Outbreak is the second episode of season one of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on April 28, 2009.
This episode predicts the uncontrolled encroachment of nature upon the abandoned cities of Chicago, Atlanta and London, and how deadly viruses, like rabies, could spawn out of control as the populations of escaped pets and other animals, like wild hogs and the corgis belonging to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, could explode without the interference of man. This episode also examines the fate of Big Ben, the John Hancock Center, the L train, the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and the Confederate Memorial Carving, the latter of which may last for more than 5000 years. The episode also explores Gary, Indiana, portions of which were abandoned by people in the late 1970's.
1 day after people - those responsible for keeping the forces of nature under control have vanished. Nature, long contained, is ready for an outbreak of violence and chaos, disease and disaster. In Chicago there is no-one to maintain the baseball stadium. It's ultimate opponent is already embedded in the outer wall. There's no-one to maintain the Sear's Tower, or the John Hancock center now standing like giant tombstones. And no-one to manage the Chicago River, one of the most heavily engineered waterways in the world. As each day passes, nature begins taking over.
3 days after people - a rainstorm hits Chicago. In the time of humans, such a deluge would have been unremarkable. The Chicago River should flow into Lake Michigan, a massive body of water bordering the city, but in 1900 man turned on nature. The river-flow was reversed to prevent pollution to Chicago's drinking water, leaving man in firm control of water levels and employing engineering techniques, that were later used in building the Panama Canal. In the time of humans, whenever it rained, river engineers managed the canal locks and schlussgates to divert the current away from the lake. But now after more than a century the river takes its revenge. Soon, the high river levels begin surging through South along the man-made channels toward the gates of the controlling works, 35 miles downstream. The 109 year old complex controls the drainage of the Chicago River, but that's all about to change. The days when man controlled this river are over. Just days after people, entire towns in America's Midwest are wiped out by raging water.
1 week after people - In London, time has run out for Big Ben. In the time of humans, the clock had to be wound 3 times a week, a task that took 2 royal clock-mechanics several hours to complete, with the aid of an electric motor. The clock stops, but the tower remains, at least for now, due to a construction quirk it has always leaned 8.6 inches to the northwest, a lean that will get worse over time.
2 weeks after people - in the grounds of the abandoned Buckingham Palace the Queen's corgis haven't noticed that the chimes are no longer chiming. In the time of humans, up to 5 were her regular companions. Now that the Queen and her courtiers are gone the corgis are all alone in what has become an ornate 775 room prison. The palace's 78 bathrooms provide a life saving water source. Although these canines have short legs they reach the toilet water with the aid of their long bodies allowing them to stretch and jump up to 4 feet. Desperate for food, the corgis find themselves to the royal kitchen in the basement, a maze of rooms of food-stock that can last up to a few months. After that, the future of the corgis will become much more uncertain.
1 month into a life after people - outside Atlanta an outbreak of kudzu is starting to spread. The vine was bought to the United States in 1876 from Japan, for farmers to feed their animals and for erosion control. It was a big mistake. Known as the vine that ate the South, kudzu has a vast root network that spreads more than 18 feet underground. In the time of humans, it required constant cutting from a 25 man maintenance team, just to keep the roadways clear in Atlanta and the surrounding county. With no known natural enemies in the region and no humans to contain it kudzu starts reeking havoc. The non-native species starts strangling trees, climbing telephone poles and power lines, covering bridges and roadways and enveloping rural houses. As kudzu thrives, livestock struggle. 60 million pigs are confined in farms across America. In the time humans, they fed a demand of for 23 kilos of pork per American every year. Now they are starving. Pigs in captivity have even been known to resort to cannibalism.
2 months after people - the pigs that have survived start panicking. The bigger beasts start pushing their way out of their pens. Others begin burrowing under sheds. Eventually millions start breaking out into the wild. After escaping their connives, the farmyard pigs start breeding with 4 million feral swine that live primarily in California, Texas and Florida. The new pig hybrids are leaner, meaner and more mobile with larger tusks and more hair. Pigs will thrive, but many animals soon face a deadly virus, and in the cities man's most majestic structures are helpless amid nature's growing onslaught.
3 monthes after people -at Buckingham Palace the Queen's corgis have depleted the stores of food in the royal pantry and kitchen which originally stocked food for banquets up to 600 people and daily meals for a palace staff of 400. The corgi's only hope is to venture out into the city. Finding a way out of a building that has 775 rooms is only a matter of time. How will the pampered pooches survive? Corgis were originally bred as working dogs on Welsh farms to round up herds of sheep and cattle. This genetic trait will help them survive in the wild. But still they'd make a tasty snack for a bear or wolf, but the Queen's corgis won't have to worry about that. Both of those large predators have been extinct in the British Isles for centuries. And there's another benefit to being a dog on the loose in a post human Britain. Rabies was eradicated here in the early 20th century. In America it's a different story. Pets lucky enough to escape their homes now face one of wildlife's most terrifying scourges. In the time of humans, more than 7000 animals in America, about 90% of them wild, were annually infected with rabies. The virus strikes the nervous system and inflames the brain causing an agonizing death. Every year, across the East coasts of Texas and Arizona oral bake vaccines were dropped by aircraft in a hope of suppressing the disease in such feral animals as foxes, skunks, coyotes and raccoons. Without people to carry out the vaccination programmed an outbreak of the virus spirals by over 30% over the next several years. Among the infected are domestic cats and dogs that have ventured out and been bitten by the wild rabid animals.
1 year after people - plants are on the rise in the city of Chicago. At the stadium the ivy is beginning to extend it's green tendrils. The vines have flourished here since 1937 when they were planted to decorate and cover the outer wall. With no groundskeepers around to give them their monthly pruning the ivy threatens to overrun the whole stadium, but there is one thing holding it back. Each vine can only grow to a maximum of 50 feet in the Chicago climate. However, as the vines shed their leaves each Winter, the organic material sticks into cracks in the brick and concrete. It decomposes into soil, which in turn creates a higher platform for new vines to sprout.
5 years after people - the ivy has crawled up and blanketed the stands. It has taken root in the aging water inserting moisture into the cracks and breaking up walls. But the true victor in nature's race to reclaim the stadium isn't the ivy. On the pitch, buck-thorn a thick, dense shrub has taken over. Bought from Europe in the mid 1800s, it's one of the Midwest's most threatening plant species. In the time of humans, the groundskeepers had to mow the pitch regularly and the treat the grass with chemicals to prevent any of the seeds taking root. But with no maintenance staff around the dropped seeds from birds quickly fertilize on the pitch and begin sprouting a wild, woolly hedgerow that grows to 10 feet tall.
10 years after people - in Chicago City center the landmark 110 story Sears Tower is slowly deteriorating. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the city began rebuilding vertically and with new frames of steel. It was the dawn of the skyscraper. But now rainwater rots the Sears Tower's roof. Moisture seeps down into the structure and begins rusting the bolts holding the giant glass and aluminum panels on the exterior. Freezing wind, rain and snow off Lake Michigan violently batter the hulking structure. Some of the palates peel off the building and crash into the streets below.
It's 30 years into a life after people - for a look into what the future may hold for lakefront cities like Chicago, we only have to look at what happened to the city of Gary in Indiana. Although parts of the Midwest metropolis are alive and well, large areas have been abandoned. The city once had a thriving population of nearly 200,000 people. Then, a slow unfolding disaster hit. Like Chicago, Gary grew because it helped link the great lakes to the Transcontinental railroad system. But now Lake Michigan is the source of its demise. The constant expansion and contraction of moisture in the city's structures due to extreme temperature fluctuation, as much as 60 degrees in a day, with freezing ice then melting water can fracture walls. Gary's railway station built in 1910 was a vital Midwestern hub for transporting steel freight and thousands of passengers. Hundreds of rail-cars moved through here each day. 30 years of untamed nature have taken their toll. Once the skylight shattered the interior was open to a deluge of water. Moisture rusted the structure's steel supports, weakened the masonry and caused parts of the roof to collapse. Not far from the train station is the city's most notable church once a palace where people gathered for grand wedding ceremonies and solemn funerals. As people fled the routine maintenance like painting, carpeting and plastering came to a standstill. Like the train station, water began collecting on the roof rotting a hole in the ceiling. Without the protective covering of plaster the exposed brick attracts moisture and develops moss. Once weakened it breaks off and begins raining down on the main floor of the sanctuary. After 3 decades of battering from high winds, blistering sun and freezing snow the church is close to complete collapse. In the heart of the city sits the 3000 seat Palace Theater, one of the old legendary show-halls of the West. The ruins of Gary provide a glimpse of life just 30 years after people. A harsh oracle for other lakefront cities like Cleveland and Detroit. And 50 years after people nature still has some fiendish tricks to topple some of man's greatest structures.
It's 50 years into a life after people - the descendants of the royal corgis still prowl the suburbs of post human London, but they aren't a breed the Queen would recognize. After several generations of interbreeding with other dogs any traits indicating their royal lineage are long gone. In only 5 decades the pampered pooches have evolved into a pack of wild hounds. In the Southern United States, kudzu is not only smothering the countryside, it's invading Atlanta and its city center skyscrapers and commercial structures. After the kudzu vines die in the Winter, the plant sends up new vines in the Spring that use the old dead vines as a platform from which to continue climbing. The deep underground root network stores vast amounts of nutrients providing the plant with an inexhaustible amount of energy. Atlanta's premier sports stadium the Georgia Dome must fight an opponent it has never known. The outbreak of kudzu sets the stage for an epic disaster. Even in the time of humans, Atlanta suffered from periodic droughts. Now heaps of dry, brittle kudzu carpet the city creating a tinderbox. A thunderstorm moves in, and lightening strikes. Just like it did during the Civil War, Atlanta is burning again. The spreading inferno lights up the sculpted faces of the Confederate memorial on nearby Stone Mountain. In Chicago, after decades of wild growth, the stadium is almost unrecognizable. In the time of humans, the giant 85 foot high wooden scoreboard was one of only 2 in a major stadium to be manually operated, but it's defenseless without humans to maintain it. Ivy repels up and over the scoreboard as it crumbles under a siege of termites. Down below tangled thick nets of spongy buck-thorn have grown to 20 feet high, blanketing the playing field.
100 years into a life after people - the elevated L-train in the center of Chicago has been disintegrating for decades. In 1892 the first section of the elevated railroad, the second oldest in America, began moving passengers around by locomotive above parts of the old street car loop that surrounded the city center. Now, paint is peeling off the steel girders holding up the platform and rust is eating away at the exposed iron and steel. Bolts and rivets erode and crack causing some of the supporting beams to fracture. In London, Big Ben is covered with vegetation, its windows have been blown out and chunks of decorative stonework have chipped away. The top of the tower has always leaned 8.6 inches to the northwest. Over decades, with no humans to manage the water level in the Thames, the river continually folds the surrounding banks, slowly rotting Big Ben's foundations. It's tilt gotten worse over time, gravity eventually takes over and it brings Big Ben crashing to the ground.
It's 200 years into a life without people, in Chicago, the Sears Tower is finally beginning to totter. Decades of ferocious weather have battered the landmark into a hollowed out, honeycomb husk. The Sears Tower has 104 separate lifts within multiple shafts, ending in different levels of the building. Although the cables rust and snap, the lift's brakes continue to work. Eventually, they to corrode and finally give way. Only 2 lifts connect the ground floor to the observation deck over a quarter of a mile above the street. 1 of the 3 tonne lift cabs free-falls from the top floor hitting the ground floor at more than 200mph, generating more than 1 and half million pounds of force on its impact. But that won't be enough to topple this huge structure, nature will need one final sledgehammer. 200 years after people, the Sears Tower makes its final stand. What will break the building's back are the 114 pilings driven into the bedrock that holds up the structure. Flooding from the Chicago River weakens the lower interior columns supporting the building, causing it to collapse.
250 years after people, though the Sears Tower collapsed decades earlier, Chicago's 100 story John Hancock center is still standing. It owes its longevity to its unique cross-cross X-bracing of steel beams that lace the structure of the building, giving it extra fortifications. But with all its windows blown out and centuries of moisture corroding its steel framing, something must give. At the corner of the 85th floor several crucial beams converge, one by one they rust, bend and fracture from the stream of water dripping down through the pirated roof. At a critical nook, a final beam cracks and shears off. The 15 floors above it start a corner-line cascade down the building that then sets off a catastrophic floor-by-floor implosion of the whole edifice.
3 centuries after people, the rabies virus is struggling to survive. The disease requires dense animal populations in order to spread. As domestic animals die off and wild animals disperse from the fringes of the human settlements where they once scavenged, the virus could infect little more than several thousand animals per year. The outbreak is over.
5000 years after people, only eerie reminders of human history remain. Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta, is the largest piece of exposed granite in the world, 825 feet high and 5 miles in circumference. In the 1920s the United daughters of the Confederacy raised the money for work to begin on a massive sculpture of Civil war heroes: Jefferson Davies, Robert. E. Lee and Stone Wall Jackson, on the Northern side of the rock. After nearly 50 years and several sculptors work was completed in 1972. The finished carved tablet measured 90 by 190 feet. After 5 millennia 90% of the carving remains completely intact.