized. The Italian leadership in Rome is completely decimated and most major decisions for Italy are coming out of The Vatican. Many of the royal families of Europe are in complete isolation, though some branches have been all but destroyed.

Many of the northern European countries are relying heavily on their fishing fleets to provide food for their hungry populations.

The military bases at Thule, Greenland and those in Antarctica are still under strict isolation. Supplies, however, are running low. Re-supply plans are being strategized. Strict rationing is already in effect and both bases only have 30 days of resources left.

A last note. The traditional pardon of the turkey normally issued by the White House every Thanksgiving since 1989 did not take place. The normally sumptuous holiday banquet was cancelled as well. This was a show of solidarity by the White House in acknowledgement of the many citizens going hungry this year.

And that’s the news for this Thanksgiving. We’ll close tonight’s news segment with the latest installment from Devon Mcloud.

This is Devon McLoud reporting to you from what is left of Chicago, Illinois. Hundreds of families are camped out in what remains of Soldier Field. All around, the smoking ruins of this once great city keep these huddled masses warm as the temperature drops below freezing for the fourth night in a row.

Most of those here escaped burning to death either through luck or by escaping into Lake Michigan by boat or on floating debris. On one end of the field, a hospital of sorts has been set up. After three days, only nine of the injured that were pulled from the firestorm remain alive. Of those, several are not expected to live much longer. Most of the serious burn victims died of shock within hours. The remaining injured are actually those who suffered hypothermia from the frigid water while they waited for the flames to subside enough to return to dry land.

Today is Thanksgiving here in the US, but no one is celebrating as far as I can see. Earlier in the day a helicopter hovered over the area, appearing to count the survivors. A bullhorn promised supplies as soon as possible, but that could still be days away. Some men were able to bring in some fish from Lake Michigan and a communal pot of fish stew was shared by all.

I’m going to take another turn trying to help scavenge what I can from the few buildings that still stand. These people need everything and they need it quickly if they are to survive the harsh winter weather. In a normal year, Chicago gets thirty inches of snow between November and March.

Wherever you are tonight, remember these people. But for the grace of God, it could be you or one of your loved ones struggling in this frigid air.

But, as bleak as things are, the human spirit of survival is still shining through. Several men and women are going around to make sure everyone has had a chance to eat something. Children have been brought to a central location and are being cared for by a retired teacher and her daughter who was a dental hygienist before the panflu. Other people are pulling unburned wood into a central area so anyone that needs fuel for their campfire can get it without too much trouble. A wash station has been cobbled together in an attempt to get the smell of smoke off of body and clothes, even if only temporarily. Items scavenged go to those who need it most, not necessarily to those who find it.

Maybe there isn’t any outright partying going on, but most have refused to simply give up without a fight. Yes, as difficult as times are for this group of survivors, they are not sitting around waiting to be rescued. They are rescuing themselves, paving their own way for a better tomorrow.

I’ll leave you here with a quote by Abraham Lincoln: "It is said an eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words, 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"

I’ve got that quote stuck to the visor of my baseball cap, now much worse for wear than the day I bought it at the airport right before all the airline flights were cancelled. When I look up - more frequently now than was my previous habit - that quote is sometimes the only thing that keeps my feet moving and my mind at ease.

Good night from the staff and crew at WUSF. Our next regularly scheduled broadcast will begin at 5 A.M. tomorrow."

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