Exxon Valdez…Disaster in Paradise

Today in History, March 24, 1989:

The Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker which had just filled up and was headed through Prince William Sound, Alaska, runs aground on Bligh Reef.

The rupture in the tanker’s hull allowed nearly 11 million gallons of oil to spill into the waters of the Sound and The Gulf of Alaska.

Over the next several days the crude eventually spread over approximately 1300 miles if pristine Coastline in what is arguably the last wild frontier.

Hundreds of thousands of fish, birds and other animals that make Alaska and its waters home were defenseless against the sudden onslaught. Many were rescued by volunteers equipped with dish soap, while many more died.

Exxon, the government and others tried several methods in attempts to clean up the mess, but what I’ve read indicated the results were meager, and nature is doing a better job of healing the Unfathomable damage itself. Still, almost 30 years later, the effects of the crew and company’s irresponsibility remain.

Exxon estimates it spent approximately 2.1 billion dollars on cleanup.

In the end a price or cost from the disaster can’t be quantified.

Seward’s Folly

Today in History, March 30: 1867 – “Seward’s Folly”. US Secretary of State William H. Seward signs a treaty with Russia, purchasing Alaska for $7 Million, about 2 cents per acre. He was excoriated in the press for using public funds to buy a frozen landscape. One of his contemporaries described Seward as, “one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints.” This would be borne out with the realization that the United States now owned some of the most beautiful landscape on Earth, which was larger than Texas, California and Montana combined and contained gold and oil that would replace Seward’s investment exponentially. Seward had been a leading contender for the Presidency in 1860, but was beaten by Abraham Lincoln, who asked him to be Secretary of State. Their initially rocky relationship soon changed, and Seward soon became a faithful friend to Lincoln. On the night Lincoln was assassinated, one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators nearly murdered Seward in his home, stabbing him repeatedly. But he survived and continued to serve.

Rescue Mission

Today in History, February 2: 1925 – The children were dying. The last ship had left, and they were iced in. They may as well be living on Mars, considering the distance and conditions. It was 50 below, windswept and icy. By the time the ice thawed and the next ship arrived, they would most likely all be dead, here within a few miles of the North Pole. A diphtheria epidemic had begun in Nome, Alaska. The only doctor, in desperation, sent a telegraph, “An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here STOP I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin STOP Mail is only form of transportation STOP I have made application to Commissioner of Health of the Territories for antitoxin already STOP There are about 3000 white natives in the district.” The native population was unaccustomed to disease…and would most likely be wiped out completely. Supplies of medicine were sent to the Port of Seward, and after many rough men and their teams of Huskies forced their way across 674 miles of the most harsh territory on Earth, the antidote was delivered to Nome on this date in 1925. Had it been a decade in the future, an aircraft could have easily delivered the medicine, but not in 1925. Then it took heroes to save 10,000 souls and perhaps more had the virus spread in the region. A hazardous trip across mountain ranges and frozen tundra that normally took 30 days was made in FIVE…because it had to be. Thus was born the modern Iditarod Race, to commemorate the event.