A lot of movies end at a clear “ending point.” The story is over, done, it’s a wrap, go home. But a few throw up bits of information to let you know what happened after the story. For example, “Animal House” let you know that this character became a Senator, that character was shot in Viet Nam, etc.
Some movies end with massive question marks, even if they don’t really mean to. One of the most famous examples of this is “Return of the Jedi.” Sure, it seemed a happy enough ending… the Emperor is dead, the Death Star destroyed, all the characters are dancing and clapping. What’s to question? Well… the Empire spanned an entire galaxy; taking out the Death Star and the Emperor would be like taking out Hitler and the Bismark in one strike, but leaving the rest of the Nazi military machine and political structure in place. So there has been 35 or so years of fan-speculation on the subject of “what happens next.” And perhaps most infamously of all: the Endor Holocaust. What do you *think* would happen if you detonate a billion-ton space station a few hundred kilometers above the surface of an inhabited world? Especially when that station isn’t orbiting the world in the first place, but just hovering over it?
Yes, this is the sort of thing I think about. And sometimes the “happy ending” of a movie bugs me, because it’s what must happen next that could potentially be even more interesting, or at least important to the characters or their world.
And so. A few days ago I watched “San Andreas,” the new disaster movie about a series of incredibly powerful earthquakes that hit California. Some impressive CGI hijinks ensue; The Rock does some heroics and we’re left with this closing conversation:
“What do we do now?”
Music swells, camera pulls back, credits roll.
But… what *do* you do now? Given what was just depicted, what happens next?
If you don’t want spoilers… too bad. Because I’m giving away the plot.
So, what is the state of things as the movie ends?
1) Hoover Dam is utterly destroyed. No hydroelectric generation there anymore, and a massive flood racing down the Colorado River.
2) Los Angeles is destroyed. It appears that ground waves on the order of twenty feet or more high raced through the area. All skyscrapers are either destroyed or so damaged as to be beyond repair.
3) San Francisco is equivalently destroyed, but with the added bonus of a several-hundred-foot-high tsunami racing into the Bay and sweeping up over the city.
4) The pullback at the end shows that the California coast from LA to SF has separated from the rest of the US, and is now an island. The gap is on the order of a few miles, I think.
So given those, what can we infer?
All underground infrastructure – sewer, water, power, communications lines, subways, gas lines – has been shredded along the entire region. Not just LA and SF, but everywhere.
Millions are immediately dead. The population of San Fran metro is over four and a half million; considering what’s shown, at least a third of ’em are dead. LA has more at nearly thirteen million; at least a third would seem likely dead given the lack of warning. While San Fran got some warning, it also got whacked by a tsunami that would have washed away everyone trying to get on a boat to get across the bay to “safety.”
That tsunami that hit SF? Those things go *every* which way. So, a short while later it sloshes up against the ruins of Los Angeles. Seattle gets inundated. Some hours later the Hawaiian islands get hammered, with cities like Hilo getting effectively trashed (Honolulu is on the other side of the island, so it and Pearl Harbor may survive… unless the wave is big enough to wash over the island). Then it slams into Japan, Australia, China, Viet Nam, the Philippines, etc. Millions more die even with a massive warning effort.
While California was obviously trashed, much of the rest of the country would be as well. At the end TV screens show that reverberations were felt as far away as New York and D.C. While this might not have caused any real damage there… what about Chicago? St. Louis? Omaha? Denver? Salt Lake? With the shaking going around, what does this do to the volcanoes and faultlines in the Cascades? How about Yellowstone, or the New Madrid fault? Further south, does Mexico City get trashed *again* by earthquakes?
Remember 9/11? The US economy took a noticeable hit because a few skyscrapers came down. But in the wake the the San Andreas quake, the US economy would *crash.* We’d probably go into a depression worse than the Great Depression. We wouldn’t be able to afford *anything.* Goodbye space program. And goodby military forces around the world. The Navy, Marines and Army would almost certainly all be brought home to help deal with the California nightmare.
ISIS? North Korea? Russian expansionism? Y’all are on your own. As the US withdraws, expect a lot of people to take advantage of the vacuum. The Norks finally re-invade South Korea. The Chinese take over *all* of the South China Sea region. You know, for “stability.” The middle east? Oh, yeah, that whole region will turn “entertaining” in a heartbeat. The Russian army will be saying “howdy” to the likes of Latvia and Estonia and Poland just as soon as they can.
Now, what’s going on on the new island of California? Well… power generation has probably come to an end. Nuclear plants would have shut down, as would fossil fuel power generators. But they also most likely would have been damaged enough so that they won’t start up again anytime soon. Solar panels across the state have likely been shaken to bits. Wind turbines have been knocked over. And power lines have been universally brought down. With a maximum effort, it’ll be years before the power lines are back up.
Water and sanitation systems have been destroyed. The only clean water is what’s in bottles and what rains down from the sky.
Transportation? You’re walkin’. The roads are trashed. All the overpasses have been brought down. The larger airports are rubble; even many of the smaller airports will likely have buckled, undermined or shattered runways so that only relatively small aircraft will be able to get in. Trains are *done.* It’ll be years before the roads are back. Given the crevasses shown, not only will roads need to be rebuild, many entirely new bridges will need to be built. A lot of the roads will be very difficult to rebuild, such as those on hillsides. A lot of those will have simply slid off the hills, and there’ll be little basis to rebuild from.
Fuel? Only what’s coming in on ships. Food? Lots of it in cans; that’ll be looted within a few days. The agricultural regions of California will from one point of view be fine… the crops largely won’t care that the ground shook and the topography changed. But the *farmers* will care that there is now a canyon or a ridge across their farm. The irrigation systems are trashed; streams and rivers have now dried up, while new ones appear out of nowhere. Tractors that survived the quake will quickly run out of fuel. Refugees will descend upon farms like locusts.
California will quickly turn into “Mad Max.” Fortunately for the rest of the country, there is unlikely to be a mass migration of Californian refugees for the simple fact that there are no transport systems capable of taking large numbers. In order to use boats to transfer masses of refugees from the east coast of California to the new west coast, you’d need:
1) Large numbers of boats
2) An effective way to transport the refugees *to* the new coast
3) Docks on both shores
4) An effective way to transport the refugees *from* the coast they’ve been deposited upon to centers elsewhere in the country.
As for #1, boats: a *lot* of the vessels on the west coast will now be at the bottom of the sea. A lot more are now well inland. And others will be damaged to varying degrees. Many boats will be available, but nowhere near what there once were.
As for #2 and #4: in both the island of California and the new west coast, the roads are trashed. For the most part, everyone is walking on Isla California, and they’ll be walking for miles and miles once they wash up in Otisburg.
And as for #3, the docks: obviously there wouldn’t be any. Additionally, it’s hard to say just how shallow the strait is; it may well be too shallow and chaotic for anything but small boats to get through. It would certainly be poorly mapped, with unknown underwater hazards and chaotic currents.
So… for all intents and purposes, those stuck on Isla California after the quake will be there for a good long while. Visitors, such as tourists, people on business trips and those simply there because their planes were on layover at LAX when things went screwy, will find that for the foreseeable future they will be residents.
Of course the problems will extend beyond California. Hoover Dam is gone. This means that Lake Mead has drained away to nothing. Las Vegas now has nothing to drink. Better, without the power generated by the dam, Las Vegas has largely gone dark. Even if the quakes haven’t damaged the city, it has still become essentially non-viable.
The cities and towns downriver from Hoover Dam are doomed as the flood – which isn’t composed purely of nice fluffy water, but is loaded with things like trees and smashed up houses and cars and trucks and a whole lot of dead folk – comes steamrolling through. One upside to this is that the Colorado River will, for the first time in decades, actually make it to the Gulf of California. Bulhead City and Needles and Lake Havasu City and Yuma had better be on the ball on evacuations.
Cities that today are stuck in the overheated, over-dry central part of the state will find themselves beachfront property. I don’t know that rainfall patterns will really change much, but being close the water will surely change things a great deal for cities like Bakersfield and Sacramento and Fresno and Palmdale and Barstow. The possibility exists that channels will open up and the ocean will fill in Death Valley.
Long term, the possibility is that America will be a more interesting place, with a giant island just off the west coast, with many hundreds of miles of new shoreline for developing. But in the near term? We’d be looking at on the order of ten million dead pretty much instantly… with perhaps a few dozen million more deaths in the months that follow due just to the *basic* effects of the quake. This does not take into account the deaths that will be due to the crop failures in the Midwest due to the ash darkened skies and increased radiation due to the India-Pakistan nuclear war, the Israeli-Iranian nuclear exchanges, the burning of the Korean peninsula, China going after the Japanese and the Russians invading Europe. Millions elsewhere will likely die due to the prompt stoppage of American economic and humanitarian assistance.
The economy would of course collapse. But this would be *good* for many people in the long run. Steel and concrete producers, construction companies and construction workers, would be looking at an unbelievable payday… once it’s figured out just *who* is going to pay and where the money is coming from.
There would be some serious cultural shifts. Hollywood is of course gone. San Francisco is also gone. There are those elsewhere in the US who would see this as an act of an Angry God, cheesed off about how wicked those places were. Expect to see a rise in religions and cults. Expect to see politicians blaming the other side for the disaster, not based on any real evidence or logic, but because that’s what politicians do. Expect to see Californian refugees become as popular in the rest of the US as Okies were in California back in the day, or as popular as Hurricane Katrina refugees were in places like Houston.
If religious nuts who see the event as the act of an angry God are good at their jobs, they could well greatly alter the political landscape, perhaps to the point that the reconstruction of California is delayed, cancelled or throttled. You wouldn’t rebuild Sodom, would you?
And with the massive death toll and scattering of refugees, the next census is not only going to be a challenge to carry out accurately, it will result in a serious drop-off in Californian Representatives in Congress.
There will be some weird real estate doin’s. Some of the most expensive real estate on the planet has been reduced to rubble; the owners in many cases are dead people or wiped-out businesses. But it’ll be clear that *eventually* the region will get rebuilt, though initially nobody’ll be entirely sure just how. So real estate speculation is going to be rampant. Given that the US economy is in the toilet… perhaps Isla California will wind up being largely owned by the Chinese or Indians? Or perhaps laws will be quickly passed by Congress that nationalize the area, or only permit ownership of land by citizens or US-based companies. That may sound good… but keep in mind that Mexico has essentially those laws. And rebuilding Isla California to have the same level of governmental corruption as Mexico seems a bad idea.
How about unemployment? Well, with all the reconstruction needed in California and surrounding regions, there will be a *lot* of work, once there’s someone who can pay to do it. Presumably the US Federal government will produce some “New Deal” types of programs, borrowing heavily from the future or from other nations in order to pay for rebuilding. But with the inevitable population drop, it’s less than clear just how much rebuilding will be needed.
After Katrina, much of the rebuilding was done by non-citizen construction workers. They are of course cheap, and the refugees – exactly the people you’d think best for this role – found that jobs or government benefits were available elsewhere. But after the San Andreas quake, the government wouldn’t have the funds for a whole lot of welfare, and due to the economic collapse jobs elsewhere would be thin. So, a lot of the rebuilding would be done by the refugees. Of course, a lot of non-US citizen construction workers would try to get in on it. But if reconstruction work was the *only* way that millions of people could get a place to stay and food to eat… immigrants would find themselves *real* unpopular, real fast. Expect riots. And expect conspiracy theories to run rampant, with tall tales being readily believed by millions of desperate people. This sort of thing often leads to Very Bad Things. So expect those riots to trend towards race riots, and expect them to be quite bloody.
Much of the American aerospace industry is located within the region affected by the quake. Thus even if NASA, Congress, the President and the American people all wanted to keep the space program going and were willing to pay for it… much of the industry needed to support it would be underwater, burned to ash, flattened by rubble, cut off from resources and the staff run away or dead. The same will apply to much of the American electronics industry. Many businesses elsewhere in the US – and around the world – will simply freeze up due to the stoppage of parts coming from Californian factories.
In summary: after the credits begin to roll on “San Andreas,” that note of dogged determination and optimism will be replaced with the realization that life just got really, really bad for a really, really long time.