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Throughout the whole book it is mentioned that ash is everywhere. All major areas are deserted and the only way to live is to go South. Also HE mentions that "we cannot stay hear for another year" to the boy. This are most of the characteristics of a post nuclear war. If a bomb would detonate then the first thing a government would do is to clear out a major cities so that the catastrophe dosn't occur again. This usually means either heading North into Canada or South into Mexico.
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