Thursday, January 19, 2017

ADULT NONFICTION REVIEW: The White Cascade by Gary Krist


In February 1910, a monstrous, record-breaking blizzard hit the Northwest. Nowhere was the danger more terrifying than near a tiny town called Wellington, perched high in the Cascade Mountains, where a desperate situation evolved: two trainloads of cold, hungry passengers and their crews found themselves marooned. For days, an army of the Great Northern Railroad's most dedicated men worked to rescue the trains, but just when escape seemed possible, the unthinkable occurred—a colossal avalanche tumbled down, sweeping the trains over the steep slope and down the mountainside. Centered on the astonishing spectacle of our nation's deadliest avalanche, The White Cascade is the masterfully told story of a never-before-documented tragedy.


I have this strange attraction to books about natural disasters.  I think this is for a couple of reasons.  First, I'm always in awe of Mother Nature's power and second, I'm always interested in the ways people respond.  Almost always there are courageous people who help others unselfishly, and usually there are others who are pretty self-centered, but most people fall somewhere in between.  Krist does a fantastic job of setting the scene for the disaster by describing some of the people involved as well as giving background on the railroad and how they managed to build a line through the Cascades in the first place.  As one might expect, there was plenty of blame to go around, but nobody could have predicted the severity of the storms that moved through leading the the numerous avalanches that stranded the trains in the first place.  Despite the best efforts of the area train superintendent and his crews, they just could not keep up with the amount of snow that accumulated and then slid blocking the tracks in both directions several times.  Experiences like this one almost always lead to changes in policies and procedures and this disaster was no different.  And of course lawsuits and other things happened afterward as well.  Krist is careful to cover the aftermath as well as the disaster itself, giving the reader a chance to see the changes that disasters bring about.  Krist has written a very engaging book about a horrible event.

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