A Letter From Our President
CHERNOBYL and COVID-19
When I took this job almost 5 years ago I told you that I am not much of a historian. That is still true, but I am ‘doing’ a lot of history. I look forward to answering e-mail and phone calls from people all over the country wondering about their Belton ancestors, childhood homes, lost schools and parks, etc. As I have written before, I would LOVE to have you as a resource – just contact me and I will start using your expertise.
The part of history I really like is comparisons. Recently I read Midnight in Chernobyl-The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham and viewed the HBO special Chernobyl. While reading the book I was struck by the similarities between the COVID-19 crisis and the Chernobyl crisis.
On April 26, 1986 Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant (near Kiev, Ukraine—formerly USSR) exploded and spewed radioactive material around the globe. This was not a nuclear explosion, but a design flaw that allowed the nuclear reaction to race “out-of-control”, which in turn produced so much heat that the steam system could not absorb it all and radioactive steam eventually blew open the stainless steel reactor.
There are several parallels between the COVID-19 crisis and the Chernobyl crisis:
- The initial reaction in both crises was denial that this was anything other than a minor problem. At Chernobyl, both in the control room all the way to the President Mikhail Gorbachev level, there was disbelief then denial. Everyone from Politburo members to nuclear experts insisted on flying over 500 miles to the site because they did not believe the description. This could not be happening at a well-designed Soviet nuclear plant. All of us remember President Trump saying the coronavirus was not as bad as the flu, and that the 15 cases in the US would go to zero.
- Before the first death there was finger-pointing and the blame game. At Chernobyl, supervisors blamed operators, nuclear executives blamed supervisors, nuclear physicists blamed the design, and the politicians even blamed “the US CIA” for the accident. At times this hindered treatment of victims and led to greater exposures to the general USSR and European populations. Similarly, US and China and Europe blaming each other for the COVID-19 crisis led to significant delays in pursuing the best control and treatment strategies for victims, particularly those in the US. USSR officials were hesitant to ask worldwide authorities for help, as is the Trump administration (e.g., his refusal to accept help from the World Health Organization).
- In both cases, the general population was initially unaware of the crisis.Pripyat, the town closest to the reactor, was unaware of the severity of the explosion for several days even though the town was the home for almost all of the operators and supervisors at the plant. News was restricted (again, this was the USSR), and several adults and children in the town were unknowingly exposed to large amounts of radiation (in one sense radiation exposure is similar to virus exposure in that there is a delay in symptoms prior to sickness). In the United States, the effect and severity of COVID-19 was not conveyed to the public for over 2 months by government health officials, leading to many unnecessary exposures and deaths.
- Hospitals were overloaded with cases. In the USSR, the only hospital with expertise and beds for treating radiation sickness was 500 miles away in Moscow, and unprepared for the number and severity of cases (radiation causes at least 3 health effects: acute exposures basically turn internal organs to fluids resulting in a short, painful death; moderate exposures cause organ failures and possible death; long-term exposure causes cancer). In the COVID-19 crisis, initial response was to ‘flatten the curve’ to preserve hospital beds and specialized equipment, but still several hospitals in New York were overwhelmed with patients.
- Both radiation (cancer) and COVID-19 (respiratory, heart, and brain anomalies) cause delayed and lasting effects.
- Chernobyl and the COVID-19 crisis established true heroes. At Chernobyl, workers volunteered to remove highly radioactive debris to reduce the radiation from the site. There is little that can be done to stop radiation with personal protective equipment, so these workers knew that even a few minutes of exposure would increase their likelihood of death. Even so, just like the medical workers and other essential personnel in the COVID-19 crisis, they volunteered to help their fellow man unselfishly.
One thing that is different between these 2 crises is that Chernobyl caused only 31 deaths at the site, and up to 4000 in the area (possibly including some co-health deaths as far away as Western Europe). For the COVID-19 crisis, there have now been 520,000 deaths worldwide.
Finally, one thing we want to be different is the resiliency of the crisis. The half-lives of several of the radioactive elements distributed throughout the world are over 100,000 years. Hopefully COVID-19 will not be around for that long!
General Meeting—Sunday July 26
2:30 P.M. in the Theater Behind the Museum
Here we go again! We sincerely hope that the third time is a charm! In January our speaker was unable to attend our General Meeting due to a family health emergency. In April our speaker could not attend as our meeting was cancelled. So, keep your fingers crossed that with masks on and utilizing social distancing at our meeting, we will FINALLY meet and hear our speaker, Kavan Stull!
Kavan portrays President Truman in his old WWI uniform after retirement from public life. Stull will share Truman’s wartime memories. Many of these stories are told through letters between Harry and Bess. It promises to be so very interesting.
Please respect the rights of others and wear a mask to the meeting. Masks will be available if you don’t have one. We will arrange seating for social distancing. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting in a group setting, we understand.
It is with sadness that we report the passing of Life Member, Ernestine Hockaday Powell. Wife of the late William V. “Bill” Powell and mother of Dr. W. Kent Powell, she died June 24th at Excelsior Springs Nursing and Rehab. Ernestine was 100 years old.
Ernestine worked for the Little Shirt Factory and The Grace Company where she retired as Vice President. She was a member of the Crossroads United Methodist Church, The Belton Historical Society, had served on the Belton Cemetery Board as well as the Richards-Gebaur and Whiteman Base Councils. She served as a Cub Scout Den Mother and was a charter member of the American Legion Auxiliary for Post 488 and remained a member continuously since 1946.
Burial was in Belton Cemetery. We thank the Powell family for their requests that memorial donations be made to the Belton Historical Society, P.O. Box 1144, Belton, MO, 64012.
Blood Drive at Main Street Theater
On July 22, Main Street Theater (510 Main Street behind the Museum), is donating their space to The American Red Cross blood drive from noon—6 pm. Please consider donating since the country is severely short of blood supplies during the coronavirus pandemic at hand. All donors will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies and the results shared with the donor only. Go to https://www.redcrossblood.org to make an appointment. Appointments are required so that the number of people in the building at any time is in accordance with CDC guidelines. MASKS REQUIRED.
2020 Scholarship News
The Belton Historical Society will be honoring the 2020 scholarship recipients at the July 26 meeting. The scholarship committee began work in January with the posting of the online scholarship application. Thirteen applications were received and five were chosen to receive a $1000 scholarship. This year the selection process was more challenging because committee work was disrupted by the pandemic. Even so, we announced the scholarship winners during the virtual Belton High School Awards Ceremony held in April.
Congratulations to these students as they continue their education: Chante Graham will attend the University of Missouri to study biology with the goal of becoming a neurologist. Amber Herman will attend Rockhurst University to study nursing. Emily Kerchner will attend Longview then transfer to a university to get a business degree. Rosa Reyes will attend the University of Missouri to earn an undergraduate degree. Addison Yinger will attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock taking courses leading to a career in the medical field. Each of the students graduated with a high academic record, were leaders in school organizations, participated in a variety of school activities as well as most were employed while attending school.
Donations for scholarships are welcome and needed in order to help outstanding students in our community who will be our future leaders. Scholarship Committee members are Jackie Kreisel, Sally Smith, Evelyn Tabor, Charlotte Bradley, Rob Powell, ex officio and Karen Calvert, Chair.
Odds and Ends at the Old City Hall
Even though COVID-19 had shut down the museum, work in the building continued. In May our contractor completed installation of 36 tie rods and plates in the attic to prevent the “walls from falling off”. If you have not noticed, we now have 36 stars spread around the top of the building, each connected to steel rods connected to 8” rafters or the opposite side of the building. We should be good for another 100 years!
If you have seen the building recently, you have noticed that our window sashes are rotting away. The board will be considering 3 bids to fix the windows.
Both of these projects are supported by both the Historical Society and BCPI.
I know I have mentioned a ramp “a million times”, but we ARE still planning on constructing a handicap ramp on the front of the building. We spent several months evaluating an elevator, but the cost, particularly for upkeep, is almost double that for the ramp. We are asking for donations to make the ramp a reality.
The Museum committee made several major upgrades to the displays just before the COVID-19 virus shut us down. Please come and see the new additions!
Finally, you may recall in May 2019 we participated in Missouri’s This Place Matters, a statewide open house for historical areas. We opened up the old city hall to many out-of-town visitors. This year we had to postpone the event, but the 2020 This Place Matters will coincide with Belton’s Fall Festival in September.
President Rob Powell is in the process of appointing the members of the Nominating Committee. The Committee, per bylaws, consists of a Chairperson, 2 members of the Board of Directors and 2 members of the General Membership. If you are interested in serving our Historical Society in a new way, please tell Rob Powell what your interests are and where you would like to serve. Please call Rob! 816-331-6710. Don’t be shy. Membership on the Board requires 4 quarterly Board meetings along with the 4 quarterly general membership meetings. Committees within the Board really keep the museum alive and well!
Museum Re-opened July 7th
Be sure to visit the museum in July! There are many new exhibits that you’ve never seen before!
The Museum Committee was ready for a strong opening, but had to close due to coronavirus in March.
The Museum is Open!