The weekend was spent prepping for Hurricane Irene and then following it on the news. The stores ran out of water and non-perishable food faster than the delivery trucks could arrive with fresh supplies. My friend got into camping mode, and got out her camp stove and propane cylinders. We got enough bottled water to last us a week. For once, I wasn’t bothered about how buying bottled water would harm the environment. Survival was topmost on my mind. We filled our cars with gas, got cash out of the ATM, cranked up the fridge to the coldest possible temperature and stocked up on flashlights and candles. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?
Pictures of New York City flashed on the screen where places like Times Square and Grand Central Station showed no signs of life. For the first time in its history, the Big Apple was evacuated. The hurricane lost some of its fury and downgraded to a tropical storm before reaching us in Connecticut but continued to dump copious amount of rain which resulted in flooding throughout the state. Many people lost power, in fact, my friend whom I mentioned earlier is still without power.
After days of media coverage, came the inevitable backlash. As I settled down with my cup of coffee and the morning news, I kept going back to stories about “hurricane hype”. Would it have been better if the hurricane had hit New York City at high tide and brought on more extensive damage just to make the evacuation seem more worthwhile? And to all those, who are scoffing at the media coverage and the preparedness for a Category 1 hurricane, I say, “You are lucky you weren’t affected but 35 people have lost their lives and many more have suffered damages worth billions.”
In 2009, Cyclone Aila tore through Bangladesh and Eastern India leaving 330 people dead and 8000 missing. I am not even getting into the property damage. The death toll could have reduced significantly if Govt. agencies had initiated warnings/evacuations and issued preparation guidelines. The weather dept. had reported the possibility of a cyclone but there was no system in place to follow up on the prediction. The disaster management teams and the media pored in after the tragedy, reporting loss of lives and heartbreaking images of survivors. Most of the poor makeshift homes got affected and of course, without a warning in place, many people were killed in transit by falling branches and poles. Except for a stray incident here and there, the wealthy section of society continued with life as usual till after the catastrophe when they were faced with power outage and road blockage. In developing countries, power shortage is not uncommon, neither are impassable roads and sudden transport strikes, so it was something for which they had alternative resources. Nobody asked why they hadn’t been warned and prepared in advance.
Back here in the US, I could follow the Mayor on twitter and get instant updates. The Governors of affected states, whatever their personal follies and political views, did not watch from the sidelines. They worked throughout the weekend, along with the civic bodies and the various emergency departments that they had mobilized for safety and rescue purposes.
So if you are an American who found the past weekend’s hurricane precautions to be unnecessary and the media to be all baloney and hype, take a moment to think of all the lives that could have been saved in countries which don’t have a choice in the face of natural disasters.