Tuesday, August 30, 2011

East Coast Sorta Survives One-Two Punches of Earthquake & Hurricane

This has been a week for paying attention to Mother Nature. First, many of us in the Washington DC/MD/VA area were rudely jolted by a 5.8 earthquake on Tuesday, and then as we regrouped from that, we were told we were under a tropical storm warning. Double whammy!

This area hasn't had a major earthquake of this magnitude -- ever! (Last year we had a mini-earthquake in the 4.2 range and some people, such as me, slept through it, although my dog didn't!) This one caused some damage and rattled nerves, as well as masonry. Iconic buildings such as the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Castle and the National Cathedral all suffered noticeable damage. Engineers are trying to determine the extent of damages, whether they are cosmetic and/or structural. Some of the older historic buildings near the epicenter and in historic Alexandria also suffered damages and cracks in walls. Thankfully, the nuclear power plant which existed a stone’s throw from this quake's center in Mineral, Virginia, was able to follow protocol and shut down automatically. Some one please tell me again -- why it is that we build nuclear plants near fault lines and population centers? It turns out that there are close to a dozen operating nuclear plants in the East Coast corridor shaken by this quake, and more than 50 million residents in the heavily populated centers along the path.

I understand that the West Coast "experienced" earthquake veterans have laughed at our modest experience, and I cheerfully acknowledge our naïveté in this area, but I am glad that only property and not people suffered injury here.

Now -- the hurricane -- many in this mid-Atlantic area are still without power and are trying to repair property damaged by falling trees or raging waters. Some have suffered from Hurricane Irene-driven tornadoes or storm surges and high winds. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have joined Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, who took the early damages from this massive storm. For a change, the population was prepared. FEMA and local state governments worked together in evacuations and strategic planning to meet the needs of a mostly unknown weather event. Still no one could adequately anticipate the floods which are devastating Vermont, far from the coast. Rarely has one hurricane/tropical storm brought so much damage to so many people in so many states. The Denver Post has collated a photo album which demonstrates the breadth of damages seen across these many states. Tonight millions are still waiting for rivers to crest, flood waters to recede or are trying to restore their lives to normalcy. Some 40 lives have been lost and this toll continues to rise. I am certain we all share in condolences to all who have lost so much here.

But I would absolutely be remiss if I did not bring in the reality of politics on this date, the anniversary of Katrina. What lessons have been learned over these last six years? Certainly we have seen a President Obama engaged in disaster outreach. We have seen the administration from FEMA, to the National Guard, to the Department of Homeland Security coordinate with local and state officials in meeting the needs of the millions in the path of a furious storm. No residents were marooned on rooftops waving white flags, nor herded into sweltering sports stadiums without food, water or sanitation. No distant smirking leaders patted themselves on the back. No, instead we heard Secretary Janet Napolitano say, "our job is not yet done," and FEMA chief Fugate indicate that one prepares for disasters by advance storage of food and equipment and strategic positioning of emergency supplies. I see a Federal Government at work in service for Americans with disaster declarations helping states to better serves their residents. I see the power of many coordinated efforts and cooperation between state and federal entities to make relief effective. I see the massiveness of a federal need being met in a critical and timely manner. I see our tax dollars hard at work for the greater good.

To those such as Eric Cantor (whose home state suffered from both the hurricane and the earthquake) who demand that moneys spent in this necessary relief, be offset from some other approved spending streams before it is expended, I say hang your head! I heard candidate Michelle Bachman laugh at the "double whammy" of earthquake and hurricane and state that God was trying to send Washington a message. (She later -- after being roundly condemned for these words which were spoken more than once -- claimed to be only joking!) Former Senator (and unsuccessful Democratic Presidential candidate) George McGovern speaking on the Diane Rehm Show decried this attitude by stating that his God wouldn't send people to their death in order to make a point. He felt that Bachman should not pretend to speak for her interpretation of God. He also spoke out against the combative nature of politics today and the mission of the minority in the Senate to paralyze any effective legislative measures. He mentioned how effectively he and Senator Bob Dole worked together to find food for the poor. Working for the common good was seen as a role for government. Shouldn’t that be true even today?

Governor Perry has been heard to say he wants government to be as inconsequential as possible to the average American. Does this mean I have to arrange my own national guard and FEMA relief or -- as a consequence -- be treated the way New Orleans was treated? Shame on those who espouse this attitude! Tsk, Tsk, to Ron Paul who stated that Galveston restored itself long before FEMA existed. He indicated that the Federal response was not in existence then and is not needed now. Galveston, he claimed, rebuilt itself. However thousands died due to the inability of adequate advance warnings. There were no FEMA stores of fresh water and portable toilets, tents, or cots for weary residents. There was no hurricane plane tracking storm trajectory and intensity, nor a National Hurricane Center projecting the storm path a week in advance.

Government, as I have said before, is a reflection of the goodness of a people, government is us. People such as you and I make government work by our dedication to our duties, whether great or small. Few get rich serving as federal employees. Those who do get rich are ones such as defense contractors and lobbyists, (and some legislators) who may not be serving for the greater good. So let's not tar all with a negative brush. Let's say thanks to the first responders, the National Guard, the Federal and local workers who manned the emergency lines, worked on power lines and opened relief centers even though their own families may have been in harms way.

Let's hear what you think. Shall we all fight hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters on our own or should we use the pooled resources of the many to assist those in need? Seems like a no-brainer to me!

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