My Prediction: Huge Disaster Recovery Problems in U.S. during May

Annotated image of the confluence of the Missi...

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I have never posted a prediction before, but it is not hard to anticipate that FEMA and many other agencies and organizations dealing with disaster recovery should expect a demanding workload in May.  Here are 3 reasons for this prediction:

Reason #1:  aftermath of  the tornadic outbreaks in 6 southern states, less than one week ago; we already have  seen  major damage to many thousands of residences/businesses/other structures. The damage assessments are not yet completed, but it is easy to anticipate major rehousing/and or relocation efforts will be necessary.  [Today’s Christian Science Monitor discusses the likelihood that the Tuscaloosa Tornado is an all-time record setter for size and impact.]

These tornadoes also present the first major challenge to FEMA under the Obama Administration. See the WashPost article today: Storm recovery a test for administration, April 30, 2011.  At a later date I am planning to cover some of the problems likely regarding the large numbers of low and moderate income housing units needed, and the problems of budget constraints at all levels of government. Note that Prof. Bill Waugh has touched on these issues already:

The enormity of a cleanup effort that spans eight states provides first major challenge for President Obama in responding to a natural disaster. Promising federal aid to help towns rebuild, he says, “We’re going to make sure you’re not forgotten.”

Rebuilding is going to be a real chore” for the federal government, said Bill Waugh, a professor at the University of Mississippi and an emergency management expert. FEMA will need to move quickly to find enough temporary housing for displaced survivors, he said. “These days, with the economy so bad, a lot of people have probably dropped their house insurance,” Waugh said. “So recouping the losses could be very difficult.”

Reason #2:  anticipated major flooding in the Mississippi Valley. Warnings are already being posted for major flooding in a number of states in the Mississippi and Ohio Valley areas.  A repeat flooding event poses significant problems, some of which can be anticipated from a record-setting previous event in 1927 and others will result from some states experiencing both disasters.  See Historic Flooding Unfolding Along Mississippi, Ohio Rivers, from Accuweather.com, April 29, 2011.

As if tornadoes and damaging thunderstorms were not enough, historic flooding is also threatening the Mississippi River, below St. Louis, as well as the lower part of the Ohio River. The rising waters are expected to top levels set during February 1937. This mark is the middle Mississippi Valley’s equivalent to the 1993 event farther north along Old Man River.

Even if rain were to fall at a normal rate for the remainder of the spring, the consequences of what has already happened in the Midwest will affect the way of life, property, agriculture and travel/shipping/navigation for weeks in the region.

While the amount of evacuees currently numbers in the hundreds, it could soon number in the tens of thousands as levees are topped or breached and rivers expand their girth into more farming communities, towns and cities.

Sadly, the response in 1927 included some truly awful racial discrimination; the arbitrary and inequitable aspects of the response and recovery presented great hardship to a number of victims.

More details about the devastating 1927 floods are in an article today in the Wall St. Journal, May 2, 2011.

Reason #3: FEMA is planning a major disaster exercise, in the New Madrid Earthquake Zone in early May.  This National Level Exercise will involve active “play” by several federal regions, several states, and a large no. of municipalities.  Some of those key actors will be dealing with the two actual events noted above.  If  FEMA Director, Craig Fugate, goes through with his plans to hold the exercise as scheduled, FEMA, and also state and local emergency management officials, will be extraordinarily busy with two real and one simulated large-to-catastrophic events.

2 thoughts on “My Prediction: Huge Disaster Recovery Problems in U.S. during May

  1. I was elated to find your blog as the triple-whammy of recent disasters here in the U.S. has been on my mind a lot lately. We’ve had historic drought and wildfires in Texas, historic tornadoes in the south, and now, historic flooding in the mid-west and mid-south. I have a certain amount of dread for what may lie ahead of us. Historic heat wave? Historic hurricane season?

    I’ve been musing over the fact that Mother Nature may be sending us a “climate-change signal,” and I’m not on the climate-change bandwagon. Nevertheless, it worries me that we may be experiencing the “new normal,” and we don’t even know it. It also worries me that we may be too slow to react. For example, Hurricane Ike destroyed Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas coast a couple of years ago. But guess what? In spite of loss of lives and property, people rebuilt their homes there, even though there is a high risk that they will be destroyed again.

    It just struck me that maybe we should be more proactive. Maybe we shouldn’t be rebuilding in flood zones. Maybe people in tornado alley should rebuild super-fortified structures or underground. (Sounds a bit far-fetched, I’ll grant you.) Maybe we need to find ways to live with and survive extreme weather events. We’re smart. We need to figure this out and be better prepared.

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