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THE ENVIRONMENT: Catastrophes hit hard
Annual article: A year in the world of enivronmental issues reviewed.
The Whole Hog, 20 Dec 2005
In the last twelve months, nature has reminded us of its force and our helplessness in its face. That’s in case we ever doubted it. Though, in truth, we did. Humans have a knack of thinking that they can plan and engineer and overpower the world. And we can’t.
When the first reports were heard of a tsunami on December 26th last year, people thought…well, what? Like that Guinness ad? It was just a word, albeit one that had generated a new whiff of danger since scientists began to identify places that showed evidence of great damage that could only be caused by a tsunami.
Catastrophe. Two tectonic plates slipped miles below the surface of the earth. The way the waters work, it was enough to send millions of tons of water crashing onto beaches across Southern Asia, sweeping away hundreds of thousands of people. We’ll never know exactly how many, but the toll exceeds 300,000.
The knock-on effects are as calamitous. Whole infrastructures have to be rebuilt, whole societies reconfigured. Generations were wiped out, families, clans, industries.
In September, nature gave us another glimpse when Hurricane Katrina hit America’s Gulf Coast. It came as a Category Five storm. That’s as baaaad as it gets. In New Orleans, the levees gave way. The city was inundated and many coastal towns of Louisiana were destroyed. Jobs, homes, all gone.
Horrors were unleashed. Those who suffered most were the black and poor. People were trapped for long periods, both in their houses and in refuges like the Superdome.
It’s not as if they didn’t know what was coming. They did. In fact, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency developed three scenarios to guide its work, a Category Five storm hitting New Orleans was one of them.
By the way, a terror attack on New York was another. The third was an earthquake in San Francisco. One does not anticipate a visit to that imperilled shore anytime soon. But I digress…
October brought the latest movement of the earth. A massive earthquake struck Pakistani Kashmir. Almost 100,000 died. And as I write, the snows have come. Others will freeze to death.