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Vote of the week: When disasters strike theme parks, for real

Written by
Published: August 30, 2008 at 9:02 PM

Weather can affect any vacation, whether it be a rainstorm on a day you'd planned to go to the beach, or a warm spell during your ski getaway, turning the slopes to mush.

But natural disasters can make those inconveniences trivial. As I write this, Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on New Orleans, where the Six Flags amusement park closed during Katrina and never reopened. Last month Tropical Storm Fay dropped what seemed like 10 feet of rain on Florida, soaking the Central Florida theme parks along with much of the rest of the state.

Earlier this summer, a moderate earthquake struck Southern California, rattling visitors to the area's theme parks, though, thankfully, none were injured seriously. Summer also not only brings theme park season to the U.S. Midwest, it brings thunderstorms, and the occasional tornado, too.

Which brings me to our vote of the week:

Have any of these ever affected you, personally? Have they ever affected a theme park visit? Tell us your stories, in the comments, please.

Readers' Opinions

From Bruce Lane on August 30, 2008 at 9:43 PM
Personally, yes. Theme park-wise, no.

I was still living in the Bay Area during the years 1986-1993. As a result, I got treated to the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, and the Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991.

I was just leaving work (in Emeryville) when the quake hit. I was sitting in my car, letting the engine warm a bit, when the entire car started bouncing up and down slightly. My first thought was "OK, who's jumping on my bumper?" When I looked up and found no one there, I realized it was a quake.

I didn't think much of it at first. However, just as my brain shifted into 'disregard, nothing big' mode, the main wavefront hit. The car bounced so violently that it was all I could do to just hold on to the wheel for dear life and pray that I wouldn't get overturned or something equally nasty. About that time, a bunch of windows on the factory building across the street blew out.

It was over nearly as fast as it had hit. I went back in, picked up a few bits and pieces that had fallen, and headed out to (of all things) do my laundry. The TV at the laundromat was on the local news channel, and that's when I learned just how severe the shaker had been (Bay Bridge and Cypress Freeway structures collapsed).

The image of cars trying (and failing) to stop on the Bay Bridge before going over that edge is, unfortunately, burned into my (very) permanent memory. I still get the heebie-jeebies about it to this day.

As for the Oakland Hills fire, we came very close to losing our house. I left late, after the rest of my family had already gone, and I clearly remember driving out past an entire hillside that once had a bunch of nice houses on it, but was now nothing but embers (I could literally feel the heat through the car door as I went past).

Thanks to the efforts of a very small and very brave group of volunteer firefighters, our area was one of the few that was spared. We didn't get so much as smoke damage. The rest of the area, however, was not so fortunate. It took two years before the place even started to look normal again.

Perhaps the most valuable lessons I took away from these incidents were to count your blessings, and NEVER take anything truly important to you for granted!

Happy travels.

From Eric Malone on August 31, 2008 at 2:18 AM
Hurricanes don't scare me too much. You get some kind of forewarning and you can evacuate or hunker down, depending on the severity of the storms. They always do damage, but don't generally linger for longer than a handful of hours (in some cases, anyway).

Earthquakes don't scare me, either. May be because I've lived in Florida all my life and haven't experienced one.

It's tornadoes that scare me the most. Little to no warning (besides violent weather), unpredictable and just focused destruction. Honestly, I've never seen one in real life, but there was one case when I was driving my mother and I to school (I attended the same school she taught at), and the weather was the worst I'd seen in a long time.

Well, it got extremely windy and, because it was pitch black dark (it was around 6:30 AM or so), I could barely see the road except for the reflective markers, which I had pretty much decided to follow. Sure enough, the reflective markers pretty much stopped dead, and I had to stop (luckily, no-one else was on the road).

We later found out that a tornado was reported to had barreled through that area only minutes before we drove by. It was so strong that it tore the reflective markers off of the road.

So, that's the closest I've been to seeing - or experiencing - a tornado.

From TH Creative on August 31, 2008 at 5:05 AM
We were staying at the Grand Californian in July. The kids and I standing in the gift/sundries shop off the lobby. I felt a rumble in the walls (thinking at first it was from a passing monorail.

And then the floor and walls started to shake!

The rest of the day was spent at the pool sharing conversations with other guests -- most of which began with someone asking "where were you when ..."

From Tim W on August 31, 2008 at 8:16 AM
I arrived in WDW the day hurricane charlie hit in 2005. It was horrible. I got there around 11, and every park had announced it closure. So we went to the hotel, pop century, and the lines are insane for food, lucky us. There were probly hour lines just to get food as they were wraped aroudn the entire place. they closed everything off for the night and the wind was unbareable. they advised u to stay in ur room. they even sent security and other staff to warn people who were outside watching the storm. (silly people). so for dinner since everything was closed, we had chips and candy left over from our flight. But the first day when your ready to go, it was just horrible being stuck in a hotel room!
From rick stevens on August 31, 2008 at 6:25 PM
Tornados are just so unpredictable. You have time with a Hurricaine. Yes, eathquakes are also unpredictable, but I have lived in Southern California for over 40 years and really large quakes are few. They are still bothersome, but the parks usually stay open. They check the rides and structures for damage then life goes on as normal. It actually helps keep the crowds down. You should add fires to the list.
From Tim W on August 31, 2008 at 6:49 PM
forest fires yes, and i'm from buffalo where blizzards can also be extremely hazardous like our october storm 2 years ago.....also there are floods which can affect theme parks as well, but it kinda ties in w/ hurricanes
From Beth Bickar on August 31, 2008 at 7:13 PM
Hurricanes are the least of my worries. I live in Wilmington, NC and have lived through approx. 7-10 hurricanes, never once experiencing any sort of drastic damage; the worst being a limb propelled through a screen on my screened-in porch. No further explanation needed on my immunity to hurricanes.

I don't worry about earthquakes either. Living on the east coast and mostly out of range of the nearest hazard (Charleston, SC) means that an earthquake is the least likely of the three.

I have to agree with most people and say that a tornado is far more intense and less predictable than a hurricane, which gives it a much greater "fear factor" (bad joke).

To answer the final question, natural disasters have never interfered with any of my plans to attend theme parks and/or events.

From Anthony Murphy on August 31, 2008 at 9:06 PM
Personally, only Tornados happen around me. The last earthquake Illinois had was in April. I slept through it!
It also happens suddenly vs hurricanes which you could more or less track its progress
From Brandon Mendoza on September 1, 2008 at 8:11 AM
I would have to agree that a Tornado scares me the most due to the semi-unpredictability and sudden appearance of them. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a Tornado season too??? I know Earthquakes are unpredictable, but they don't occur regularly. And Hurricanes/ Typhoons only scare me if I'm on an island such as Hawaii or anywhere in S.E. Asia or the actual Caribbean where there's no where to evacuate to.

Fires are definitely scary... what's stupid is a lot of them are caused by people, whether it's cigarette butts, arson, or just plain negligence.

I know they're rare, but volcano eruptions are very scary... I was on a S.E. Asia trip when I was a kid and my family and I happened to be in the Philippines when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. It was a combination of an earthquake, the sun blocked out in the early afternoon (almost complete darkness), and then ash everywhere making everything grey.

As for theme parks, I've never been affected during a trip by any natural disaster. And in short, Tornadoes are the scariest.

From Scott Verble on September 1, 2008 at 12:18 PM
I live in Florida and just got hammered by fay and im watching Hanna like a hawk. I just hoping that my trip to universal for rock the universe doesn't get canceled because of Hanna like what happened three years ago. Hurricanes Suck! but that scariest part are the tornadoes that spin off of them.
From Karin S on September 1, 2008 at 2:41 PM
I grew up in near Buffalo has suffered through the "lake effect" storms. I moved to Boston where we were pounded by "Nor'easters" and now live in Central Florida where the news channels start talking about hurricanes in April and we've been fortunate enough not to have one hit in our area. Now, tornados scare the heck out of me. I've never experienced one, but just the look of those funnel clouds on tv fills me with dread.

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