By Sam Ellison
The most detrimental and recent mega-storm to hit our coasts was Hurricane Katrina, which decimated the Gulf Coast in 2004. It caused upward of $108 billion in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in history. Even now, New Orleans, the hardest hit city, is still suffering from the effects as well as those of other storms that have hit the area.
The Category 5 hurricane spurred the conversation of preparedness for natural disasters of all kinds as well as relief efforts. Had the levees in New Orleans been functioning properly, much of the damage would have been deferred, but either way, Katrina raised a complex issue at stake—-the government’s role.
Mayor Ray Nagin of Louisiana and President George W. Bush were heavily condemned for their lack of leadership before, during and after the storm touched land. Thus, several questions were up in the air. How should the funds be allocated to affected areas? How could this disaster have been prevented? How could the damage from this natural disaster be minimized? How will the millions of people plagued by the damages emerge from the debris?
It was a total mess in New Orleans, one of the poorest metropolitan areas at the time. Unfortunately, response efforts were late and lackluster to assist the helpless residents. FEMA was also lampooned for its lack of response efforts.
Interestingly enough, this time with Hurricane Sandy, it seems that both the feedback and the help needed is there. It will certainly take an extended period of time to normalize the situation, but the assistance and the reactions are there. Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama seemed to be working together along with FEMA and various relief organizations on the ground to remedy the devastation.Now, Hurricane Sandy is projected to cost upwards of $50 billion in damages, making it the second-costliest hurricane in American history behind Katrina.
Sandy covered an enormous amount of ground, stretching from Florida to Maine and as far west as Wisconsin. The death toll is up to 185 and it pummeled New York and New Jersey. The future of Atlantic City is in serious jeopardy and there are still people without power up and down the coast. New York City, the unofficial capital of the world, was flooded immensely with widespread power outages as well.
In America’s long history of natural disasters, Hurricane Sandy might just tip the scale. As cheap as it is to politicize a natural disaster, Hurricane Sandy, along with many others, carries that weight.
Many experts have brought into discussion the effect on the election changes in climate and the questions of where the funds will be allocated. But my feeling is that this hurricane is different for a particular reason.
Finally and regrettably, a gargantuan storm has touched down in New York City. Not that any other storm matters less, but the fact that a major natural disaster has prevented the nation’s largest city from functioning is something extremely profound.
Most of the time, the northeast receives solely the remnants of the storms that pound the southern states, but now that it has taken a direct hit, it is likely that attitudes will change.
It crippled the subway systems. It flooded most of the road tunnels entering Manhattan. It closed the New York Stock Exchange for two straight days and it knocked over a crane atop a skyscraper. Thousands of students in the New York school districts still cannot return to school due to flooding.
Now more than ever, we as a nation must fundamentally rethink how we approach natural disasters, climate change and rehabilitation. Clearly, all three pose an immense threat to our livelihood and if there is a link between climate change and the increasing strength of our hurricanes and storms, we must figure out a way to stymie the damages.
If these disasters keep happening, how can we expect to pay for them if the costs continue to rise for fixing the problems? These storms will virtually drain our health as a nation financially in addition to the myriad issues plaguing us now. This means not only thinking of new ways to prepare for natural disasters, but new infrastructure to build as well.
Sadly, this wake-up call comes with a price, both literally and figuratively. It has forced us to dig deep into our pockets to help out our fellow Americans in need and it has also forced us to take some time to think about the future and how we can best prepare for what is to come.
It may have meant a huge hit to the biggest city in the country, but maybe it will spur the change in attitudes needed to rethink natural disasters and occurrences as a major threat to our national security.