Hurricane Irene – Not a Disaster

I feel bad for the people of the Carolinas (who are more used to hurricanes than those of New York), but I have a hard time showing a lot of sympathy.  This post may be somewhat controversial.

You see, it’s all about what one is used to.  What to one area is a massive natural disaster of unprecedented scale is nothing more than a small storm to another area.

Hurricanes aren’t really natural disasters.  Sure, you can have flooding and even some deaths, but in a few weeks, everything will be back to normal (except for waiting for the insurance check).  To me, a natural disaster is one of epic proportions that fundamentally alters the ground we live on.

Consider the following:

Irene flooding in North Carolina - ABC News

vs.

Ike damage - Crystal Beach, TX - BBC News

Bit of a difference there huh?

But what about this?

mudflow in Indonesia

That’s not water… it’s mud and those are houses.

Now, with Irene, you can get a wet-dry vac and get the water out.  You might have to replace some drywall and carpet, but you’ll be back to normal in a few weeks.

With Ike, the entire town of Crystal beach was destroyed.  Less than 1 in 100 houses remained standing after all was said and done.  Still, a few bulldozers and a year or two of work and the town could be back (provided that anyone would want to move there).

But in Indonesia with that mudflow, there’s 10-15 feet of mud.  You can just bulldoze that away.  This town will probably have to be abandoned until the mud completely hardens to allow for buildings (again, if anyone wants to go back there).

Of course, if you brought a New York winter to Houston, TX (or Indonesia), the entire area would completely shutdown from the cold, snow and ice.  In New York, a few feet of snow every week is nothing.  They push it out of the way and move on.  I’ve lived in Texas all my life and the entire volume of snow I’ve experienced is probably less than two feet.

Temperature is the same way.  I’m saddened, but have wonder about people dying of heat stroke when the temp is 90F and humidity is 75%.  That’s a spring day here.  On the coast, during the dry summer of 2011, temperatures of 100+F and humidity well above 90% were common… like 30+ days of this.

Of course, if we ever experienced a northern US winter with temps in -15F for two or three months, we would die too.  Again, living in Texas for almost 40 years the temperature has almost never gone below zero and then only for a few hours at a time.  Even below freezing temps are rare (time measured in days instead of months).

So, while I feel for the damage caused and the lives disrupted, I can’t help but wonder, why not just prepare.  There are things one can do that will help with any natural disaster (or near-disaster), especially one you see coming like a hurricane or cold spell.

We just have to realize that we are changing our world.  Events like this record-breaking heat wave (for the fourth time in ten years), hurricanes in New York, massive flooding, and the like are going to become more and more common.  Insurance companies, governments, and individuals have to accept that.

Again, a good disaster plan is the key.  Evacuate if need be (and do so as early as possible).  Have non-perishable food, medications, stored water, and such on hand at all times.  Keep the car filled up, keep the batteries ready, and keep an eye out for major storms.

We can’t prevent or predict earthquakes, but those same tips will help there too.  If it’s bad enough to go beyond what those tips will help with, then it’s past time to get the heck out.

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