"Areas of the country such as the northeast corridor were reduced to a swath of burning rubble from north of Boston to south of Norfolk. Still there were some sections of the nation that were spared direct effects of blast and fire . . . Charlottesville . . . was not hit . . . Momentarily [it was] immune to the disaster that had leveled the cities of the nation."
But according to a newly released study by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, Charlottesville's immunity is only temporary, a pause before the "race for survival" that will begin the day the survivors emerge from their fallout shelters.
This fictional attempt to describe what the world after a nuclear war would be like makes it clear that the atomic blasts would be only the begining of horror. The study is certain to stir up controversy and become a focus of congressional hearings on the need for increased civil defense measures. It was prepared by request of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for forthcoming floor debate on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.
The study envisions a massive Soviet nuclear attack that is not a surprise. Tension between the superpowers has prompted some people to flee major U.S. cities, and the day of the attack Charlottesville already has 40,000 evacuees from Washington and Richmond - a 50 percent increase in the city-county population.
At the first alarm and emergency radio broadcasts most people go into shelters located in downtown underground garages and the basements of University of Virginia buildings. In the rural areas surrounding the city, some farmers do not want to leave their homes, and many suburbanites have stocked their basements with food and piled dirt against windows and doors.
Few are above ground to see the warheads land, but comunications nationwide are interrupted as Earth's atmosphere shivers with the assault of the explosions, according to the OTA fictionalized study. The Soviets have dropped 4,000 megatons, and close to 100 million Americans are killed. The U.S. counterattack on the Soviet Union has a similar devastating effect.
For more than an hour, nothing falls on Charlottesville, and stragglers are hustled into shelters by policemen in the streets.
Then fallout begins. University scientists pick up a 40-rem-per-hour rate an hour and half after the attack. It quickly rises to 50 rem per hour and remains there for a full day before declining slightly. In four days, the Charlottesville area receives a 2,000 rem cumulative dose, enough to kill those people who refused to go into shelters and most of the animals outside.
A 450-rem dose is considered to be fatal to half those who receive it. The largest dose at the Three Mile Island nuclear accident was 0.1 rem.
During the first days after the attack the sheltered people remain fairly calm, keeping in touch by CB radio because regular communications are out. On the third day, however, refugees begin pouring in from destroyed surrounding city areas, many suffering from radiation sickness.
Hospitals quickly fill to overflowing. Hopeless cases are released to die so that those with a chance for life can be attended to. Fallout levels are still too high for anyone to be out in the open more than a few hours without getting radiation sickness.
In a short time hospitals begin to turn away the "very sick" and finally they are forced to lock their doors to protect those patients they have already accepted.
The walkout sick move into abandoned homes in town. Many die; their bodies are left unburied for weeks.
After two weeks. local residents tire of the cramped shelter life and begin to return to their homes. Some farmers find their animals dead of radiation or missing - apprently eaten by refugees or other residents.
The president has survived. After national communications are restored, the president announces that the cease-fire is holding and that the country still has submarines capable of striking the Soviet Union again if it launches another attack.
The former local government convenes in the basement of the town hall and establishes a centralized "almost totalitarian rule." Identification cards are required, and flour, powdered milk and lard are rationed only to those with IDs. Fuel supplies drop so fast that private use of cars and tractors is outlawed. Armed sentries guard fuel shortage facilities. Electricity generated by coal is restored but only for a few hours a day. Well water is rationed and given primarily to children; resevoir water remains contaminated.
The radiation level after two weeks is 14 rem per hour, low enough to avoid immediate health risk but high enough to be a long-term hazard. Nonetheless people venture outside, primarily to get food.
In the third and fourth weeks, more people emerge from shelters and the local government requires homeowners to take in refugees, who are still arriving from destroyed cities.
Food problems become more acute and black market bartering develops. Farmers are requried to deliver a percentage of their livestock to the town government. Some refuse, and occasional fighting breaks out in farms around the city.
Experts decide meat from animals suffering from radiation sickness can be eaten. Hunting becomes a full-time activity, though radiation has killed most wild animals.
Radiation-caused illnesses, complicated by lack of food, increase the number of deaths. Hospitals still cannot care for the terminally ill. Medical supplies have all but been exhausted. Mass graves are established outside the city.
A month after the attack, food riots break out when a truck sent by the reorganized Virginia state government arrives with grain.
Slowly, national, state and local government groups attempt to reconstruct. Young men are asked to return to the cities to help in cleanup. Many refuse to go and attempts are made to conscript them. Stores and banks remain closed as paper money becomes unusable. Children are confused, reflecting attitudes of their parents, and no one can decide whether or not the schools should be opened.
Spring comes and the scientists are uncertain what to plant. Potatoes and soybeans become prime crops; cottage industries develop, with people making sandals, clothing, soap and candles.
Fall harvests are small. People who had gone back to the city to help in the cleanup return with stories of how the East Coast has been leveled.
In Charlottesville alone, several thousand people die in the first winter after the nuclear attack, and survival is still uncertain. CAPTION: Picture, Charlottesville, home of University of Virginia, is setting for congressional agency's fictional account of America's "race for survival." By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post