Another sign of the end time

San Jose Mercury News, September 29, 1999
By Tim Nelson

Got that freeze-dried food in the basement? A little bankroll hidden in the sock drawer? The portable generator tuned up and ready in the garage?

Well, authorities in Britain say they're really prepared for Y2K: They're ready with a makeshift morgue, set up to accommodate as many as 1,000 Londoners who don't make it to the New Millennium.

Of greatest concern is London's official celebration. Authorities are trying to move the New Year's bash from its traditional home in Trafalgar Square. Two women were crushed to death and 193 others injured by a huge crowd there in 1982.

The mobs have thinned since then -- down from 120,000 to 70,000. But officials are expecting unprecedented crowds for the New Millennium and are encouraging people to line the Thames River instead. Organizers of "Big Time," the city's celebration, are promising a "river of fire" spectacle: a 15-minute fireworks show launched from barges on the river just after midnight.

The drawback: Officials fear scores -- or more -- of the revelers may greet the dawn of the new year in the water, either on purpose or by accident.

Police will be standing by to fish them out. Or lay them out, if necessary.

Authorities have arranged to convert the Queen Mother Sports Center in Victoria into a staging area for the dead. Rescue personnel and police have already scheduled a disaster exercise, complete with life-sized dummies.

And they'll be ready to lay out hundreds of bodies on five badminton courts, if necessary.

"We have to assume the worst," a spokesman for the London Port Authority told the Sunday Times. "Which means not just that a number of people will be depressed and try to commit suicide, or that cults may stage mass suicides, but that far greater numbers of people, sparked by exuberance and too much to drink, will jump in for a laugh, not realizing how much trouble they can get into."

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