Chapter Two – Shock and Awe
“…and why am I asking you Gunner?
Shocked, and in awe, Kirk scans the small bathroom looking for damage. Outside of a little dust he sees nothing to be alarmed about. However, stepping into the main Mother-In-Law addition there is a significant crack in the ceiling. The placement of the crack below two can lights makes Kirk think that it is staring back at him like the mouth of some nondescript emoji. A quick inspection of the rest of the home reveals no other obvious structural changes. Kirk goes outside to inspect the perimeter of their home and is relieved to see no exterior damage. Looking around he sees several of the neighbors outside, more than on a usual day, but usual has been anything but usual for a long time.
“Did you feel that?!” The question comes from Kay Long who lives next door to the west. Of all the neighbors, Kay has been the closest to them since the Gage’s moved into the neighborhood three years ago. Each household loves to cook and frequently makes food in abundance to what is needed. Sharing of food formally or food dropped off at each other’s door is also frequent.
Enjoying Friday evening Old Fashioned drinks are the norm for both households too, but then again, this is Wisconsin. Friday night is Old Fashioned night. There is great trust between them; they look after each other’s property and get the mail for each other when anyone is traveling. They know each other’s security codes.
“Yes, I did feel that. Gunner is going nuts. Let’s check the news quick. I’m going back inside; we will talk later.” The two exchange goodbyes as they quickly retreat inside. Kay didn’t have to ask Kirk if Gwen was still up north, she knows their weekly work schedules.
Rushing back into the house, Kirk commands; “Alexa, tell me the news.” Alexa gives a dispassionate response: “Here’s your news. The United States Geological Survey is reporting massive damage in the St. Louis area from an apparent 8.0 earthquake along the New Madrid Faultline. Effects of the quake have been reported as far north as Duluth, Minnesota and as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana. There are bridge failures over the Mississippi River, caution is advised when crossing the Mississippi river anywhere…” Kirk’s focus quickly fades the news out as his mind is now racing. The gravity of the event suddenly takes shape in his mind.
“Oh, man!” Grabbing the phone from his right sweats pocket Kirk calls Gwen’s mobile number. The phone call fails to connect, or ring and he hangs up to attempt a FaceTime call. After 3 failed voice communication attempts, he remembers that an electronic message can be delivered even when carrier service signal strength is weak. The following text message is typed and sent. “Voice communications are down. Massive earthquake near St. Louis, it rattled our house. Get home as soon as you safely can. I need you.”
Thinking back to 9/11/2001, Kirk is reminded that gasoline may be difficult to purchase soon. “Gunner, kennel!” The dog, who is still at his left heel reluctantly obeys and enters a portable kennel by the deck door. The gate is quickly latched. “Good boy.” Kirk grabs his wallet and car keys and heads to the garage to see if others in the community have had the same thoughts about purchasing gasoline. A second text is quickly sent to Gwen reminding her to fill up with gasoline ASAP.
Kay is outside again as he backs out of the garage and yells. “Did you hear? It was an earthquake! In St. Louis of all places?” Kirk, whose driver side window is down; “I heard, there’s a Faultline along the Mississippi river near there. Coast to Coast AM had a segment on the New Madrid Faultline a few months ago. I heard it on the drive home from work. One can never know which of their guests are cooks and which ones are legitimate. But they are almost always entertaining, the show keeps me awake at 1:00 am for the trip home.”
Kay smiles and gives him a sideways look. Kirk; “I’m going to top off my gas tank. Is your car full?” Kay replies. “Yes, I filled it earlier this morning. Some of us don’t sleep half the morning.” Kirk smiling; “That’s me, slacker. Glad you filled up. I’m over ¾ full, but if there isn’t a rush, I will fill up.” The car backs out and pulls away for a 10-block drive to the nearest filling station.
On the way to Kwik Trip, he makes more unsuccessful attempts to reach Gwen. Traffic is no busier than any other midweek midday for the moment. As Kirk pulls up to a gas pump, most of the pumps are available for use. In a few minutes the tank is full, and he begins the drive to the local grocer that for the moment has the normal number of vehicles in the parking lot.
Fresh produce, dairy, and meat are the main commodities on his impromptu and unwritten shopping list. Kirk grabs as many items as he estimates that he and Gwen will consume legitimately before the food spoils. Most of their favorite fresh foods are available and placed in the cart. Time to head for the self-checkout isle.
The store has a liquor department which is visited next. A handle of Ever Clear is chosen, plus 6 bottles of low-end high proof bourbon and then check out. For obvious reasons there is no self-checkout at the liquor department. The checker looks at the large bottle of Ever Clear and asks with a smile if he’s having a “trash bash”. “No” says Kirk with an equal smile; “It is for medicinal purposes.” Which, in reality, it is.
Once arriving back at home, Gunner is let out of the portable kennel. The dog stays close to his master while Kirk puts away the groceries and checks out social media, radio and television for news updates. Estimates on the aftermath of the quake are widely varied. It is difficult to ferret out what is factual, what is speculation and what is propaganda. Worst case estimates include the potential destruction of over 35,000 buildings, an additional 84,000 more buildings are damaged. Kirk looks up at their cracked ceiling and realizes that many of those 84,000 buildings may only be as damaged as their cracked ceiling. The real numbers will not be discovered for weeks or months.
An estimated 15,000 people are missing, and 150,000 additional people are displaced with little safe public shelter in the St. Louis area to house them. Death tolls are small but preliminary. The National Guard, Red Cross and FEMA have all been deployed to the area to set up temporary shelters and provide emergency necessities and security to the affected.
Emergency and medical facilities in the damage zone are decimated; 100 fire stations, 37 hospitals and 67 law enforcement buildings all destroyed. Tending to the injured and protecting the displaced and their properties will be a daunting task.
Nearly 200 mostly empty schools have been damaged. This may be the one of few, if any bright sides to the quake, tens of thousands of students who would have been in school buildings were with their families at the time of the quake. The chaos that may have occurred for education professionals to care for and keep order during this catastrophe would have been overwhelming.
Wisconsin Public Radio is broadcasting recent history of the New Madrid Faultline. There was a massive series of quakes in 1811 and 1812. The first, a 7.8 magnitude shock, was at 2:15 am on December 16, 1811 with two more main shocks of over 6.5 magnitude on January 23, 1812 and February 7, 1812. There were ten shocks of over 6.0 magnitude. In total the New Madrid Fault experienced over 200 shocks from December of 1811 to March of 1812. If this quake acts like the quakes of 1811 and 1812 the Mississippi river valley may be in for a long series of disturbances.
During all of this excitement, Kirk realizes that he completely blew off work. Calling in was not an option with the phone lines down, however, he didn’t even think about calling in. Neglecting to call in when an emergency pops up is out of character for him. He chooses to use the cracked ceiling as an excuse for not coming in and sends a text to the boss explaining the situation.
Updates continue to trickle in on the smart speaker news feed. While most of the damaged bridges are nearer to St. Louis, the US Department of Transportation is cautioning against attempting to cross any river bridges along the Mississippi river. State and local authorities are scrambling to barricade bridges on both sides of the Mississippi river. Eight gasoline refineries have shut down either due to damage or for an unscheduled turnaround due to fears of damage.
“Hello gasoline shortages and exorbitant prices! I hope Gwen has enough gasoline to get home…I hope there is a safe route home.” Kirk scrolls through this week’s text history with Gwen and is relieved to find an entry confirming that she filled up her first day of working up north.
His attention now turns to preparing for what might happen from a utility and infrastructure standpoint. The whirlpool tub drain is plugged, and 50 gallons of cold tap water begins to flow from the faucet. While the tub is filling, Kirk backs his car into the garage, then heads down to the basement to retrieve several rolls of window security film and begins applying it while occasionally checking on the tub’s water level. The film is applied to the front of house windows and entry door first, then the windows facing the deck, the bedroom windows and finally the windows in the fireplace room. Lucky timing resulted in the tub filling completely when he got to the master bedroom window.
Kirk is smoothing out security film on the final window when Gunner trots quickly through the kitchen to the garage door, tail wagging. This time Gunner’s letting out a happy whine letting Kirk know that Gwen must be home!
Kirk races to the garage as Gwen exits her backed in car and gives her a big hug and kiss. “Welcome home beautiful! I’ve never been this glad to see you! How was the drive? Did you get my texts? How much gas do you have left? Were the gas stations packed? Never mind, I’m just so happy to see you. Let me grab your bags!” He hugs and kisses her again, while Gwen hugs and kisses him back. The couple finally break free and head to the back of the car to get Gwen’s luggage.
“No” responds Gwen, “I have not been able to receive or send messages nor make any calls since we felt the clinic shake. Traffic was not bad on the interstate. I avoided going through towns by taking Interstate 90/94 to the US 151 exit between Madison and Sun Prairie. The gas stations in Chippewa were not too busy so I topped of the tank before heading home. The Kwik Trip in town on Madison Avenue was a zoo when I drove by, stopping looked pointless. The tank is a little over half full.”
Kirk interrupts; “I didn’t attempt to contact any of our family until we made contact, or you made it home. Of course, the attempt would have been futile anyway.” Adding. “We are the closest relatives to the fault line, so I’m hoping that everyone else is safer than we are. Both of our mothers have certainly been trying to call; they are probably having no more luck getting through to us as we had trying to call each other.”
“You would’ve been proud of me baby. The radio was on all the way home. I’m up to date on current events for a change!” Gwen says playfully, she normally relies upon Kirk to keep her up to speed on topics like politics, the weather, social media trends etc. Kirk smiles back. “Yes baby.” Leading her into the house. “I’m very proud of you. St. Louis is a disaster, we are lucky.” He walks her into the reading room and points at the ceiling crack. “Just one ceiling crack where the original house meets the addition. I filled the tub with water and applied security film to all of the windows while waiting for you to get home.”
Gwen looks puzzled. “We’ve talked about filling up the tub with water if there is a possible loss of utilities, but why did you put security film on all of the windows?”
“We bought several rolls of window security film three years ago after the inspector we hired prior to buying the house pointed out that it would be difficult to protect the home from invaders because of too many large windows near the front and deck doors. He prompted us to think more about home security, so several rolls were purchased online. I used the time it took to fill the tub to put up security film. The film keeps glass from completely breaking out. It will still shatter, but the glass will stay in the frame.”
Kirk’s focus changes. “Oh! I stopped at the Food Pride and bought some fresh produce, dairy and meats. They will only last a couple of weeks, so let’s pray that if people raid the stores that we only need a couple of weeks’ worth of fresh food before things settle down. Heck, let’s pray that there are no raids on the stores.”
The couple’s phones begin pinging nonstop. Looking at each other, then turning to their phones. “Finally, something has come through the service.” Says Gwen. “Looks like I missed two from you. Thanks baby, I need you too.” Kirk smiles and says. “Wow! That is more messages than I’ve ever received in a day let alone one minute.” The two begin to roll through the messages trying to prioritize those who are most likely to be worrying about them.
Parents, children and siblings are the messages to be responded to first, then close friends scattered across the world and finally coworkers and acquaintances begin to learn that the couple are safe and together. Thankfully, none of the messages contain bad news. The Gage network is fortunate to have experienced no injury or loss of property after the first shock wave.
Gunner runs to the front door barking, tail wagging. It’s Kay. Kirk commands the dog to sit and stay, while Gwen unlocks the front door. Kay enters, Gunner greets her by rubbing up against her and whimpering joyfully. Turning to Gwen while petting the exuberant Gunner.
“Thank goodness, you’re home. I’ve been worried.” Gwen greets Kay with a near hug, then backs off remembering distancing is still needed. “We just received a full days’ worth of text and instant messages; everyone is OK on our side. Have you checked your phone lately?” Kay looks at her phone. “It’s muted. Wow! Yes, my phone is blowing up with messages. I’d better go home and let everyone know that I’m safe. I’ll be back later.” Kay exits.
Gwen turns to Kirk. “Tub full of water, fresh food in the refrigerator, one full tank of gasoline, another tank half full, and security film on the windows. What else do we need to do? Will we be able fill my tank anytime soon?”
Kirk responds. “It might be a little late, but we should walk through the house and do some gap analysis. What do we have? What do we need? Can we do without what we do not have?” Gwen rolls her eyes and smiles at a blatant corporate management term like gap analysis, but she also knows that decades of this type of planning will suit them well if all hell breaks loose. Kirk smiles knowingly. “I’ve been thinking about your gas tank baby.” Gwen smiles. “That’s my man, always thinking. What are your thoughts about gasoline baby?”
“The only tragedy I can use as a frame of reference is 9/11. That day I had to wait until after midnight and fill up at an after hours filling station. By that time the price of gas went up from $1.50 per gallon to over $5.00 per gallon. I was willing to pay the gouged price then and I will gladly pay it now. If it is available. After everyone goes to bed, we will drive around and find a 24-hour pump somewhere.”
“Great!” Gwen replies. “I feel safe knowing that you think about these things and are looking out for me…for us.”
“Alexa, turn up the volume.” News items can suddenly be heard more clearly. As feared, loss of life is mounting up, buildings and infrastructure in the quake zone are devastated. Crossing bridges up and down the Mississippi river will be a risk if it is allowed at all. In the best of cases it may be weeks away and worst-case months to a year away before crossing the Mississippi by automobile is safe. Mobile services are down due to the surge in usage with family and friends attempting to check in on each other.
Additions to the news now confirms Kirk’s suspicions about panic buying. Grocery, hardware and gasoline businesses have seen a rush of frightened customers emptying their shelves. Gas stations quickly reacted by raising their prices in attempt to slow down the rush of panicked motorists.
Gwen turns to Kirk. “How late do you think we should wait to look for gasoline?”
Kirk responds. “I still think we can find some after midnight. I’m guessing the BP station downtown is the most likely to have some gasoline. I’m not sure why, it’s just a hunch. The Kwik Trip will be the first to run out.”
The couple are good shoppers and make a habit of buying plenty of essential items whenever they are out shopping. Even with dog food. Gunner’s dog food has at times been hard to find, so there is always a 2 to 3 month supply of his food in the garage. Their nests have been empty for over 5 years, so they do not consume large amounts of much of anything. After an inventory of items in the pantry, cleaning closets and bathrooms the Gage’s are happy that they will be able to ride out empty store shelves for quite some time.
“I know what we should do while waiting to get some gasoline” Suggests Gwen. “Get out the spreadsheet.”