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that he called upon the god of volcanoes to wipe out
the whole village. Following the eruption, no Maori
would have anything to do with Tuhoto. The site of the
eruption and the surrounding devastated area were
considered taboo, and to this day are avoided by
Resettlement may also be rationalized by a belief
that modern-day technology can prevent destruction in
future disasters. In southern California, great faith is
put into reinforcing older buildings and expressway
overpasses against collapse. Minor earthquakes in 1971
and 1989 have shown that not all this 'technological
strengthening' works. New Zealand is pursuing the
idea of building large buildings on rubber bungs that
can absorb earthquake shock waves and minimize
destruction. Certainly, in areas where this has been
done, earthquakes are not so destructive as they are in
regions where buildings are not built to earthquake
standards. The large death tolls of the Agadir,
Morocco, earthquake of 1960, the Armenian earth-
quake of 1988, and the Bam, Iran earthquake of
December 2003, attest to this latter fact - even though
these events were of lesser magnitude than recent
Californian ones with low death tolls.
Moving elsewhere after a disaster may also be
too disruptive to a wider segment of society. Evacua-
tion of large numbers of people represents a major task
that can put pressure on housing, government, and
consumer supplies in other parts of a country. By con-
taining the survivors, efforts can be efficiently directed
to a single area. For example, the evacuation of Darwin
following Cyclone Tracy (described in Chapter 2) was
not effective. It caused disruption to the people who
were evacuated. Had the numbers been larger, it
would have severely disrupted the economy in the
south. There is an inertia effect resisting the relocation
of so many people. Large communities attract a
communications and business infrastructure that rep-
resents a significant capital investment that cannot be
easily abandoned or relocated. For instance, Messina,
Italy, after the earthquake of 1908, rather than being
abandoned, was rebuilt in the same area because it was
a significant port. Tangshan, China, provides an impor-
tant link between Beijing and Tienshen on the coast.
For this reason, it had to be quickly rebuilt following
the 1976 earthquake. The only concession to the
disaster was the rebuilding of the city as a series of
satellite cities spread out to minimize damage in any
future earthquake. Some countries such as Japan and
China have more centralized economies, where the
government decides the movement and location of
people. There is no personal choice to leaving or
resettlement. The government makes the decision, and
either enforces or encourages it.
A final reason why people may choose not to resettle
elsewhere is that the disaster may appear to be a one-
off or exceedingly rare event. In this case, alternatives
to resettlement in the same area do not arise. For
example, tropical cyclones affecting southern Ontario,
Canada, are relatively rare events. Hurricane Hazel in
1954 represented a 1:200-year event with major
flooding in Toronto. While areas prone to such infre-
quent flooding have been set aside in Toronto as open
space, and hazard planning takes account of this type
of flooding, no plans for massive evacuation have been
established in case another cyclone strikes. The event
is just too rare to be of significant concern. The same
is true of some earthquakes and most volcanoes.
Historically, some of the largest earthquakes in the
United States have occurred at locations such as
New Madrid, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina,
which are not considered seismic. An earthquake
disaster movie set in South Carolina would not be
believable. Nor does the disaster have to be infrequent
to be dismissed. It just has to be perceived as infre-
quent. The slopes of Mt Vesuvius in Italy, and the town
of St Pierre, Martinique, have been resettled despite
the fact that the local volcanoes are still considered
dangerously active. This perception of infrequency
can form very quickly, because people have short
memories of disaster events. For example, within six
months of the 1974 Brisbane River floods in Australia,
property values in flooded areas had returned to their
pre-flood levels.
Myt hs and heroes
The myth that people panic during disasters has
already been dispelled in this chapter. There are a
number of other myths about human response during
disasters that should also be dismissed. The first myth
is that people experiencing the calamity appear
confused, are stunned, and helpless. If anything, disas-
ters bring out the strength in people. Survivors, far
from being helpless, are almost immediately back into
the rubble trying to save people and property. At this
stage in disaster relief, the victims are more than
capable of organizing themselves and performing
the rescue work. The only things they may lack are the
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