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The Capital Threat

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The Capital Threat is the third episode of season one of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on May 5, 2009.

Synopsis

In a life after people, the forces of nature could consume Washington D.C. and America's national treasures as they fall into ruin, zoo animals could escape their enclosures, and Los Angeles could burn in an inferno, suffer a massive earthquake, and eventually return to its original state before it became civilized by humans. The episode also explores Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was abandoned by people in the 15th century.

Plot

1 day after people, inside the rotunda of the national archives building, the United States constitution is now on permanent display, as there is no one to send it on is nightly journey to the preservation vault. The parchment document is in it’s airtight case, filled with argon, a gas that replaces oxygen and gets rid of moisture which could reek havoc over time, but how long can it protect our most precious document. Nearby, the Washington monument built with 82 000 tons of stone, is now free from the daily flocks of tourists, the US capitol building is now ghostly quiet, Abe Lincoln no gazes on a pool that reflects the absence of man. In the time of humans, it took 315 park, service employees to maintain the National mall, it was already in need of 15 million dollars in repairs, how long can the crumbling infrastructure last. Washington DC is threatened by a stealthy enemy , moisture is problem, when you have buildings and monuments of this type, it’s what’s going to act as an accelerant in deterioration. Water, once the key to human existence, now threatens everything man has built.

1 week after people, in the entertainment capitol of the world, the famous Los Angeles freeways, are free of traffic. The 73 story US bank tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi, was designed to be occupied for more than 100 years, and to survive the "big one", an earthquake measuring at least 7.5 on the Richter scale, but how long can it stand without human maintenance, We shall see.

2 weeks after people, 3 000 tons of garbage has gone uncollected in Hollywood, some sewer systems carry garbage directly to the Pacific ocean, where it will add to an urban trash heap in the middle of the ocean. The great pacific garbage patch, halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii, it contains 2.5 million tons of nearly indestructible plastic waste, nearly 2 times the size of Texas. How long will man’s garbage last. In the hills overlooking Los Angeles, the well manicured lawns begin to die, when all water to the city gets cut off, and the city enters a drought. More than 2 000 miles away, the problem is exactly the opposite in Washington DC, there is too much water, the city will begin to drown. The problem with Washington DC is that it was built with permanent looking architecture on a swamp, beavers begin gnawing at the famous cherry trees, and begin damming up the Potomac river, as the beavers regain power

2 months after people, across the Potomac in Arlington national cemetery, the eternal flame that marks the grave site of former president John F Kennedy, is in danger. It was only extinguished once, in 1963, when visitors poured holy water over it, now an electric relighting system keeps it going. Although when the DC power grid fails, so does the relighting system. The first rainstorm snuffs the flame for eternity

It is now 1 year after people, our nations monuments are under attack, towering some 550 feet, the Washington monument is the tallest free-standing masonry structure in the world. The load bearing walls are 15 feet thick at the base, and 18 inches thick at the top, completed more than 150 years ago, it was intended to last for centuries. Even in the time of humans the stone was beginning to deteriorate. Despite the neglect the US Capitol Building appears unchanged, even the dome, made of civil war era cast iron is keeping out the elements. But the dome is painted, and after a few years it will break down and you will see some rusting. Even the solid marble of the Lincoln memorial is hinting at a future without human care, with no routine cleaning, the blocked drainage pipes are starting to cause cracks and damage to the roof. Our national monuments remain under attack, which one will last the longest.


1 decade after people, Los Angeles is beginning to look like a desert once again. Just after a few years you would see the non native plants dying out, and the native plants returning. The huge Canary island palm trees lining the streets of Beverly Hills, are now decaying trunks, the trees were imported in the 1930s to add to the cities exotic appeal. The trees require 30 gallons of water a day, and after 10 parched years it slowly dies from the top, down. Los Angeles is nearly unrecognizable, but it is nothing compared to what’s coming, wildfires can burn for even weeks, and even longer if the condition is right, now when a lightning strike sets off a fire in the hills, there will be no firefighters riding to the rescue. The fire now has the chance to make it’s way into the urban setting, downtown the US bank tower burns from the inside out, the steel withstand the searing heat, but the fire turns LA’s building into a charred skeleton. The stainless steel walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall are virtually fire-proof, the fire consumes the plant life growing between the panels. In Hollywood the rotting wood of Grauman’s Chinese Theater are engulfed in mere seconds. The foot, and hand prints of tinsel-town legends easily remain. The Hollywood sign is engulfed, as the acrylic latex paint feeds the fire, the 50 foot tall letters survive the inferno, although they look like wood from afar, are actually steel.

50 years after people, 200 hundred years overdue, the "big one", an earthquake measuring 8.0 hits Los Angeles. The top 21 floors of the US bank tower have earthquake dampening struts, but after wildfire damage, they can’t fend off the inevitable. Just a few blocks away the 52 story LA City Hall, is the largest building in the world with an earthquake dampener mechanism, but the dampener relies on rubber, and after enduring wildfire damage, and 50 years without maintenance, the rubber has deteriorated, and city hall is doomed. Another cherished landmark of the big screen, the Hollywood sign is coming down, the quake sheers off the corroded iron bolts holding the letters to their frame, sunk into the bedrock. Faster than most American cities Los Angeles is shaking off it’s human past.

100 years after people, garbage from LA will float for years until it reaches the Great Pacific garbage patch, and all of the plastic will remain far into the future. After 1 full century on display inside the national archives building in Washington DC, the constitution is facing an invisible threat, the encasement seals are failing and letting in air molecules, the oxygen content increases to 1 half of a 1% but no know micro-organism can attack without 2% oxygen, so the document will safe for many more years. The words of the founding fathers will last, as long as the roof holds out. The dome of the US capitol is rusting, with the paint long gone moisture is forcing open the joints in the cast iron sheets. The birds build their nests there, when it rains, water will collect there and the iron will continue to corrode. Corrosion is also setting in on an iconic structure in Los Angeles, the Walt Disney concert hall was built with stainless steel, one of the most non-corrosive metals, after 100 years the silver panels are changing to the color of dry blood. The Walt Disney concert hall is now a special sculpture of rust.

250 years after people, In Washington dc the Lincoln memorial is in dire straits. some of the heavily corroded steel roof girders snap. Atop the weakened cast iron dome of the US Capitol building, the 15,000 pound bronze statue of freedom is now the architect of destruction. The statue is trying to push on 1 side of the dome and pull on the other, and that means the statue will punch down through the dome, and it will all slump over like a wedding cake. Centuries without maintenance has caused the rotunda of the national archives building to collapse. Exposing the US constitution to the elements still protected in it’s encasement, wind and rain aren’t the greatest threat, it’s sunlight. The damaging ultra-violet rays cause ink to fade, within a few years the words of the constitution are fading from history.

500 years after people, the Washington monument is losing it’s battle with nature, it’s stone blocks chipping away with time. At the tip is a small aluminum pyramid, when it was built in the 19th century aluminum was a very prized metal it was actually valued more than gold or silver, it was put up there essentially as a lightning rod. In the 1930s 8 copper rods were extended around the pyramid, to help arrest the lightning. The aluminum pyramid far outlasts the corroded copper rods, but it’s lost it’s ability to channel lightning. Lightning strikes the Washington monument an average of once a year, a long term threat to the pyramid. 500 years after people the masonry structures of Washington DC are failing.

600 years after people, the era of great collapses in mankind’s capitol cities, is coming to an end. The previous centuries have seen the fall of man’s house of brick, wood, and our rigid towers of steel. The last recognizable edifice still standing in Los Angeles is the heavily corroded US bank tower; which survived the wildfire that charred Hollywood and much of the LA basin, the "big one" snapped off the top 21 floors. The lower 52 floors defied the odds for hundreds of years, this structure is an odd one as it has an inner core of fairly stiff concrete and an outer frame of steel. The concrete would have cracked sooner if it was in a freeze thaw cycle climate, but this doesn’t happen in LA, earthquakes are what’s going to get you. A moderate quake brings down the weakened structure. The plastic found in the Great Pacific garbage patch has begun to photo-degrade. Washington DC is beginning to look like the lost city of Atlantis.

1000 years after people, The Washington monument is no longer a proud structure, erosion and approaching seas are beginning to sink the foundation, submerging is the only chance it has to survive. Atop the weakened stone edifice, the aluminum pyramid is discolored by lightning strikes. But still recognizable. In a life after people, after 10s of 1000s of years that aluminum pyramid may be the last clearly recognizable object left in our capitol.

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