Thursday, November 12, 2009 11/12/09 - the dust bowl

In today's encore excerpt - the American Dust
Bowl, which lasted from 1930 to as late as 1940 in
some areas. Rated the number one weather event of
the twentieth century, the Dust Bowl covered one
hundred million acres in parts of Nebraska, Kansas,
Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and left
thousands dead, diseased and destitute:

"The rains disappeared - not just for a season but for
years on end. With no sod to hold the earth in place,
the soil calcified and started to blow. Dust clouds
boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and
rolled like moving mountains - a force of their own.
When the dust fell, it penetrated everything: hair, nose,
throat, kitchen, bedroom, water well. A scoop shovel
was needed just to clean the house in the morning.
The eeriest thing was the darkness. People tied
themselves to ropes before going to a barn just a few
hundred feet away, like a walk in space, tethered to
the life support center. Chickens roosted in
mid-afternoon. ...

"Many in the East did not believe the initial accounts of
predatory dust until a storm in May 1934 carried the
windblown shards of the Great Plains over much of
the nation. In Chicago, twelve million tons of dust fell.
New York, Washington - even ships at sea, three
hundred miles off the Atlantic coast - were blanketed
in brown. Cattle went blind and suffocated. When
farmers cut them open, they found stomachs stuffed
with fine sand. Horses ran madly against the storms.
Children coughed and gagged, dying of something
the doctors called 'dust pneumonia.' In desperation,
some families gave away their children. The
instinctive act of hugging a loved one or shaking
someone's hand could knock two people down, for
the static electricity from the dusters was so
strong. ...

"By 1934, the soil was like fine-sifted flour, and the
heat made it a danger to go outside many days. In
Vinita, Oklahoma, the temperature soared above 100
degrees for thirty-five consecutive days. On the thirty-
sixth day, it reached 117. ...

"On the skin, the dust was like a nail file, a grit strong
enough to hurt. People rubbed Vaseline in their
nostrils as a filter. The Red Cross handed out
respiratory masks to schools. Families put wet towels
beneath their doors and covered their windows with
bed sheets, fresh-dampened nightly. ...

"Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, [was the] day of the
worst duster of them all. The storm carried twice as
much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the
Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the
storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000
tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. ...
As the black wall approached, car radios clicked off,
overwhelmed by the static. Ignitions shorted out.
Waves of sand, like ocean water rising over a ship's
prow, swept over roads. Cars went into ditches. A train

Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time, Mariner,
Copyright 2006 by Timothy Egan, pp. 5-8.


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