2006.08.31: August 31, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Cameroon: Journalism: Speaking Out: The Capital Times: Margaret Krome writes: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Special Reports: Cameroon RPCV and Columnist Margaret Krome: 2006.08.31: August 31, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Cameroon: Journalism: Speaking Out: The Capital Times: Margaret Krome writes: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather

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Margaret Krome writes: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather

Margaret Krome writes: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather

"The nation has poorly evaluated the danger, geography and extent of dangerous weather that appears to be emerging with climate change and is nowhere near being able to deal effectively with the threat."

Margaret Krome writes: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather

Margaret Krome: Nation still unprepared for dangerous weather
By Margaret Krome

Exactly 100 years ago, my grandfather was a civil engineer working on the railroad connection through the Florida Keys to Key West.

In late October of 1906, a week after a tremendous hurricane struck the Keys, he wrote his father in Illinois. Grandfather Krome described his previous difficulties in convincing fellow engineers of the "real terrors of a West Indian hurricane."

Despite efforts to fortify all construction sites against the storm, some boats that housed workers broke their moorings and were lost at sea. Scores of workmen were drowned or otherwise killed by debris. My grandfather also gave detailed descriptions of the many boats, buildings and businesses destroyed, and of his and others' struggle to provide emergency food, water and other supplies.

His letter comes to mind not only as the Keys escaped the wrath of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which lost much of its punch as it crossed eastern Cuba, but as we hear the countless stories of struggle to recover from last year's Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. We read of people who lost homes and families who lost relatives. We see pictures of whole communities destroyed and people's struggles to rebuild, people not allowed to rebuild, people who decide simply to move elsewhere. Nobody today needs to be told about the dangers of a hurricane.

I spent last weekend in Montana with a colleague from St. Louis who works on low-income energy assistance. Jackie was weary from four long weeks of helping people affected by the two hurricane-level storms that swept through the St. Louis area on July 19 and 21. The first storm hit virtually without warning and, in little over an hour, winds ranging from 70 to 90 miles an hour ravaged the area, leaving trees down everywhere and over half a million people without power. The National Weather Service believes that seven tornadoes were associated with these two storms.

Jackie spent endless days helping get people whose medications needed refrigeration to hospitals, people who couldn't withstand the heat to cooling centers, and food to people, many of whom hadn't eaten for three days. Most grocery stores lacked backup generators, and food was scarce. Gasoline was even scarcer.

Identifying the most needy people was made harder because Jackie's agency offices lacked electricity, and computers didn't work. She used a laptop in a rare restaurant with power. Housing was so scarce that her son had to drive 85 miles to find an empty hotel room. A week after the storm, over 230,000 people still lacked power.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared St. Louis a disaster area. Unfortunately, just across the Mississippi River, Madison County's extensive storm damage wasn't deemed eligible for federal disaster aid. Ironically, that included the town of Edwardsville, where my great-grandfather Krome sat in Midwestern safety 100 years ago, reading his son's letter about the dangerous hurricane that had torn up south Florida.

What have we learned in this century of technical leaps forward? Has our understanding of the Earth's oil, minerals, timber, lands and seas and our prowess in exploiting them made us less vulnerable to its extreme weather? Or is our century of petroleum-fueled progress actually its principal cause, as many scientists believe? Are our sophisticated communication technologies reliable or do they break down in a crisis and make it harder to reach those in need?

If a city like St. Louis, with an emergency response plan refined after last year's hurricanes, and not in the prime hurricane zone succumbs to such disasters, where else is vulnerable?

Jackie and I were in Montana together for a meeting on environmentally and socially appropriate technologies. When I was coming home, the good folks at a Montana airport considered confiscating my four containers of goat cheese. But as the one-year anniversary of Katrina reminds us, our nation's security is far more endangered by the assaults of severe weather than by terrorists, even those armed with goat cheese.

The nation has poorly evaluated the danger, geography and extent of dangerous weather that appears to be emerging with climate change and is nowhere near being able to deal effectively with the threat.

Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. E-mail: mkrome@inxpress.net

Published: August 31, 2006

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Story Source: The Capital Times

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