Within days of a tornado that destroyed 90% of Greensburg, KS, at least 7 people have been arrested for looting the town:
Four soldiers and a reserve police officer were arrested Sunday on suspicion of looting cigarettes and alcohol from a store in this tornado-ravaged town, state officials said.
In a separate incident, two people wearing Red Cross jackets who were not members of the relief agency were arrested Sunday on suspicion of looting, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the adjutant general’s office.
I’m sure that the same people who thought we should deny aid to New Orleans because people trapped in the city were seen taking food from stores will now rail against the federal assistance being given to the town. As was my position then, I think that taking food from a store that’s been destroyed is probably not the end of the world, and not too much to get agitated about (though people who happen to have a spare Red Cross jacket probably aren’t stealing food because they can’t afford it from the Dillon’s in their own town).
What bugs me more is that the 1,000 pound pallasite meteorite, one of the world’s largest, is gone. So is the rest of the town’s meteorite collection. That collection wasn’t just an important part of the town’s tourism industry, right alongside it’s hand-dug well (which is presumed to be intact underneath the wreckage). The meteorites were part of what could have been a wonderful experiment in scientific advocacy for the region.
Meteorite hunters travel to the area to hunt for fragments of the Brenham meteorite and other meteorites which have been found in the area. As people recognize the commercial oppotunities involved, they’ve gotten more active in promoting the region, which means learning about the meteorites. Chondrites like the Beardsley meteorite (which fell nearby in 1929) help us date the age of earth. They formed around the same time that the planets did, and have been accurately dated to over 4 billion years old.
Festivals celebrating these alien rocks give the area’s citizens a chance to be proud of the area’s scientific heritage, and give chances to talk about science in ways that connect people’s daily lives with cosmic time scales. If someone stole those meteorites, they stole a piece of that town’s heritage, its future, and our planet’s past.
Update: The meteorite is not missing.