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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Sandy - a disaster in evolution

As the fury of the storm named Sandy dissipates moving through Quebec towards the Atlantic, its toll is being tallied.  Two Canadian deaths have so far been attributed to the storm, some 70 in both the US and another 70 from its initial assault in the Caribbean.   It is a tragedy of immense proportions.  Many will be grieving loss of the life, homes, possessions and finances. 

Notable is that on the 4th day after it rammed into the Eastern seaboard are the stories that emergency supplies having been used up, hospitals evacuating as generators fail, some communities still cut off from contact, and millions of homes without power. Gas stations  are closing because fuel supplies are exhausted from running generators. Communications lost as cell phone infrastructure has not been restored.   It will take days yet to restore some of those services – highlighting that emergency preparedness should reinforce the need for at least one week of supplies before expecting sustained assistance and not just the 72 hours that is often quoted.

As is expected in disasters, the consequences have been broader than damage caused by the predicted winds and rain.  Notable is the extensive loss of homes from gas related fires and hazardous spills associated with rupture of containment vessels.  In the days ahead will come the stories of personal impact – both heartening, and those of devastation. 

In a disturbing way, two stories that are circulating reflect somewhat misplaced priorities.  Out of Atlantic City is the income lost from casinos that closed.  The second is that even as the New York city attempts to recover from the storm, and many of their transportation subways are flooded, that the scheduled marathon this weekend will proceed – in part because of the number of participants who are registered from other countries and parts of the US who are to travel into the city even through transportation systems are crippled. 

Emergency planners will speak about continuity and recovery phases and planning.  Perhaps the least well developed and yet most important phases of managing a disaster.  How to maintain essential services, and how to rebuild from the rubble.  Let us hope that the next few days demonstrate strong leadership by emergency management crews that keep people as the central focus of the recovery efforts. 

Lest we forget, Sandy’s impact is however only a fraction of the over 1800 deaths from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  

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