Book 3 Chapter 27
The first MTAC was before the plane even got off the ground. It was a joint MTAC with Admiral Petty and General Mitchell. The Japanese ships had arrived and at first light, the helicopters would start ferrying the healthy to them.
‘’The Catalina Bay and Mexican Pacific both are nearly full, about five hundred more on each ship will finish them out. Then they will make the run to California. By the way, Rear Admiral Melvin sends his thanks for the respirators and says to keep them coming,’’ he said. Rear Admiral Melvin was the commander of the medical team on the ‘Mercy’.
‘’We are going to split some of the arriving medical staff and respirators up between the carriers and assault ships to ease the bed problems on the Mercy. We are also transferring about two hundred from the ‘Mercy’ to the Catalina Bay. The docs thought they are well enough to travel,’’ he said.
‘’According to the notes I have this morning, there are twenty GEMs flights today bringing more hospital equipment and doctors. Also, the supply ship USS Acme is to arrive with food and supplies. The USS Red Lion will arrive tomorrow. They were already at sea,’’ I said.
‘’Two more supply ships are loading as we speak and will depart before the end of the day. They are loading a lot or respirators and medical equipment on them,’’ I said.
“That’s good – we need them – this many people are depleting our supplies. Supplies was one of the next topics I wanted to talk to you about,’’ he said.
‘’I understand they are looking at landing a C130 with respirators on one of the carriers,’’ I said.
‘’Isn’t that plane too large for carrier landing? Can they do that?’’ Admiral Petty asked.
‘’I asked the same question and was told it had been done before in 1963 on the USS Forrestal off Boston. It was an evaluation to decide what plane was going to be used for a carrier supply plane,’’ I answered.
‘’Apparently the C130 did touch and goes, full stops and takeoffs. Today’s carriers are bigger than the Forrestal. Today’s 130 has better ABS braking, better props and more powerful engines – the thinking is it will be a piece of cake,’’ I said.
‘’They are running confirming test this morning – they must verify drop rates and a few other things. If it works, the 130 will carry six times as many respirators as a GEMs flight,’’ I said.
‘’The Nugget and Silver Spoon will be returning with more medical equipment and doctors on board,’’ I added.
‘’We have fifty thousand on the ships and another ten thousand in the bunkers waiting to leave. The troops ashore at Hawaii have located about ten thousand more. Health-wise, they are in worse shape. We are transporting food and water to them until we can get them aboard ships,’’ Admiral Petty said.
’That would be roughly eighty-thousand out of one and a half million. These are not good numbers. If we didn’t find a lot of people soon and that had to be in the next few days, this was shaping up to be the worst disaster in history,’ I thought.
‘’It appears that there were dozens of structures that were built to withstand sizable earthquakes and cyclone force winds that have stood up to the ash. As soon as all this started, they were used as shelters and they are packed full of people. Some of them had several levels of underground basements.”
“Unfortunately, they are finding a lot of dead – the ash and gasses have taken their toll,’’ he added.
‘’We had that discussion a day ago about what to do with the bodies. The NCIS forensic team and the NCIS group is still in one of the bunkers. They are going to do the documentation,’’ I said.
‘’The thought is to place bodies in body bags after identifying them – if possible – or take facial photographs and start a mass grave, for the time being,’’ I said.
‘’The bodies are decomposing rapidly with the heat from the ash. Something must be done quickly,’’ Admiral Petty said.
‘’The assault ships have body bags on board – although I do not know how many – but I think it is a considerable number. Other than that, alternatives are few. We certainly can’t bury that many at sea or carry that many to the west coast for burial,’’ I said.
‘’The two carriers assigned from the Russia base agreement will arrive tomorrow as will four more assault landing ships from Okinawa. The assault landing ships will put ten thousand more men on the ground to search for survivors plus another ten helicopters and one hundred landing craft. Four more cruise ships will also arrive. Time is running out,’’ I said.
I finished with another MTAC to FEMA on the status and progress with the camps. There needed to be a place to put sixty thousand more people and possibly twice that many more. The closest thing I got to a firm answer was, ‘’We are working on it.’’
I met with my staff to discuss the body problem – and it was going to be a big problem very soon. Then we did another MTAC with the staffed command center of Admiral Petty, General Mitchell and General Emory. It was very early morning in Hawaii; in fact, it was 0200.
The body issue was discussed in depth. Tomorrow morning all the body bags in storage would be sent to Hawaii. The Marines on the assault ships not directly involved in the rescue would be directed to assist NCIS in identifying the dead, placing them in body bags and transporting them to what had once been a 200-acre park for burial and cover them with ash.
The Seabees would use their heavy equipment as needed to push the ash aside, allowing mass graves to be dug and then cover the bodies.
With an unknown number of dead and the difficulty of all this, they were told to stack them several deep. The rescuers would be told to mark the locations where they found bodies so the BRU (body recovery unit) could locate them. I felt sorry for them – it was going to be a gut retching job, but somebody had to do it.
With all the assault ships at the location, there should be plenty of Marines to handle this additional task.
Troy handed me several reports that he had printed off while I was in meetings and on MTAC. One of them was from the Department of Energy. Rolling blackouts were expanding. First it was just Washington, Oregon and northern California. Now Idaho, Montana and parts of Minnesota were having them.
The winds were carrying the bulk of the ash over those states. Washington and parts of Oregon were reporting over an inch of accumulation. Idaho, Montana and northern Minnesota were reporting half an inch. Canada was reporting an inch and more.
The ash accumulation on solar panels was causing the problems. Light rains and heavy morning dew were turning the ash into a goo that was sticking to everything and in many places freezing; after all, it was early February and cold. The mess was going to have to be scrapped off with scrapers or washed off if possible. Either one was labor intensive with lots of the panels on residential roofs.
The commercial solar farms were a different story – but still labor intensive – with all the snow still in the farms and narrow roads between the rows of panels complicated the process. Many of them would not be producing electricity for weeks, possibly months. A very large concern was – what damage had the ash done to the special glass – would the output be anywhere near normal?
Another report was from the National Weather service and NOAA. It was a severe weather warning. The ash had reduced temperatures by blocking the sunlight by as much as three degrees and could possibly take them even lower. To go with that, there was a massive Siberian cold front joining with a Canadian clipper headed for the northern and north-eastern United States.
‘’Damn!” I thought, “We might have to issue winter clothes and get heat instead of air-conditioning and summer clothing for the tent dwellers.’’
Another report from the Agriculture Department was an advisory of severe damage to the US winter wheat and grain crop. The weight of the ash could destroy the crops creating shortages. I was damn glad the Russian grain deal was completed. If the temperatures didn’t rebound by spring planting, crops and yields could be in jeopardy.
Another paragraph in the report was the possible starving or poisoning caused by the ash of cattle feeding on the open range creating meat shortages and food shortages for all livestock.
I sent a note to Secretary of Agriculture to begin aggressive negotiations with Argentina and Brazil for increased beef imports immediately; both were large beef exporters. If the ash was affecting our western beef producers, it was also going to affect Canada beef producers as well. We imported a lot of beef and pork from Canada.
It was then I wondered if Nigeria and Cameroon could be convinced to get into beef production. That was another question to ask real soon. I wondered how developed the country was as a whole.
I finished up more calls then met with the congressional delegation that was with me on this flight. It was senators and representatives responsible for disaster agencies and emergency response along with those with over site for DHS. Also, there were the two senators and representatives from Hawaii.
Then we met with the Hawaii delegation and the first thing they asked for was hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild.
‘’We are a long way from discussing any rebuilding of Hawaii. The first priority is finding all the survivors and getting them away from the area to safety,’’ I said.
‘’From the reports I have seen, rebuilding may not be possible for much of the islands and the other areas could take decades if ever – certainly not in our lifetime,’’ I said.
It was a six-hour flight to California and then a Humvee ride to Camp Parks. All the survivors were going there until it was full and then the rest of the newcomers would be sent to the new tent city at Camp Pendleton.
Culinary units from all the National Guard units were arriving at Pendleton, getting the kitchens and dining tent set up. There was no argument from any of the Governors this time about sending the guardsmen to California.
We arrived at an organized fiasco. Buses had just finished unloading people from the first ships. The people were in shock, bewildered, dazed, exhausted and many just wanting to crash on the cots.
Camp staff were trying to get them registered; we needed information for a lot of reasons. Progress was being made but it was slow. It was a good thing we had the homeless experience as a guide for operations.
Another fiasco was the media, they were worse than a starving pack of wolves. They were trying to intimidate the guards for entry, yelling and screaming, trying to get the survivors to come to the fence and talk. On top of that there were the local and national politicians trying to get their free time on a screen.
My group started with the people in charge and finally ended up talking with some of the first survivors. I listened to all kinds of horror stories. It had an awfully familiar ring to it – despair fear, desperation, the fight for survival, starving and the lost loved ones.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.