I did follow very diligently the massive devastation caused by the December 2004 tsunami in the Pacific Asia and Hurricane Katrina in the United States. Since after both tragedies, considering the widespread havoc they caused, I have dreaded anything hurricane, storm, earthquake, landslide or the like. Indeed, my heart skipped (figuratively speaking) when I heard about the approaching Hurricane Sandy on October 24, 2012. I had feared for the worst for America.
Sincerely speaking, the name ‘hurricane’ conjures a feeling of trepidation in me whenever it is mentioned. As far as I am concerned, ‘hurricane’ means nothing but death and destruction, agony and grief! The worst part of it all is nothing can be done to avert it since it is a natural disaster. All that can be done is to mitigate its impact on humans and the environment. And that was exactly what the United States did when Hurricane Sandy came ashore. But its impact went beyond what was anticipated.
For the first time, America was caught napping. I got glued to my television set as the storm pummelled several parts of the United States. I could not believe what was unfolding before me. It was a terrible sight as houses and humans were being swallowed up by the rampaging flood. The fire service, the paramilitary, Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Army and Air Force all worked frenetically to offer help to those that needed it. A particular incident made my heart jump into my mouth: there was a fire incident, sparked off by the hurricane, around Queens, New York City. The fire raged ferociously, and by the time it was contained by firemen, it had burnt down the entire houses in the neighbourhood -leaving behind agony and desolation.
Up to the time of going to press with this article, bodies of victims of the dangerous hurricane are still being scooped from the debris that littered the whole place. The figure stood at 110 at the last count. Certainly, the number will soar by the time rescue operations have been called off. I have never seen the United States so battered and disorganised as has been the case since the onslaught of the deadly hurricane Sandy that hit the North Eastern United states on October 29, 2012. It started its deadly journey slowly on October 22, 2012 in the Western Caribbean as a tropical wave, quickly gaining strength and was upgraded to a tropical storm six hours later. It continued its northward movement and by October 24 it had been upgraded to a hurricane. It made a landfall in Jamaica, where it killed over 20 persons. By October 25, it had turned into a Category 2 Hurricane, with fear of expected widespread disaster in the United States.
The unexpected happened on October 28 when the hurricane, with winds spanning 1,800 kilometres, made landfall on Atlantic City, New Jersey, missing New York by less than 100 kilometres. The hurricane affected a total of 24 states – from Florida to Maine and up to West Virginia. On October 29 the hurricane brought destructive storm to New York City flooding subway lines, tunnels, streets; and knocking off power all around the five boroughs of New York City. Most affected were Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens, where trees were felled, houses submerged and lives lost. Business activities were also completely paralyzed. Even the usually bubbling New York Stock Exchange and Zone ‘A’ areas near waterways were forced to evacuate.
Though the early warnings forecasted a deadly outcome, but what actually happened went beyond the most expert estimation or prediction. For close to four days after the storm over 6.5 million people were without power, raising fears of worse days ahead. It was only last Saturday that New York City clambered back to life with the restoration of power in some important areas. However, it was not the same situation in Staten Island (one of the five Boroughs in New York City) where residents had had to queue with jerry-cans for gasoline. Other coastal states of Virgin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts were worst hit. They are still counting their losses. Though some of the affected persons have insurance covers, some others who do not have now depend on aid from federal authorities.
But the unarguable fact remains that the damage caused by the hurricane, estimated at 50 billion US dollars, is the second costliest in the history of the United States – after Katrina. The major concern of this piece is not really to retell the story of the hurricane, rather it intends to first, look at the likely cause(s) of the storm; second, assess what role the United States authorities played in safeguarding lives and property before, during, and after the hurricane; third, quantify the cost of the disaster to the United States and other countries affected and; fourth, locate the spiritual and mundane lessons for both the United States and humanity in general. The essence of this approach is to enable us to deeply understand what is on God’s mind about the world we live in today. It is only a blind man that needs to be told that the world is increasingly getting desperate and unconscionable.
Strange things are happening and those affected are doing nothing to seek the face of God. It is painful that mankind has forgotten too easily that current events in the world are an indication of an impending cataclysm. We have all become too myopic to observe the ominous signs. What do we expect when we abuse the environment with such recklessness and insensitivity? We read daily about global warming, yet do nothing to ameliorate the situation. Hurricane Sandy, according to weather experts, was caused by global warming – melting of the Arctic ice – which caused a negative North Atlantic Oscillation that fuelled the expansion of Sandy.
According to experts, global warming increases ocean surface temperatures and the frequency of blocking patterns in the future. The implication, therefore, is so long as we continue to abuse the environment we will never cease having natural disasters. The severer the abuse, the more disastrous the consequences! Simple! Was the United States, therefore, prepared for Hurricane Sandy? The answer is a natural ‘yes’. But there is a point that has to be appreciated: The United States’ agencies charged with the management of the aftermath of the hurricane have so far been overwhelmed by the scope of the damage.
For instance, the electricity companies have found it cumbersome to restore normal services, to the point that many homes have stayed without power 12 days after the hurricane. Though the number of those without electricity has fallen from the initial 6.5 million to about 3 million, there is fear that a majority will stay without power for a long time. President Barack Obama in anticipation of the approaching hurricane signed an emergency declaration on October 28 for several states in the U.S. expected to be affected by the storm, allowing them to request federal aid and make additional preparations ahead of the storm. This declaration was effectively put into use by many of the states to mitigate the impact of the storm.
Amtrak (the speed rail transport company) had had to suspend its operations, while several flights (numbering over 19,000) were cancelled across the United States. In addition, 45,000 personnel from the Air Force and National Guard were placed at the alert. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Red Cross, Salvation Army and other similar agencies were fully mobilized to assist victims. As a show of solidarity with the victims of the storm President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney had to suspend their campaigns to join in the rescue operations. I have already mentioned some of the losses incurred by some states and business organisations as a result of the storm. Nevertheless, it is important to state that the fatalities and losses in concrete financial terms were enormous. For instance, the damages and casualties to the United States alone are estimated at over 50 billion dollars with 110 fatalities; Haiti 54 fatalities; Cuba 11 fatalities and 80 million dollars; Bahamas 2 fatalities and 300 million dollars, and Jamaica 10 fatalities and 55.23 million dollars.
Latest reports indicate that there is going to be severe accommodation problem in the affected states in the U.S. as a result of many homes that were washed away or flattened by the storm. So, in essence, it can be rightly concluded that the United States was somewhat ready for the hurricane. After all, this is not the first time they are faced with such a life-threatening challenge. This year alone the United States had had 18 tropical cyclones and nine storms before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. The implication of this is that the United States is used to such natural disasters and has always done the needful to reduce the collateral damage on lives and property. Nobody ever knew that America would ever recover quickly form the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. But today America is still as solid as ever.
What about the 9/11? Today America has overcome the aftershock of the catastrophic incident and is marching on. Instead of recoiling into their shells, Americans took the bull by the horns to rebuild the battered twin towers. A visit to Coney Island will reveal the transformation of the once-desolate and disintegrated area that housed the twin towers. In place of the fallen towers stand towering edifices that are an attestation to indefatigable spirits of the Americans. Of greater interest was the ability of Americans to ride the storm and go ahead with the presidential/legislative elections, which eventually produced Obama as the winner. Now it is time to ask another salient question: what lessons can the United States and the whole world draw from Hurricane Sandy?
The first lesson is that God remains the controller of the universe. It is only him can dictate to these cosmological elements and they will obey him. Psalm 148 captures the picture very unambiguously. In this Psalm, God speaks about his authority over all that he created including the stars, the moon, the sun and oceans, seas, rivers, air, etc. The destruction of the first world with deluge by God remains convincing evidence that it is only him that can determine our fate. Though he has vowed never to destroy the world again with water, nonetheless, he has not stopped us getting afflicted with flooding, storms and thunderstorms in menacing magnitudes. Even Nigeria is not spared. This year has left several parts of Nigeria heavily flooded.
Another lesson is that man must change his attitude to his environment. We should be more alive to our responsibilities to preserve and protect our habitat and ecosystem. For us to save ourselves from more severe disasters there is the urgent need to stop indiscriminate dumping of refuse, burning of forests and logging, emitting dangerous fumes and substances, oil spills and engaging in other unethical and unhealthy practices that undermine the environment. The search for oil has also exposed the world to horrendous disasters. Every crevice, every underground surface is being exploited for oil. This is being done without consideration for the long-term impact. The giant oil companies are neck-deep in exploration, with eyes set on the commercial benefits, and little attention to environmental safety. Oil spills have devastated farmlands and aquatic lives in high proportions. I recall the massive spills caused by Shell facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, sometime in 2010.
It took the intervention of President Obama and, indeed, the entire world to bring the situation under control. In general terms, the world is living constantly in fear of annihilation by itself. The majority of the natural disasters that had afflicted it in the recent past had been traced to environmental negligence and abuse. This, therefore, calls for a more conscious, safer and cleaner world. There is no way we can live safely without paying attention to our environment. The environment remains the single most important determinant of the survival of man in a brutally competitive and egoistic world. I must not fail to commend the United States for the courageous and skilful manner it handled the aftermath of deadly Hurricane Sandy. The losses would have doubled if not for God’s mercy and the super technology for which the United States is known.
I sympathise with the victims and all others affected one way or another by the disaster. May God console all of you!
BRAVO! OBAMA As I was concluding this article, the news came from the United States that President Barack Obama had been re-elected. Obama won the majority of Electoral College votes and popular votes, beating his challenger, Mitt Romney. Obama won in swing States of Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. Also, the majority of his votes came from young voters and women that formed the bulwark of the overall voters. It was an emotional sight as Romney conceded defeat.
It showed the beauty of the American electoral system. I hope our leaders watched the whole drama as it unfolded and learnt a few lessons on how to make our own system work. The United States has maintained the lead on how to conduct free and fair elections, prompt announcement of results and statesmanship in conceding defeat. In less than 24 hours the election had been won and lost. I wish Obama a successful tenure at the White House.