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In my post-WW III world, the settlement of Lost Angels is built on the nuked remnants of Los Angeles, and is inhabited by migrants and Los Angelenos who survived living underground until the radiation levels dropped enough to permit habitation of the surface. It's 20-30 years since the last bombs fell and mostly struck the central city, downtown, and Irvine.

New communities are sprouting all over the ruins, where they can find water and shelter and using the debris to fashion new societies.

I want this world to be as realistic as I can make it. Could they feasibly rebuild civilization in this location? More precisely, are there hazards that are predictably going to arise from these conditions?

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  • $\begingroup$ First question: what is the appeal of the location after the war? It obviously has limits to its ability to trade, but its river and harbor might be even more important with limits to other people's transportation. Is it prime agricultural ground, at least by contrast with the alternatives? $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jun 13, 2020 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ What happened in your third world war? What does LA look like at this moment? How demolished is earth itself? I"m sorry, but I think your question needs a lot more details for a qualified answer. Else everything is possible. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2020 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ What are the time constraints, ie. how long since the war. Had the city been evacuated. What hazards would they face is asking for a list of things - you know we don't do that here. Please supply more details and narrow the scope. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2020 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ You really need to supply more information. What's the size of the proposed community? Do they have a transportation infrastructure to bring in food from outside, or must they grow it locally? Do they have electricity &c to keep the aqueducts running, or must they depend on locally available water? (There is some, e.g. streams from the San Gabriel mountains, but it's limited.) And so on. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 14, 2020 at 4:46

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The biggest constraint is water

When I lived in California I began to appreciate how much effort it takes to provide water to the great urban concentrations. After your version of WW III, with some of the infrastructure destroyed or broken down, a primary limitation on how many people can move back in is in how much water is available. (Watch the movie Chinatown with Jack Nicholson to see how some of that plays out in a pre-W II Los Angeles; people messing with the water supply).

Until you establish how the water - be it desalinization of ocean water, reservoirs, piping from elsewhere, and so on is handled - you don't have a basis for a big city there. You could look into an aqueduct system from the mountains to the east of LA if the nuclear war did something to reduce global warming and the snow pack starts to build up again. That might take 20-30 years to put together.

As I used to point out to my friends in San Diego: you people live on the edge of a desert.

New settlements could be built. Without enough water there'd be a significant limit on their size.

Other hazards: arable land.

Over time the climate in the greater Los Angeles area would for sure support some life, but if they are starting from the ground up, restoring fertility to the land in that region would be a long term project. The level of destruction of infrastructure and social cohesion will determine how quickly that can be done, and, yeah, that agriculture thing needs water too.

You will also want to consider the long term effects of nuclear radiation on wild life and soil and plant life. Chernobyl was a modest nuclear event. A thermonuclear war may create holes in the Ozone that render a lot of temperate zone agriculture moot. Rutgers did a study on this that raised a lot of public interest in about 2010. What would happen between India and Pakistan, as postulated in the study, would be likely to happen with other limited nuclear exchanges.

■ Nuclear bombs dropped on cities and industrial areas in a fight between India and Pakistan would start firestorms that would put massive amounts of smoke into the upper atmosphere.
■ The particles would remain there for years, blocking the sun, making the earth’s surface cold, dark and dry. Agricultural collapse and mass starvation could follow. Hence, global cooling could result from a regional war, not just a conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

A last hazard/challenge: building materials and trade

Since you have not established the extent of the nuclear war, building settlements in the LA area will be influenced by the fact that restoring a trade network with other parts of the country or other parts of the world would be necessary to get, for example, cables for electrical power transmission; pipes for water distribution, etc. Exploring how the trade system is restored after the nuclear exchange would be worth your time and effort as you establish the background for your story/plot.

Disease, sanitation, health care

Until a working social structure is established, you could expect mortality to increase in all age groups as variuos bugs/diseases crop up and the system struggles to deal with them. Some people will resist new strains of disease better than others.

The problem of diseases based on poor public sanitation or a bad water supply is directly related to the water supply problem that is the largest concern.

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  • $\begingroup$ So they could just desalinate ocean water $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jun 13, 2020 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ @DTCooper "They could just" is a real big ask, amigo. You have to have a significant industrial and technological base in order to build a desal plant and build the piping infrastructure to distribute it. (I am modestly familiar with that from my time in the mid east and in texas, but I am not someone who has ever designed a desal plant). For example, desalinated water has to be treated to be a bit alkaline or it eats/corrodes the pipes. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2020 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ But my story won’t work if this plot point doesn’t work $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jun 13, 2020 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DTCooper Ok, then have them come up with a way, and a major cooperative project, to desalinze sea water. Public Works projects like that require a lot of buy in, so that can become a source of tension or lingering friction between various factions in the area, some of whom benefit from it more than others. The roman acqueduct system wasn't built in a day. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2020 at 21:38
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It would be possible to rebuild civilization in LA 20-30 years after a nuclear war (assuming that WW III involved full scale nuclear war). Being such a big city LA would undoubtedly be targeted and would probably suffer multiple hits from thermonuclear weapons. Such an attack would flatten most of the city and its infrastructure and devastate a wide area round, but some deep underground shelters might survive.

After 20-30 years the nuclear winter would have subsided and the radiation in many areas would have reduced to acceptable levels, note a lot of radiation would remain, but a lot would be washed into the sea or locked up in soil and mud and short lived radioactive materials would have decayed or their level would be reduced.

But the task the survivors would face would be daunting; they would have to start from scratch without even any wood handy. Initially new buildings would have to be constructed from debris and wreckage or shelter would have to be found in surviving structures in the suburbs such as underground car parks and similar. Rebuilding would take a very long time as the population would be drastically reduced and and there would be limited transportation and limited everything else.

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    $\begingroup$ True - but minor point re life expectancy a lot of people lived into their 50's and 60's, but the average was drastically reduced by infant mortality. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Jun 13, 2020 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ Rebuilding civilization in LA assumes that there was civilization there in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 14, 2020 at 4:41
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Yes it is in theory possible. Although there are some things that would have to be looked at.

Water: Would most likely have to be gotten from the desert through evaporation, which takes time, and does not make a lot of water at a time. Also since the radiation would be trapped in the soil, how far away would they have to go to be able to get clean water.

Building supplies: Since trees are dead they would have to have had seeds for trees in their underground shelters, or go long distances to get lumber to build. In the beginning they would have to build out of rubble. So, that will slow the rebuilding process. They could mine rock but that is dangerous and takes time and resources.

Food: Animals in the surrounding area will have been killed including fish. So, they would have to start from scratch with food.

Transportation: They would have to in the beginning walk to get everywhere, or if there are old cars drive. But, there is the problem of rubble, and the limited amount of gas available.

It is yes possible but a very daunting task that would take some very strong and most likely young people. You would have to assume that it is actually the next generation doing the building not the older generation if they were adults because they would be to old. In some ways it would be better to just move somewhere else for awhile and work on rebuilding once they are reestablished.

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Terminal island.

terminal island

It is part of the Port of Los Angeles. It is flat, solid and completely artificial so you will not need to worry about collapsing buildings or tar pits bubbling up. There are lots of shipping containers which would be easy to pull together into buildings. There is the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant which would be an interesting building to use for a fiction. They are making an artificial methane well which your people can use to make electricity using a steam turbine. From the island you have access to the water which is a safer way to get around than counting on old roads thru the ruins of the city.

A thing I like about Terminal Island that it has a moat around it already, so it will be that much easier to defend and control access. Best - see the red arrow? That is the Dominguez Channel - fresh water! I propose your people could dam up the end portion so instead of a mix of fresh and salt, the channel ends in a freshwater lake.

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