Thursday, April 28, 2011

Natural Disasters - Hurricanes

There are many names for tropical costal storms. In the US they are known as Hurricanes, in other places as Typhoons, Tropical Depressions and Cyclones. These are all the same name for the same event, but the name varies between different regions. A Hurricane is a powerful storm that starts in the Tropics and may the travel from where they gain there in energy in form of heat. Hurricanes contain an incredible amount of energy. A hurricane can generate 100-400 times more energy than the worldwide production of electricity. This energy is comparable to the energy released from small nuclear weapons. This gives Hurricanes a capacity to inflict an enormous amount of damage.

A Hurricane gathers energy from the warmth of the ocean water and can continue to gather energy until it reaches a coastline. When a Hurricane reaches a coastline it can no longer draw energy from the warm water of the ocean and will lose its momentum and energy. Its however possible to travel over land and then travel over an area of sea and start to regain its force once again. Hurricanes are most frequent from July to October in the North Atlantic but have occurred from May to December as well, this is from the need of warm water in the ocean from witch a Hurricane can draw its energy.

A Hurricane rotates around the center of storm which is normally referred to as the Eye. When the strong Hurricane winds rotate the build up a mass of water in the center of the storm that can reach a height of several meters, when the hurricane hits a coastal area it’s not a normal wave but a enormous mountain of water in addition to high waves that can flood large areas. The wind and water from the Hurricane can cause massive damage to housing, infrastructure and communications; it can take a region several years to rebuild the damaged infrastructure. A hurricane can destroy businesses, workplaces and lead to severe economical consequences in addition to direct loses for individuals in form of housing and other belongings. The Strength of Hurricanes is often measured in the Saffir-Simpson Scale ranging from 1-5 where 1 is a relatively weak hurricane and 5 represents and catastrophic hurricane.

1780 The Hurricane San Calixto killed around 20.000-24.000 people in the Caribbean.

1900 the low lying community Galveston in Texas was hit by a Category 4 Hurricane that destroyed most of the wood and brick buildings in the community. Many escaped but for those how where 6000 among those how where unable leave died in the disaster. After the disaster the community was isolated when the bridges to the main land were destroyed and there was little access to water, food and medical supplies.

1969 over 70cm of rainfall during less than eight hours from Hurricane Camille caused mudflows that killed 150 people and destroyed over a hundred homes, farmland and infrastructure in Virginia.

1970 The Bhola Cyclone hit Bangladesh, flooding much of the country killing somewhere between 300.000-700.000 people. This is one the deadliest natural disasters in modern time. The Cyclone also caused massive damage to infrastructure destroying almost half a million homes.

1982 The Hurricane Iwa hits the Hawaiian Island Kauai causing widespread damage and killing one person.

1989 April 12th the Hurricane Hugo killed somewhere between 50-60 people and destroyed around 100.000 homes and resulting in billions of dollars worth of damage.

1991 A massive Cyclone hit Bangladesh killing 130.000-150.000 people and leaving up to 10 million people homeless.

1992 The Category 4 Hurricane Andrew destroyed 30.000 homes and damaged a 100.000 more. In Dade County the hurricane destroyed almost all of the 10.000 mobile homes in area and caused around 25-30 billion dollar worth of damage in total.

1992 Hurricane Iniki hit the Hawaiian Island of Kauai devastating the local economy and killing two.

1997 Hurricane Pauline released an massive amount of rain over Acapulco resulting in debris flows and flood that killed 230 People.

1998 Hurricane Mitch brings massive damage to Central America, The Caribbean and Southern Florida killing 11.000 people, causing massive damage to housing, infrastructure and communications.

1999 The Category 5 Cyclone Orissa hit India killing around 10.000 and leaving several millions homeless.

2005 Hurricane Katrina killed over 1800 people and leaving several hundred still missing. A large area was affected but the most devastation took place in New Orleans where the barriers protecting the city failed resulting a severe flooding of the city. Many towns at the coastline in Missisippi also suffered massive damage to housing and infrastructure. Around 2 million people were displaced and many have been unable to return to their homes even today.

Early Warning
With modern satellites it’s possible to see how hurricanes form and how they progress. This means that it’s possible to issue early warning when hurricanes form so that people may get out of the destructive path of the storm. This is however a complicated process for several reasons. One reason is that it is hard to predict exactly how much energy a hurricane will gather when travels over the sea and how much energy it will have when it hits a coastal line. The other major problem is that it is hard to predict exactly where a hurricane will hit and predict its exact path. These two factors mean that there will always be some uncertainty both when it comes to the exact strength a hurricane will have and when or where it will hit. It may be weaker or stronger than anticipated and may change direction and hit an area that was not predicted.

Survival and Preparedness
Insurance and Emergency Budget
A Hurricane can easily destroy house, infrastructure, vehicles, businesses, farmland and many more economical and personal values. I suggest that you try to reduce your vulnerability by reviewing the setting of your home and the strength of structure – what can be done to minimize the impact if the worst would happen and how what are the likely consequences for you? If you have comprehensive food storage and other preparations for disasters they may prove to be of little use if your house will be flooded during a worst case scenario – your setting is very important.

The other step is to make sure that you have the proper Insurance so in order to minimize the economical consequences if your home would be affected. Some personal belongings and values may never be replaced but this can help to minimize the impact of such an event. During large scale hurricanes it’s common that insurance companies can go bankrupt so getting coverage may still be a hard and long process. Having an Emergency Budget may also prove to be crucial in this types of events; a hurricane can destroy businesses and livelihoods leaving individuals with no or little income. Even if property is insured it may take a long time before you see any compensation and you may have to make until then so having savings may become very important.

If you live in an area that may be affected by hurricanes your setting is one of the most critical aspects of preparedness. Having a house close to the shoreline is a setting with a beautiful view but can be devastating if a hurricane hits. Remember that a hurricane can bring a mountain of water several meters high that can flood large areas, having a house on the low lands can be devastating if a hurricane hits. Some areas may be located under sea level and protected by barriers, these areas are especially vulnerable if a hurricane breaches these barriers. The indirect effect of enormous rainfall can also cause landslides in regions located a quite long distance from the coast. Areas like canyons and hills with loose soils are especially vulnerable.

The other important aspect of your setting is the building that you live in. Hurricane winds can cause massive damage to structures. Light structures and especially mobile homes are very vulnerable and a hurricane can cause almost total damage if areas with these types of housing are affected. Roofs is one of the most crucial parts of a structure, if hurricane winds can tear a roof from a building the rest of structures will be severely weekend and vulnerable to winds. You may find some advice for guidelines in your local building codes.

Evacuating a large city or region is a complicated process. To evacuate an entire community normally takes from 30-72 hours. Normally the most vulnerable are those that are old, disabled or those how lack the access to vehicles or resources to get out of the area on their own. During large scale evacuations its common the highways get stuck with heavy traffic and that the progress of the traffic can be very slow. In 1999 a massive gridlock occurred when a hurricane warning was given in North Carolina, the hurricane did not however hit the area, but changed direction and hit North Carolina instead. Had the Hurricane hit North Carolina many could have been killed trying to escape.

Your Vehicles is one of the most critical aspects during an evacuation. Regularly check your tiers, check your breaks and maintain your vehicle in order to make sure that it will work properly if you would need it. Also try to
• Keep your tank as full as possible
• Store some extra Gasoline in cans
• Keep Bug Out Bags and the most Important belonging easy accessible
• Stay Updated
• Find the plan for Hurricane Evacuation from your local agencies.
• Make a Plan for Your Family
• Make a review of your situation before the beginning of every Hurricane Season

Gas Stations can easily be overwhelmed during evacuations if everyone tries to get access to gas at the same time, try to keep your vehicles tank as full as possible at all times and store some extra gasoline in metal containers in your home if possible. Gas can’t be stored for an unlimited period of time so make sure that you rotate it regularly. For advice concerning equipping vehicles for emergencies see the article Travelling With Vehicles During Crisis and Survival Situations.

Home Preparedness
A hurricane can also cause indirect consequences for people how are not directly affected by damaging infrastructure and communication. You find yourself without electricity and running water for and its common that supermarkets sells out their stock of supplies, water and generator quickly if a hurricane is about to hit. A hurricane can also result in other dangers like the spread of disease.

Having a basic food storage, the ability to prepare food, water, the means of sterilizing or filter water, light, medical supplies, emergency sanitation and a generator can spare you much trouble in such a scenario. For more suggestions on Home Preparedness see the articles Get The Ability To Cope With A Crisis and Equipment For Your Home – Checklist.

The less resources people have the harder they are generally hit by all types of natural disasters. This is a result from multiple factors like the ability to construct strong buildings, that poor people often live in most vulnerable areas, they may lack the resources to evacuate and the resources to cope with the disaster. In rich countries its relatively few people that die in hurricanes compared to the situation in poor countries with a high population density like Bangladesh. The economical loses in rich countries tend to be very high even if the number of dead often is quite low in compared to countries with less resources. Hurricanes also present an increasing challenge from both the urbanization process that concentrate more and more people into cities and the continuing increase in world population. Today around half of the world population lives in coastal areas. Hurricanes present a large threat to the people living in areas that may be affected by hurricanes and it’s important to plan and prepare for this type of scenario if you may be affected.

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