Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Puerto Rican Earthshattering Kaboom

Last night, I asked a friend, "Did you hear about the explosion in Puerto Rico?" He hadn't. About 1500 people near San Juan have been displaced by an explosion at a Caribbean Oil storage facility in the wee hours of Friday morning. The explosion registered 2.8 on the Richter scale, which isn't much for an earthquake but is one heck of an explosion. Yesterday brought fears of increased casualties as the wind brought the cloud of smoke over San Juan, but so far no major injuries have been reported and the wind has shifted in the other direction, although the fire is still burning out of control, almost 60 hours after it started.

This morning, that same friend asked me, "Did you hear the news?" He wasn't talking about the fire in Puerto Ri
co, though. He was talking about the fire at Pinball Pete's, a former pinball emporium in downtown Ann Arbor, MI. The building has been vacant for a while, but the fire caused the temporary evacuation of a nearby student housing high rise. The pictures are pretty spectacular.

The fact that the Caribbean Oil fire hasn't gotten all that much coverage in the mainland US should not be surprising. As I've often said, we pay attention to things that are horrible, unexpected, and happen in places and to people we identify with. It will give you some idea how much we in the United States identify with Puerto Rico that has been running its coverage in its "World" section, not in its "U.S." section. As they say in the musical "West Side Story,"
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico's in America
The Washington Post has this story in the Nation Digest, so at least they've located it properly. It's the third story in the digest. Balloon Boy is number one.

Both of these fires are exciting. To the people who are right there, they are also probably traumatic. One man in Puerto Rico was quoted as saying,
I didn't expect to see a mushroom cloud from my house
For most of us, though, these stories are attention grabbing if we live nearby or know the area, and mildly interesting otherwise. That's because we know that fires happen, we hope they don't happen to us, and no one was seriously injured in either blaze. We love stories like this. We can sit back and watch, admire the power of fire to destroy and its beauty in the night sky, and not really worry about it. We are voyeurs at heart, and in these cases, we can do it with impunity.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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