India’s own Porter Ranch x10,000

We are enjoying Bhopal, India. It’s a thriving city that is off the beaten path of most travelers.

There’s a disturbing story about Bhopal, pertinent in light of the gas leak in Porter Ranch, CA.

Image: bhopal.net

In the middle of the night, December 2, 1984, the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal leaked a huge toxic cloud of heaver-than-air gas into the city, population 1 million people (bigger than San Francisco). The cloud crept its way into the sleeping city, killing 2,259 people immediately, wreaking havoc as the people were woken up to chaos.

Imagine what that was like. Ugh.

Image: http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=13417

The government issued a mandatory evacuation of the whole city. More chaos.

There are estimates that it ultimately caused around 18,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries, often blindness and respiratory problems.

It is still the biggest industrial disaster the world has seen.

That was over 31 years ago. There has been some money paid, but the final outcome is STILL stuck in courts. The plant structure sit idle, a sleeping monster. Between the 30 year court battle and a failure to rehabilitate and rebuild the site, there is no closure for the residents who still remember those that died, and of course the injured residents that are still alive. Heather and I had an intimate discussion about this with our homestay hosts. Sony, our friendly hostess, said “After the terrible tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York, I hear they cleaned up the site and have rebuilt a new building. Why hasn’t our country done the same here, so that we can move on?” How utterly sad. May closure come soon so that the residents can move on from this painful memory.

A surprising takeaway from my discussion with Sony: I realized how fortunate US citizens were to able to rebuild from our own tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, with no major bureaucratic and corporate corruption crippling the process.

Fortunately, the tragedy has not kept Bhopal from growing, as it’s population now is estimated at 1.8 million. One of the many enjoyable things we have seen is the religious acceptance in a place that has one of the larger populations of Muslims in India, at 27% as of 2011. We see Hindus living beside Muslims living beside Christians, harmoniously.

Image: Giles Clarke, Getty Images

Bhopal is yet another example of hard lessons and encouraging perceptions we’ve seen while here. With 2–3 more months to go, I look forward to more; it’s why I travel.

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