Search This Blog

Friday, August 26, 2011

I've Learned a New Word!

1982 lahar in Galunggung, India.
The Word of the Day is "Lahar".  It is an Indonesian word that they made up after a volcano covered up several thousand of their citizens with some stuff they didn't have a word for. I think it's the name of some nasty-tempered Sumerian god or something.

Anyway, it's a substance the consistency of wet concrete created by a volcanic eruption. What happens is a loose collection of volcanic dust and rock slides down the mountain. The snow piled on top of it melts suddenly and the rock, dust and snow-melt slurry scrape off underlying clay and make this stuff that flows down river valleys wiping out trees and buildings and anything in its path. When it hits a hill or a mountain it can't move, the lahar sets up like instant cement entombing people, animals and cars in a mud brick-like substance.

Basically a lahar is a muck avalanche capable of traveling 25 to 50 miles per hour. We now live 26 miles from the caldera of Mt. Ranier, and since there is little or no warning when it happens, we may or may not, depending on whether the acoustic sensors they put up on the mountain as a warning system actually work  (more than half failed the last time they tested the things), have about 10 to 15 minutes to get out of Puyallup before a 20 to 100 foot wave of mud the consistency of wet concrete and the remnants of forests, houses, bridges and light poles obliterates the town.

I have GOT to quit reading this stuff. I didn't go to bed till 2 am and by the time I did, I had two bugout bags assembled, had consulted the topographical maps to find the quickest way out of town and out of the path of previous lahars along the highest roads available.  I slept like a cat, ready to jump out of bed at the first siren.

So, it's a new house and I'm snoozing blissfully along at 6 am when my bride decides the sun is too bright, gets up and goes downstairs to make some toast and coffee.

Sometime halfway through the toast preparation process, the little crumbs knocked loose inside the toaster went up in tiny little flames setting off the fire alarm upstairs.

Now this new house has this hypersensitive fire alarm that not only sets itself off with a piercing shriek, but has this woman's voice that says "Fire" over and over in that voice that the computer on Star Trek used to use to announce that the Enterprise was going to blow up in 10 seconds....

The commotion woke me from a deep sleep featuring dreams about not being able to find my bugout bag and molten lava in the living room.

I hit the floor and was halfway downstairs when I realized that I was traveling at a speed that was beyond the rated speed limit of our carpeted staircase.

The dog, meanwhile, had been roused by my leaping from the bed screaming, "Lahar" (which rhymes with fire if you are from East Texas).  Halfway down the stairs she passed me going like a little black missile sweeping me along in her wake. The next thing I knew I hit the floor at the foot of the stairs and my ancient and decrepit knees buckled under me.

I woke up after an indeterminate nap on the carpet with the dog licking my face and my wife standing over me, hands on hips, complaining, "I was just making a piece of toast for heaven's sake!"

The fire alarm lady finally stopped shouting "Fire!" at us and everyone was able to go back to bed - everybody except my Sweet Baboo, who felt compelled to stay up and empty more moving boxes and to sweep, dust and mop stuff till she collapsed from exhaustion about 11 am.

We hid the toaster from her.

Like I said, I need to stop reading the Volcano Safety literature late at night.


No comments: