Home Wrecked Home is the fifth episode of season two of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on February 2, 2010.
1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE - These are the places that man called home. Where families were raised, meals were shared, and people grew old. In America's vast suburbs alone, 23 million homes now stand empty. Including those in the town that invented suburbia: Levittown, New York. Built during the post-WW2 baby boom, and fueled by America's love affair with the car, Levittown pioneered a new type of suburban living that took America by storm. These mass produced, prefabricated houses quickly multiplied into vast subdivisions. And by the year 2000, for the first time in history, half of all americans lived in suburbs. Now, this classic prototype of suburbia is devois of people, but not of explosive danger. Because in kitchens and hot water heaters everywhere, the gas is still on. In the time of humans, most american homes were heated by natural gas. The highly flammable methane was pumped from naturally pressurized wells, through 2.2 million miles of underground pipelines and compressors. But disaster sometimes erupted from this massive subterranean network. Now, natural pressure from the wells is enough to keep gas flowing into kitchens that will never see another meal. Natural gas has no smell, but a substance called mercaptan was added to give it a distinctive odor that could alert people to leaks. Still, gas leaks cause 2500 home fires and explosions each year, which kill dozens and injure hundreds. Now, people are gone, but leaks still occur. The stoves pile up provides the spark, and this kitchen is toast.
1 WEEK AFTER PEOPLE - Stately homes face an entirely different enemy. On New York's Central Park, the luxurious San Remo apartments look down on a Manhattan devoid of man. In the time of humans, San Remo's apartments sold for up to $20 million. Now, the elite have moved out, and catastrophe is about to move in. A catastrophe that stems from a material that epitomized luxury. The danger eminates from a high-end paint with an unusual ingredient. As linseed oil interacts with oxygen in the air, the chemical reaction produces heat. Without adequate ventilation, spontaneous combustions can occur. In the time of humans, this was a common cause of household fires. In 1991, cotton rags soaked with linseed oil triggered a massive blaze in a Philadelphia high rise. Now, at the San Remo, the paint soaked rags are smouldering. This New York icon is turning into a different kind of hot property.
Over in the Bronx, stands the mirror opposite of the swanky San Remo. Co-Op City, one of the nation's largest apartments complexes, cram with 55 thousand residents, epitomized the cheaply constructed high rises of the 1960's. Co-Op City's 50 thousand pilings face a dauting enemy. They're sunk into reclaimed tidal marshland which sinks a fraction of an inch each year. The San Remo and Co-op City, represent polar opposites in apartment engineering. One will be marred by fire in a life after people, will the other face death by water?
1 MONTH AFTER PEOPLE - Methane in it's gassiest state is not the only threat to the former homes of man. Another form of fuel, and one of mankind's coldest substances is ominously warming up. If the liquid heats up, it becomes a gas again, and once the concentration reaches 5%, it can become one of the most explosive substances on Earth. Now, with no humans to continuously open and close valves to maintain proper pressure, these tanks have become ticking time bombs. One by one, they rupture in a catastrophic chain reaction.
1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE - Man's once beloved suburban homes face a new set of enemies. Over the winter, pipes in each house freeze and burst. With the spring thaw, fountains of liquid destruction gush from thousand of pipes. After the flooding, comes the mold and dry rot. The dampness also attracts the twin scourges of wooden homes: carpenter ants and termites. And the presence of both sets the scene for a primordial battle, hidden within the rotting walls.
2 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - It's 2 years after people, and one type of home has already vanished from the Earth. Igloos were built in the Arctic for centuries, made from blocks of compressed snow. But these structures are hardly frozen in time. Now, after just 2 years, the very last igloo has wafted into the frigid arctic sky, and igloos are no more.
In the next few years after people, mankind's most prized mementos face an inevitable fadeout. And the world's tallest skyscraper gets a foreclosure notice from nature.
10 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Around the world, the places were mankind once lived now struggle against the returning wrath of nature. The tallest home on Earth is no exception. This is the Burj Khalifa in the desert kingdom of Dubai. When completed in 2010, it became the world's tallest skyscraper, and it's home to over 1000 private apartments, some as high as the 108th floor. Starring blankly over a humid, salt drenched wasteland, the building is in desperate need of a bath. In the time of humans, huge bucket machines, weighing 13 tons, were used to wash the exterior in a desperate race to prevent corrosion from Dubai's dense, salty humidity. Dangling hundreds of feet in the air, they haven't scrubbed the building in a decade, and it shows. One of the massive buckets breaks loose, and swan dives 2000 feet to the desert below.
15 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - High in the Hollywood hills, an iconic house who's revolutionary engineering came to symbolize the California lifestyle of the 1960's, is still intact. The Stahl House was built entirely of glass and steel, on a lot so steep, that many considered it unbuildable. Owner Buck Stahl disagreed, and spent 2 years personally constructing the concrete terraces that continued to anchor the house on it's dramatic cliff. It's a region vulnerable to catastrophic mudslides. Now, untamed wildfires ravage Los Angeles, but the house refuses to burn down. But by destroying the vegetation that binds the soil, the fires have cleared a new avenue of destruction.
200 miles north, one of America's most lavish homes has an engineering secret, that may keep it standing tall in a life after people. This is Hearst Castle, built for publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon, California. Begun in 1919, Hearst's show place was considered a masterpiece of earthquake resistant design. Architect Julia Morgan's technique was to build ceilings that hang from hidden anchors and boxes. They're seperated from the rooms they cover, so they float during a quake. In 2003, a 6.5 earthquake struck the castle, putting Morgan's construction methods to the test. But there is another secret about Hearst Castle. Julia Morgan produced the castle cement right on the site. In the centuries after people, will the decision to use beach sand keep the castle standing? Or will it lead to the downfall of this massive 56 bedroom home?
In suburban homes across America, a new breed of cat is moving in: bobcats looking for places to make their dens. This has happended before. In 2008, after a wave of home foreclosures hit America, bobcats wasted no time moving in to vacated houses. As they move into the former homes of man, bobcats and other home invaders begin to feed an invisible monster. A tiny pest once fed by people and they're constant supply of human skin. Now, they will feed on the dander of the bobcat and it's legion of new roommates. Another human scourge, the bed bug, won't lose any sleep over humanity's disappearance.
Across the deserted planet, all houses are decaying. But it was not the structures themselves, it was the treasures inside them that made these buildings into homes. Which human possessions will endure? The first to go is anything made of paper. Natural fabrics are also beginning their inevitable unraveling. Wool doesn't retain moisture, so it's safe from rot. But it's hardly off the hook. Leather may seem more durable. In the time of humans, archeologists sometimes unearth leather shoes up to 2000 years old, preserved in oxygen deprived environments like peat and mud. But for most shoes it's an inevitable march to oblivion. In living rooms and dens, household furniture is hardly sitting pretty. Even durable trophies are losing the race against time. CDs and DVDs are useless husks. But of all the objects in a home, perhaps the most treasured were photographs. Photos printed on cheap commercial paper have already rotted away, largely due to the corrosive acids present in woodpulp. More expensive professional grade photos will last longer, printed on paper treated with chemicals that neutralize the acids. They are more resistant to rot, but eventually succumb to water damage and mold.
But some of history's most important photos may be saved. Deep beneath western Pennsylvania, one of the world's largest photo collections remains in sharp focus. In 2001, the Corbis Archive moved it's treasue trove of 11 million photos to a refrigerated mine near Butler, Pennsylvania. There, priceless images of history are protected. The Hindenburg explosion, a playful Albert Einstein, and prize winning photos of the popstars, the politicians, the scientists, and the humanitarians, the wars and disasters that defined the modern era. All were stored at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whether it's a trailer park, or a luxury tower, 30 years has taken a terrible toll on the homes on the homes of man. And the worst is yet to come. How do we know this? It's a future that's already happended at one of the most mysterious spots on Earth. This italian hilltown once bore witness to a dark and sinister history. Until man disappeared.
60 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - It's 60 years into a life after people. Across the planet, nature's relentless home invasion confronts every former shelter, and community with catastrophic threats. Like those tht created the eerie ruins of Balestrino. This ancient italian hilltown survived a dark and tortured past. But could not survive the shifting earth beneath it's walls. Beneath this once picturesque village, lies an ancient legacy of brutality and oppression. Here, in this decaying courtyard, the lords of Balestrino once executed barbaric punishments to anyone who challenged their cruel dominion. From the 1400's onward, the town was ruled by feudal lords who treated the impoverished town people like slaves. Balestrino's feudal history planted the seeds of it's physical collapse. Since the feudal lords reserved the best building materials for themselves, residents had to make due with whatever they could find. And when the area's frequent earthquakes damaged fragile homes, residents again had to make due. The modern age brought Balestrino freedom from the cruel grasp of the rulers, but not the iron grasp of nature. Unstable soil and Italy's susceptibility to devastating earthquakes compounded the problems of the town's makeshift construction. In 1997, na earthquake in Assisi 200 miles away provided a stark reminder of the threat lurking beneath Italy's sun-drenched landscape. Even the famed basilica of Saint Francis provided no sanctuary. Fearful that even worse could happen on Balestrino's failing hillsides, the town was abandoned in the 1950's. The italian government evacuated all homes, and built a newer, safer village nearby. Since then, Balestrino's slow slide to ruin bears testimony to the impermanents of the works of man. In the mere 60 years since people were banished from Balestrino, catastrophic failure radiates in every direction. Today, streets that echoed with children's laughter now echoe only with the bleeting of stray goats. Ubaldo Pastorino grew up in Balestrino. The decline and fall of Balestrino bears mute testimony to the impermanents of every home on the planet.
In the next centuries after people, an icon's of California's sunny lifestyle prepares to surf down a cliff face. And a different kind of surf spells doom for New York's Co-Op City.75 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - California's Stahl House, built entirely of glass and steel, teeters precariously on it's fire blasted, rain eroded hillside. Now, a particular heavy downpour washes out a section of sediment beneath the house, and one of the 20th century's most iconic homes, slides down the hill, crashing the party on the once fabled Sunset Strip below. 100 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Water has attacked New York's Co-Op City, from above and below. Meanwhile, the sinking land has reverted to tidal mudflats, and Co-Op City resembles an apocalyptic Venice. A massive winter storm blows in from the northeast. The weakened splash zone buckles under the northeaster's assault, and the former homes of 55 thousand New Yorkers are swallowed by the shifting tides.
200 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The landscape around Hearst Castle looks suprisingly unchanged, from the time of humans. But strange intruders graze the hills. In the 21st century, zebras could still seen grazing in the ranches below the castle, some will survive in a life after people. The castle itself has survived numerous earthquakes, thanks to architect Julian Morgan's innovative design. But now, her decision to use beach sand in the concrete has become a dagger at the heart of Hearst Castle. in the time of humans, this was barely noticeable. But over centuries, salt crystals slowly crack the cement, the area's relentless fog rusts the rebar, and major earthquakes periodically shake the foudations. Now, the former home of Hollywood's rich and famous has reached the end of the realm. A 7.2 earthquake rumbles through, several rusted girders fail, and the huge towers fold into the building below.
But this pales in comparison to what is coming. Earth is about to be visited by the most massive building collapse in it's history.
250 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In Dubai, the world's tallest building, with it's 1000 empty apartments, still towers nearly half a mile above the desert floor. Sandstorms and ocean humidity have shredded the Burj Khalifa's exterior, reveling a towering skeleton quaking in the wind. Now, one question becomes critical. Which will fail first? The columns of the building's top or bottom? A huge sandstorm blows in from the desert. The talest tower mankind ever built keels over in the largest building collapse the planet has ever seen.
300 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In a mine deep beneath Pennsylvania, the prized Corbis photo Archive has finally succumbed to humanity's fadeout. It's priceless historic photos were meant to last thousands of yers at subfreezing temperatures, but conditions long ago warmed up.
10,000 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Across most of the world, the descendants of house cats have remained small, trapped in their ecological niche by the presence of larger cats like mountain lions. But under certain conditions, evolution is taking a dramatic turn.
50 MILLION YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - What has become of everything that made a house a home? The answer is found compressed into a thin geological layer strata, buried a quarter mile deep in many places. This human layer or strata of the geologic record is unique. Among these materials are the remnants of a common household substance: plastic. But no one really knows how long certain plastics can last, especially buried away from oxygen, water, and ultraviolet light. Could some future species excavating the human layer stumble upon a frayed toothbrush, or the eerie figure of a vinal toy? Reminders of the lifes once lived, and the homes once cherished, now buried in a narrow slice of Earth's geologic record in a life after people.
In the next episode of life after people, humanity takes a holiday. Now, the reindeer games are over, thanksgiving turkeys are cooked, and this holiday getaway has become a holiday hell.