Changing focus

After Hurricane Andrew left thousands homeless in August 1992, the first President Bush’s administration was bitterly criticized for moving too slowly to deliver food, water, and troops. Although his campaign vastly outspent that of Bill Clinton, his support ebbed and Bush was forced to defend what once had been considered home turf, winning by only a small margin.

— Boston.com Last year, when hotly-contested electoral votes were in play, Bush responded quickly and decisively to Hurricane Charley. How many people in the U.S. died because of Hurricane Charley? No more than 30. Still, I keep coming back to Hurricane Andrew. It was the most devastating storm in recent memory. In a piece for the Washington Post, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that several things meant that Hurricane Andrew wasn’t as bad as it could have been:

  • [Andrew] could have hit major metropolitan areas directly, with far more people vulnerable to disaster — the elderly, the indigent, the homeless — live. Katrina hit a major metropolitian area. Many of those who didn’t leave were elderly, indigent or homeless.
  • In the Miami area, those seeking refuge from Andrew had only a short trip to get to higher ground. By contrast, so much of the state’s southwestern corner around Ft. Myers and Naples is in low-lying territory likely to be inundated by a major hurricane, that state planners estimate that evacuation would have to start at least 60 hours in advance of a storm to get all the residents of the region to safety. Do you realize how little response you would get if you tried to evacuate people everytime there was the threat of a major storm hitting in 60 hours? They can’t even predict where a storm is going to hit with any accuracy that far out.
  • Andrew could have been a big storm like Carla in 1961, which stretched 50 miles from its eye to the maximum winds on its fringe. Instead it was about 11 miles. Katrina was larger
  • … when [Andrew] hit Louisiana, it could have been as mean or meaner as it was when it touched down on Florida. But by then, for all the damage it did, Andrew had lost its nerve. Its winds blew as much offshore as onshore, and its pressure suddenly changed, reducing the potential size of the storm surge. Katrina was the third strongest hurricane on record to make landfall on the United States.

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