State and local emergency management agencies with support from FEMA are busy carrying out response and damage assessment activities in countless communities from South Carolina to Maine impacted by tropical cyclone IRENE, while in other communities in Virgina and Maryland others are still quantifying damages caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit near Richmond, Virgina one week ago.
Initial reports regarding IRENE show 40 deaths, millions without power, and at least $7.0 billion in structural damages to buildings and infrastructure, marking the eleventh time so far in 2011 that the USA has had damage from a natural hazards reaching $1.0 billion or more.
I don’t have the most recent information on damage caused by the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that hit near Richmond, Virginia on 23 August 2011, but data from the USGS shows twenty new earthquakes including a 4.3 and a 4.8 magnitude shocks, have hit the same location within a few kilometers of each other over the last seven days. While most of these earthquakes have been minor, they have all been rather shallow with epicenters occurring at depths ranging from 7.2 km to 0.1 km, which makes them more damaging than deep seismic shocks.
Impacts by these recent hazards and others that have hit numerous communities around the country since January 1 illustrate the high vulnerability of the USA to a wide range of natural hazards, hence the need to be prepared and to practice MITIGATION.
While initial response efforts in the many communities impacted by IRENE continue, and recovery activities begin to get under way, we are reminded that it is what we do on a continuous basis BEFORE there is any impact by a natural hazard, which gives us the best chance of reducing the potential for damage to buildings and infrastructure and for protecting life, property and the various functions of human activity. This is what we call the practice of MITIGATION!
Being in the midst of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season we will also do well to remain alert, be prepared and pay attention at what is constantly happening in the tropics in the Atlantic basin at-large or in any of the sub-basins such as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Today on 30 August 2011 we see the eleventh-named tropical cyclone of the season, Tropical Storm KATIA, active and moving west by northwest in ‘hurricane alley’. which is showing signs of getting better organized and with a good chance of developing further perhaps even becoming a hurricane within the next 24-48 hours, as the system enters a more favorable environment of warmer surface waters and low wind shear in the atmosphere. Concurrently there is also a large cell of disturbed, stormy weather in the northwestern Caribbean between Honduras, Cuba and the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico that is showing some potential for further development.
As we monitor KATIA and other potential cyclones in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and ponder the tremendous challenge ahead for so many impacted by IRENE and recent earthquakes and other natural hazards, we are concerned to have learned that funding the necessary recovery efforts may become new political ammunition in our already ultra-polarized U.S. Congress, where some are threatening to hold disaster recovery funds hostage in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘balancing the budget’. We will have to wait and see if cooler more pragmatic heads prevail over political ideology-driven minds.