Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes Through the Centuries

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9781250050663: Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes Through the Centuries
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Natural and man-made disasters have the power to destroy thousands of lives very quickly. Both as they unfold and in the aftermath, these forces of nature astonish the rest of the world with their incredible devastation and magnitude. In this collection of ten well-known catastrophes such as the great Chicago fire, the sinking of the Titanic, and Hurricane Katrina, Brenda Guiberson explores the causes and effects, as well as the local and global reverberations of these calamitous events. Highlighted with photographs and drawings, each compelling account tells the story of destruction and devastation, and most especially, the power of mankind to persevere in the face of adversity.

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About the Author:

Brenda Z. Guiberson has written many books for children, including Cactus Hotel, Spoonbill Swamp, and Moon Bear. As a child, Brenda never thought she wanted to be a writer―her dreams tended more toward jungle explorer. She graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in English and Fine Art. She started thinking about writing for children when her son went to elementary school, and she volunteered in his class and in the school library. After taking exciting trips that involved a fifty-foot cactus, hungry alligators and sunset-colored spoonbills, she wanted to create books for children that would be like a field trip. Her books are full of well-researched detail, and Brenda sees this research as an adventure―one that allows her to be a jungle explorer at last. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Smallpox
The Parasitic HorrorA Tricky Virus
Starting in the early 1600s, a great disaster struck Native Americans living across the land that would become the United States and Canada. Their population was drastically reduced, from 20 million to less than one million. Ninety-five percent dead, with some tribes extinct! One cause of this great tragedy was a microbe so small that 50,000 of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.
This horror was the smallpox virus. As a parasite, it must continually find a new human host or it will die. For thousands of years, throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa, among emperors, kings, and poor folk too, smallpox made people so sick that they often died. The virus survived by traveling to new victims in a sneeze, a cough, or the pus of an oozing rash. Millions of contagious microbes lingered in scabs that fell, after four or five weeks, from the dried-up rash of survivors. Blankets and clothing could remain contagious for months.Smallpox, the variola virus, can cover the body and be transmitted through contact with an infected person or with objects that have touched the infected person.The smallpox virus, variola, is the largest virus. Poliovirus is the smallest. Each virus has a different lifestyle that we must understand in order to prevent or cure it.
Over the centuries, Old World populations built up defenses against smallpox. One in three people with the disease died. Lucky people who did not get sick passed on this natural resistance to their children. The survivors ended up with an army of defensive microbes in their bodies to protect them from another infection. But children were always born who had yet to catch it. Then a coughing visitor sick with smallpox would arrive. A new epidemic would sweep through the crowds until the tiny microbe ran out of hosts.
But smallpox was unknown in North America. Explorers, settlers, slaves, and missionaries from the Old World were the visitors who transported it there. Unseen and uninvited, this parasite played a huge role in the shaping of the United States.
New World, No Resistance
It is the early 1600s along the coast of Massachusetts. Native Americans meet European fishermen who have come ashore for freshwater. Soon a strange sickness with fiery pain and oozing rashes sweeps through the tribe. Traditional medicines offer no relief.
A mother cradles her feverish child, who has red spots in his mouth and a rash on his skin. The child coughs and sends a spray of saliva into the air, each droplet containing thousands of a tiny virus that no one can see. The mother inhales some into her nose.
Quickly, the virus drills into a cell of her body. Once inside, the parasite stops the cell from doing its normal work and turns it into a smallpox factory. Thousands upon thousands of new viruses are reproduced until—poof!—the cell explodes into a shower of hundreds of thousands of new microbes. The pox spreads to lymph nodes and travels through the bloodstream. Eventually, it sickens the lungs, spleen, eyes, liver—so many important parts of the body.
After a week, the mother is bedridden with severe aches, nausea, and high fever. The child dies. Mourners bring food and carefully remove the child in his soiled blanket. Without knowing it, they become new hosts for the parasitic virus.This 1620 Plymouth scene shows Pilgrims unloading items from the Mayflower as a lone Native American watches.
Soon a rash breaks out on the mother’s skin. When the blisters ooze with pus, it smells like rotting flesh. No one comes to help her. Too many are dead or dying, and the rest have fled in a panic to another village. They have become the visitors who continue the chain of infection. Any survivors will have deep pockmarks on their face, and some will be blind after four weeks of terrible sickness.
Since no Native Americans have been ill with this virus before, or with other illnesses introduced by Europeans, none have the defensive microbes left over from the sickness. Meeting no resistance, the parasite invades and overwhelms most of them.
When the Pilgrims arrive on the Mayflower in 1620, they find the deserted village of Patuxet. The land is already cleared and ready to be planted, but there are no people, only graves and scattered bones. Meeting no resistance, the Pilgrims move in and call it Plymouth.
More Than One Way to View an Epidemic
Shiploads of Puritans arrived in Massachusetts in 1630. In 1633 another smallpox epidemic raged. William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, wrote about the death toll in one of the tribes, stating that more than 950 of 1,000 died, “and many of them did rott above ground for want of buriall.”
In the Plymouth colony there were 20 deaths from smallpox. Most of the adults had been exposed to the disease before. The parasite mainly infected children under 12, who did not yet have immunity.
Because the Indians were dying in such great numbers, some colonists thought the disease was caused by God, for their benefit. Increase Mather, a Puritan clergyman in Boston, wrote, “The Indians began to be quarrelsome concerning the bounds of the land they had sold to the English, but God ended the controversy by sending the smallpox amongst the Indians... who were before that exceeding numerous. Whole towns of them were swept away, in some of them not so much as one Soul escaping the destruction.”
Others, however, used direct observation to learn about the disease. They realized that smallpox spread when a sick person came into contact with a healthy person. As a harbor town, Boston had a steady supply of newcomers, and some arrived sick. In 1647, the city authorities decided to isolate them with a quarantine. Ships were not allowed to dock until infected passengers died and were buried at sea, or until the last crusty scabs of the pox fell off, which could take four or five weeks.
This was not the end of smallpox, however. Ships held in a long quarantine did not make money, so many devious captains found ways to slip through. The city of Boston had five major smallpox epidemics in the 1600s, even after the practice of quarantining had begun. And disease continued to invade new tribes as trade and exploration expanded to new areas of the country. Millions died all the way to the West Coast, leaving desperate survivors with a loss of confidence in their culture and their gods. Some Native Americans had been enslaved by Europeans looking for workers, but so many of them died that a trade opened up to bring slaves from Africa.
The Power of Information
Increase Mather had a son named Cotton. In 1677–78, when he was 15, Cotton survived a smallpox epidemic. Later he became a Puritan clergyman like his father. In 1706 he was given an African slave, and Cotton Mather learned something new: “Enquiring of my Negro-Man Onesimus, who is a pretty intelligent fellow, whether he ever had ye smallpox, he answered Yes and No; and then told me that he had undergone an operation, which had given him something of ye smallpox, and would forever preserve him from it, adding... whoever had ye courage to use it was forever free from ye fear of the contagion.”
This operation was called inoculation. Mather read that it had also been used successfully in the Ottoman Empire. Matter was removed from a smallpox pustule on a mildly sick person and then inserted into needle scratches on the arm of a healthy person. At the scratch site, a single pock-mark erupted. The body would make microbes to attack the virus and then protect the inoculated from getting full-blown smallpox.
When the next smallpox epidemic broke out in 1721, Mather urged all 10 of Boston’s doctors to consider this procedure. But like many devout Christians, they believed that smallpox was God’s punishment for sin and they should not interfere. Also they were afraid of the surgery, and with good reason. Inoculated people sometimes got a severe case of smallpox or developed an infection. One in 50 died. All inoculated patients had to be isolated for three or four weeks because during that time they were contagious.
One doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, used a sharp toothpick and a quill to inoculate his six-year-old son and two slaves. All three were mildly sick and then immune. Many people in Boston were outraged and afraid. An angry crowd threatened to hang Boylston, and someone threw a bomb through Mather’s window that failed to explode. It carried a note: “Cotton Mather, you dog. Damn you! I’ll inoculate you with this, with a pox to you!”
Privately, Mather had his son Samuel inoculated.
Dr. Boylston continued also, and 280 more people were inoculated. Only six of them (about 2 percent) died. Throughout Boston (population around 11,000) about 5,800 got smallpox and 844 (about 15 percent) died.
Enough people heard about this success that inoculation was used in other cities. After his son died of smallpox in 1736, Benjamin Franklin supported it in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Many people traveled great distances to get inoculated, but the numbers were not high enough to slow down the disease. The procedure was very expensive, and people had to take off weeks from work. Only wealthy families could afford it; inoculation became an event where they all remained together for the entire isolation period. Benjamin Franklin thought that the poor should not be the main victims of the disease. In 1774, while he was living in England, he helped to start the Society for the Inoculation of the Poor.
Biological Warfare
Native Americans were left out of the first inoculation programs. But even more tragic, they sometimes became targets of biological warfare, deliberate plans to infect them with the smallpox virus.
In 1763, France and England were at war for control of North America. Some Native American tribes under Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, tried to drive the British out of tribal areas. In May, they surrounded the British stronghold of Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania...

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