Sin City Meltdown is the seventh episode of season one of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on June 2, 2009.
This episode predicts how the gambling meccas of mankind will deteriorate without people; rats invade Las Vegas, Nevada, the famous hotels such as the Stratosphere Tower and the Luxor Las Vegas crumble to dust, the Las Vegas sign falls from its location, and the wax statues of celebrities at the Madame Tussaud's museum melt away. Atlantic City is destroyed as ocean waves and hurricanes smash through casinos, break up the boardwalk and piers and tarnishes the fate of Lucy the Elephant. Camels go wild in North America, like their ancestors, and are transformed after the next ice age.
One of man's most popular vices was to play the odds. In the time of humans, the streets of their gambling meccas were lined with outrageous spectacles and tributes to the great civilizations of the world, but these cities are built in hostile environments. Las Vegas springs from a barren desert, Atlantic City is perched on a storm-battered coast. Now that the final bets have been placed, can anything in either of these cities beat the odds?
1 day after people, in Las Vegas the casinos are empty, but there's one place that still draws a crowd. In the time of humans, celebrities and dignitaries were immortalized in wax at the famous Madame Toussads. Each lifelike figure was based in 150 measurements. Melted wax was poured into plaster molds, where it hardened into its final form, hair was placed strand by strand. Now works in progress will never be finished. In Las Vegas more than 100 completed wax figures are displayed in a 30,000 square foot museum, the temperature is set at a ideal 70 degrees, for now at least.
2 days after people, power has started to fail along the Las Vegas strip, and a new ratpack is prowling the streets. Rats have been a problem around Las Vegas since the 1990s, experts believe they came in the palm trees shipped in to decorate hotels and housing developments. After people are gone, they find their way into the city's casinos where they're more interested in searching for food than rolling dice.
More than 2000 miles away, in Atlantic City, the only creatures strolling down the world-famous boardwalk are cats. In the time of humans, 18 colonies of feral cats already lived under the boardwalk, human volunteers put out food for them on a daily basis. Without people the future of these 140 felines is uncertain. The boardwalk itself might just beat the odds. Originally built in 1870, Atlantic City's was the first beachside boardwalk in the United States, it's made up of 216,000 planks of wood and runs for over 4 miles. The earliest boardwalk was made of cedar, a wood so fragile it was dismantled and put into storage every Winter to keep it out of the elements. The modern boardwalk is much tougher, beginning in 1990 many sections were replaced with a South American hardwood called epay, or Brazilian walnut. It's naturally resistant to insects, rot and mould, it's one of the world's densest woods with fibres packed so tightly it was the same fire-rating as concrete. In June 2007, a fire that started under the boardwalk tore through local businesses, some sections of the boardwalk, the parts made of pine, were destroyed, the hardwood was barely touched.
3 days after people, inside Madame Tussauds glass eyes stare out at the empty hallways. When the power goes out, emergency lighting keeps the figures illuminated in the windowless galleries, but in the museum's utility rooms, the exhaust fans slow to a halt, the air conditioning cuts out and the temperature begins to rise. Beeswax, the main component in these figures, begins melting at 115 degrees, against these odds Madonna has no chance and within days the material girl dematerializes.
While the figure of Madonna melts, 6000 miles away in Buenos Aires the body of the woman she played in the film of the same name remains surprisingly intact. When Argentina's first lady Eva Peron died in 1952 her body was preserved by a process that left a plastic like film on her skin. Evita's husband was assured her body would never decompose. Today, Evita rests in a tomb 20 feet underground, said to be able to withstand a nuclear attack. Unlike Madonna's wax figure, Evita will be preserved as a living doll for many years to come.
1 week after people, 37 and a half million people used to visit Las Vegas every year, now the streets are empty. Looming over the scene of desolation, is the Stratosphere Tower, part of a hotel complex it's the tallest free-standing observation tower in America. At 1149 feet, it is taller than the Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower, it's most distinctive features were the highest amusement rides in the world, including one that dangled visitors 64 feet over the edge of the tower on a mechanical arm. Now the screams of thrill-seekers no longer echo across the Las Vegas valley. In the time of humans, many of the iconic hotels in the city were demolished in seconds at the hand of man, clearing the way for bigger and more eccentric structures. Now nature may act more slowly, but with no less violence. And at this amusement park in the heart of America, life after people has already begun.
2 weeks after people, in Las Vegas casinos that were once filled with the flashing lights and deafening clammer of slot machines, are silent and dark. Although there are no humans to exterminate them, the new ratpack has plenty to fear. This dog may not look like a predator, but he's called a rat terrier for good reason. His breed was originally developed in the 1800s to hunt vermin and he's better than most cats at catching small rodents. In the time of humans, American president Teddy Roosevelt was said to have used one of these dogs to eliminate rats from the White House.
Across the country in Atlantic City, the ocean continues to pound against the famous Steel Pier as it has since 1888. Nearly as long as the Las Vegas Stratosphere is tall, this attraction once hosted entertainers from W. C Fields to Frank Sinatra and even the Miss America pageant. Rebuilt in 1993, its concrete supports are in good shape, for now.
(1 month after people) Mankind's gambling meccas have always been fertile ground for strange architecture. Unlike skyscrapers and monuments these bizarre structures were built to draw in customers today, not to stand for tomorrow. Near Atlantic City, the strangest of them all is Lucy the Margate Elephant. Designed to attract investors in to what was then an undeveloped stretch of sand, this 65 foot tall pachyderm was completed in 1882, a year before the Brooklyn Bridge, but she's hardly an engineering marvel. Her fragile skeleton had to be rebuilt in 1973 at a cost of $124,000. That she lasted into the 21st century was a miracle. The last time Lucy was painted was 2002, by 2009 the deterioration was clear. On average it rains every three or four days in Atlantic City, with Winter time bringing show and ice, in the past every time Lucy's future was threatened concerned humans stepped in to save her, now she's on her own.
The fragility of the architecture of amusement is clear, it's a story that is already being told in this abandoned amusement park in America's heartland. Welcome to the Americana amusement park in Lesourdsville Lake, Ohio. In the time of humans, it was a thrill-seekers paradise, drawing daily crowds of up to 10,000 people. The park fell on hard times and the gates closed in 2002, 80 years after they first opened. Just a few short years of abandonment have created a monster. Wood is rotting everywhere, motors, bearings and metal components are corroding, gaping cracks permeate the park. This amusement park tells us what will happen to the spectacles of Las Vegas and Atlantic City when people are gone. Like all amusement parks, it was once distinguished by bright colours, but protective paint steadily degrades beneath the sun's ultraviolet assault. In less than a decade the sun's ultraviolet radiation dims the paint to an atomic level. The sunlight makes oxygen, already in the paint mix with the colour pigments, which fade as a result. Without humans to constantly repaint the park, it's first layer of defense is gone, at its current rate of destruction the Americana will soon become unrecognizable. But the inspection is long overdue, and the rides are beyond repair, especially this once proud rollercoaster, the Screechin' Eagle was the main attraction, cars raced, plunged and swerved at top speeds of 55 miles an hour on the 180 degree turns, what was once considered one of the best wooden rollercoasters in America is now plunging towards complete collapse. But rotting wood is not the immediate enemy here, the coaster's support beams are made of chemically treated wood, so they'll resist rotting for several more years, longer than the mechanism that binds them together. A series of guywires provides tension to the tallest section of track. With enough nails and guywires loosened a stiff wind will set off a dramatic collapse in the coaster's upper reaches. In time, every structure in the park will become a heap of rubble. As the years pass few of man's familiar landmarks will be recognizable and the absence of people will bring surprising changes, like water to places where there was nothing but desert.
2 years after people, in Las Vegas the climate of its Mojave Desert starts to produce a new kind of strange display, as the parched desert reasserts itself. In the time of humans, the city was lush with green gardens, fed by a water system holding nearly 700,000,000 gallons in reservoir tanks scattered throughout the valley. Lake Mead, a primary water source is 25 miles away, but without electric pumps its water has been unable to reach the city. It rains only 4 and a half inches a year here, and little will grow naturally besides the scrub of the Mojave Desert.
3 miles from the strip, a one-time oasis stands as a natural reminder of the city's lush past. Spring's Preserve is a museum, built on the site where artesian spring were discovered in 1829, the springs made it possible for people to settle here, Las Vegas in fact means The Meadows. The wells dug to tap the underground water have long gone dry, but inside the visitor's centre the voice of man still echos in the halls. The museum's exhibits don't get their electricity from the municipal grid, they're powered by the sun. Over 2000 solar panels cover the car parks generating 4009 kilowatts of electricity. This recorded narration is the last human voice heard in Vegas.
5 years after people, in Atlantic City inside the waterfront casinos, the city's feral cat population has found a new home. Their new homes are dank, ghostly tombs. Cobwebs shroud the slot machines, humidity from the outside encourages rot, thick paper playing cards have curled and grown mouldy in the dampness. The durable plastic poker chip, however, are unharmed, though they are covered with grime, dust and moisture. In the gloom of the casino, bats also find a place to live. In the time of humans, New Jersey was already home to nine species of bats, preferring to avoid human contact, most of them found homes in abandoned mine and tunnels, like the Hibernia mine, where thousands congregated every Autumn and Winter. Now every casino is a potential batcave.
10 years after people, a familiar voice begins to strain. The solar cells in the car park of the Springs Reserve have kept the facility's power on for a decade now, but in order to operate efficiently, the panels need to be cleaned regularly. As the voltage dips, the lights dim and the voice of man is silenced.
It's 15 years after people, down the coast from Atlantic City, Lucy the Margate Elephant is on her last legs. "After people, the first thing that will happen to Lucy is her outer skin will begin to fail and each piece of tin will eventually start to peel off and fall to the ground. But eventually, one good storm will weaken one leg, when leg goes the rest of Lucy will fall to the ground."
50 years after people, Atlantic City's Steel Pier is just a skeleton. It looks much the way the old Garden Pier did in the time of humans. After the hurricane of 1944, the buildings were demolished and the pier's foundations never repaired. Built of reinforced concrete the Steel Pier's casings are strong, but not strong enough against the constant assault of the ocean.
In Las Vegas, a city long known for giving second chances, a former star is making a surprise return engagement, water. 50 years after people, rain was continued to fall in the surrounding mountains, water from the mountains is flowing down to the Las Vegas valley, where it permeates a porous layer below denser rock at the surface.
Water's reappearance in Las Vegas will alter the landscape, but only gradually, in other parts of the country, the change comes suddenly and violently. A hurricane is on its way up the coast towards Atlantic City. Much of the boardwalk is already buried under sand, but in the exposed sections wind buffets the durable South American hardwood that has survived the years intact. Corroded metal fasteners weaken as the winds increase and whole sections of the boardwalk are ready to give way. Seawater floods the buildings soaking their framework with a heavy solution of salt that remains behind, long after the storm end.
100 years after people, fine grains of windblown sand are erasing the welcome sign that once greeted visitors to the city of Las Vegas. The blowing sand is actually an unnatural consequence of man's presence here a century ago. Before Las Vegas was developed most of the sand was held in place by a hard layer called the cryptobiotic crust. The crust is formed of soil particles held together by microbes, fungi, lichens and mosses. Filaments from photosynthetic cyanobacteria, spread out to bind specks of mineral material into a tough matrix. Man's shovels and bulldozers disrupted the crust and without it the winds blow the sand around unimpeded.
In Las Vegas, shafts of sunlight make their way into the giant atrium of the Luxor Hotel. When it was built in 1993 it was the tallest building on the strip. Now, every one of the 28 and a half thousand panes in its glass skin are broken, the concrete structure inside remains, however, its shape giving it a natural stability.
The increasing amount of wind-blowing sand may be eroding the Luxor, but other particles of earth have preserved its ancient Egyptian namesake, the Temple of Luxor. Originally built almost 3500 years ago, the Temple of Luxor stands today because it was entombed in the layers of silt deposited each year by the Nile River. The river mud was a blanket, protecting the site not only from wind, earthquakes and other hazards, but also from damage by vandals and treasure-seekers. The site was largely buried until excavations in the late 19th century. Will Las Vegas be as lucky?
200 years after people, in Las Vegas a desert thunderstorm rumbles in. Because Las Vegas often gets its total annual rainfall of four and a half inches in one or two storms, flash floods are common. Floodwaters have rushed past the Las Vegas Sign so much in the past 200 years, that rust has started spreading into its support beams. Now another weather hazard comes into play. The wind can blow up to 90 miles per hour here and today a powerful gust catches the city's old greeting sign like a sail. It talks the weakened supports to the breaking point and the sign falls flat on the empty crumbling road.
300 years after people, while the skylines of most cities are stripped of their iconic towers, there are some surprises in Las Vegas. Seen from a distance, the desert has preserved much of the familiar skyline. But the artesian water that began bubbling to the surface 250 years ago is bringing new life to the ruins in the desert. Plants like the western honey mesquite grow in clumps along the strip, wherever the water happens to flow. But the new pockets of groundwater in Las Vegas wreak havoc on building foundations designed for the dry desert terrain. 300 years after people, the weakened foundation of the Stratosphere will have to endure a thrill ride, courtesy of mother nature. Although neighbouring California is notorious for earthquakes, Nevada experiences thousands of its own tremors every year. Faults near Las Vegas have the potential to unleash events as large as the 1994 Northridge quake that jolted Los Angeles. A violent quake lashes the tower back and forth like a whip, losing support from its base, its fall seems agonizingly slow. The big observation pod hits the ground at 150 miles per hour, the entire tower smashing in a cloud of debris. A blanket of dust hangs over the city's remains. A place once called The Meadows is now a pile of rubble.
Many of the odd animals imported into Las Vegas died quickly in the absence of humans, but in the distant future, the descendants of one creature just may beat the odds. And the messages man thought would last forever face destruction in the great expanse of time.
It's been 1000 years since the last bets were placed in the gambling meccas of Atlantic City and Las Vegas, there long-term fates are not based on chance, but on the inevitable forces of nature. In the ten centuries after people, Las Vegas is now little more than a jagged mound in the desert, creosote bushes and other rough vegeation have colonized any remnants of buildings remaining under a thousand year layer of dust. It is this very vegetation that prevents the wind from forming sand dunes and burying the remains of the city even more deeply.
20,000 years after people, subtle changes in Earth's orbit and the tilt of its axis have aligned to return the planet to an Ice Age. As ocean water is tied up in the planet's massive ice sheets, sea level drops almost 400 feet. In New Jersey, the entire continental shelf stands above sea level. Atlantic City is surrounded by an inland forest.
In a million years, a number of Ice Ages have come and gone, the Nevada desert has gone back to looking much like it did when people gambled in Las Vegas. The city has long eroded away, but a vaguely familiar looking creature reminds of us that once humans were here. The animal is descended from camels, once kept at a ranch in Virginia City, 400 miles from Las Vegas. But with low-growing vegetation as its primary food it has evolved into a new species, similar to the camel-like guanacos of South America.
Though our gambling meccas are now all gone, one of man's greatest bets is still in play. It's not a gold coin, but a gold record aboard the Voyager spacecraft. When the Voyagers were launched in 1977 to explore the Solar System and beyond, each one carried a gold record containing sound and images from Earth, as well as greetings in 55 different languages intended to inform other intelligent beings of our existence on the third planet from the sun. But interstellar space is not a pure vacuum, it is flled with widely scattered gas molecules, dust and micrometeroids. After 300 million miles and a million years the stuff of space takes its toll on Voyager. It's still recognizable, but in pieces and full of holes. Even the gold record is so damaged that there's little chance anyone who finds it will be able to play it. Like all of man's great gambles, this one has proved to be a longshot in a life after people.