Thursday, January 13, 2005

Where Policy And Movie Pathos Collide

Remembering my seventh grade english class, I recall the three main categories of conflict that most lit falls into: man vs. man, man vs. himself, and man vs. nature. (if those are wrong, let me know - but it sounds about right).

The man vs. nature plot lines unspooled themselves this week in the California town of La Conchita, with devestating results. For the second time in a decade, a mudslide demolished homes, and, tragically, this time, claimed lives. Many of them.

So after fires ravaged the area, and the second mudslide tore through La Conchita, what's the most logical course of action? Rebuild, of course!

Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in La Conchita, and issued an apparent jihad on the forces of nature.

I've heard residents of the area, surviving residents, that is, speak of it's close-knit feel, it's proximity to the beach, it's natural beauty.

Don't think me callous - though it may come off that way - but, really, what's more important? Sticking it out in the face of impossible odds - at the risk of your well being or your children's well being - or moving away to somewhere geologically safer? It's a basic human urge - or maybe an American one - to stay, fight, and prevail. But no retaining wall is really enough. So why drain resources and risk death to keep the nice view?

I've never had to leave my home behind, so I suppose I can't completely understand. But a photo of a 14 year old girl reacting to her father's presumed (now confirmed) death was more than enough to let me know what my choice would be.

Update: The LA Times article on the aftermath captures a few more of the questions I would hope someone would ask the governor:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger encouraged residents to rebuild as he toured the damage during a midmorning visit Wednesday.

"In the last few days we have seen the power of nature to cause damage and despair," Schwarzenegger told reporters and residents. "But we will match that power with our own resolve.

"The people that live here in this community are very strong," he said. "It's something I noticed right away. One of the first things they said is, you know, 'We'll be back.'

"I would say that I'm going to help them so they can come back here," the governor added.

That pledge appeared to leave Ventura County officials nonplused. Kathy Long, head of the county Board of Supervisors, said after a meeting with Schwarzenegger that officials were unsure how they could make La Conchita safe.

"The devil is in the details," she said. "If the governor can work with us on the technical analysis and develop proposals on how to make that happen, and provide funds to make that happen, we'd be more than willing to work with him."

Since a mudslide in 1995 destroyed nine homes in the hamlet, county officials have warned that the area is unsafe but have said that they lack legal authority to order residents to leave. . . .

As searchers continued to probe the rubble, residents debated whether to return.

Julio Varele, 53, said he and his wife, Annelle Beebe, would. Even though he lost a close friend, Tony Alvis, in the mudslide, Varele said he couldn't fathom living anyplace else.

"We've had the most incredible time with our friends in the house. There's the warmth, the atmosphere, with food and good times," he said. "People love to come to visit. How can you put a price on that?"
I don't know, but I think I'd price it somewhere below my family's lives.

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