“Scarcely had they ceased to lament the loss of their benefactor and set foot in the city, when they perceived that the earth trembled under their feet, and the sea, swelling and foaming in the harbour, was dashing in pieces the vessels that were riding at anchor. Large sheets of flames and cinders covered the streets and public places; the houses tottered, and were tumbled topsy-turvy even to their foundations, which were themselves destroyed, and thirty thousand inhabitants of both sexes, young and old, were buried beneath the ruins.” This was Voltaire, in Candide, writing about the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed Lisbon.
Voltaire’s satirising of optimism – all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds – will have come to many minds this week after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and its radioactive fallout. One’s heart goes out to the many thousands who have lost loved ones in such a cruel fashion. It is now very difficult to watch the images from Friday of the water spreading inland, taking everything before it. Stories such as that of the man spotted and rescued 15 miles out to sea are fleeting bright spots in a very dark picture indeed. The power of nature, even to a species that has done so much to tame it, truly is humbling.
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Shipping minister Mike Penning was left in no doubt yesterday about the strength of feeling against his department’s proposal to close either Lerwick or Stornoway coastguard station and reduce the operating hours of the other to daytime only. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s consultation was, he said, a genuine listening exercise. If that is so, he should now get to work on a sensible alternative proposal.