By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
To the surprise of their friends and neighbors, a few writers and artists suddenly seem unaccountably happy. Prior to the anthrax attack, they'd reached middle age with little to show for it while their college classmates had gone on to become doctors, lawyers and founders of powerful companies. Now that it appears that "we're all going to die anyway," their lifelong failures don't matter anymore and, consequently, their spirits soar.
Others focus their emotions on the need to strike back, although it isn't clear at whom, since the FBI hasn't caught anyone yet. Even so, they post furious tirades on FreeRepublic.com urging the president to kill all "ragheads and camel drivers," "nuke Mecca" and turn Baghdad into "a glass parking lot." Some other, less-well-wrapped citizens methodically go through the Los Angeles phone directory, calling everyone named Mohammed, telling him to "get your ass out of the country and that goes for your family too."
AS HAPPENS WITH EVERY EPIDEMIC, the anthrax death rate follows a bell-shaped curve. On the eighth day the death rate peaks; on the ninth day it drops to 8,105, to 3,721 on the 10th, to 1,113 on the 11th and to 307 on the 12th. After two weeks, it is down to nothing at all. Although the plague is over, the city is not unchanged. Nearly 38,000 people have died.
As for the post-disaster cleanup, authorities are bewildered, and history proves no help. Some dolefully point to the British experience in WWII when Winston Churchill ordered anthrax bombs exploded near 60 tethered sheep on a small island off the Scottish coast. As expected, within three days the sheep began to die. What was less expected was that the island remained uninhabitable for nearly 50 years. It wasn't until 1990 that workers made the place safe again by burning the infected topsoil and soaking the remainder in 280 tons of formaldehyde.
Others optimistically argue that no outdoor cleanup is needed at all, given that any remaining spores will have long ago settled to the ground, drifted off to Riverside or Palm Springs, or, most likely of all, wafted into the stratosphere only to come down weeks and months later on remote oceans, forests and mountain ranges.
While state and federal officials argue over what to do, city workers breathing through HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters prowl the streets day and night in spray trucks, washing any street spores into the storm drains (a policy angrily denounced by an animal-rights advocacy group as a "public relations Band-Aid" that will result in "riparian genocide" for L.A. River wildlife while still not saving any human lives). Some citizens, tired of waiting for the city to move forward, simply wash off their roofs with garden hoses, an apparent common-sense solution that nonetheless re-aerosolizes so many spores that 18 new anthrax infections occur.
Weeks later, epidemiologists and meteorologists are still trying to figure out what to do about the contamination problem, when the first of three fierce spring storms sweeps through the area, giving people a much-needed sense that the city of Los Angeles, having paid grievously for its sins, is now being washed clean. And by the time the storms are over, it seems that in many ways it is. Repeated testing shows few airborne spores. As for surface spores, they are quickly rendered harmless by L.A.'s endless sun.
IN THE WEEKS AND MONTHS THAT follow, a new city is born in L.A., albeit a much poorer one. To keep the port closed costs a billion dollars a day, and the numbers just rise exponentially after that. In the meantime, ships are stranded. Importers go broke. Just-in-time manufacturers shut down their assembly lines. The FBI insists that every container coming into the country be inspected (up from one-half of 1 percent before the attack), while the Customs Service suggests that attempting to inspect even as much as 20 percent of the incoming containers will totally bankrupt the nation's economy.
Effects from the catastrophe ripple through every part of the city. Film and television production either shuts down completely, or moves en masse to Canada. Amusement parks close their doors. After some downtown skyscrapers lose most of their tenants, motorists discover they can park at will on city streets on which pedestrians have now become so rare that the central library and major museums are open only two days a week. Trying to drum up business, the Beverly Center hires a fleet of vans, available on call to pick up anyone who wants to go shopping there. With dinner reservations at an all-time low, some (formerly) expensive restaurants cut their wine prices by two-thirds. And the Dodgers, citing the difficulty of getting other teams to play in Chavez Ravine, move their schedule to Bakersfield, where, for reasons no one can figure out, they win 22 of their first 25 games.
Psychologically, the entire city has changed. Before the attack, homeowners could count on steadily rising property values, but it soon becomes clear that no one wants to live in an anthrax containment zone. As housing prices continue to fall, some people are shattered to discover that they owe far more on their mortgages than their houses are now worth, causing some of them simply to drop their keys in the mailbox and move out — many to downtown, which, as a consequence, finally gets the revival that decades of economic stimulus and public relations failed to produce. Their former gardeners and housekeepers, more attracted by the good housing than they are fearful of anthrax, happily move in.