ATLANTA – The two massive thunderstorms have resulted in death and suffering and damage that will be measured in billions of dollars. They have left millions of residents hanging in their homes to unload sweeping rains and have left evacuees – hundreds of thousands of them – scattered across Texas and the Southeast.
At the same time, hurricanes Harvey and Irma may have revealed a largely unnoticed truth often buried under the news of the tragedy: the US seems to be improving in how they respond to hurricanes, at a time when climate scientists say the threats of these storms, fueled by the warming of the oceans, increase even more terrible. For all the chaos, the number of Harvey and Irma's deaths remained surprisingly contained: about 85 up to now in Florida and Texas.
"There is no doubt that we are doing better," said Brian Wolshon, Civil Engineer Professor and Evacuation Expert at the State University of Louisiana. "What we do is not rocket science, but it is the political will and need to do it."
In most of Florida and the area on Tuesday, stressed and exhausted families rated Irma's damage, or just starting off on a strenuous journey home, often resulting in shortages of money, gasoline, stifling heat and disruptions to electrical and cellular service in addition to felled trees and damaged property. At least 13 people have been reported dead in the wake of Irma, although the toll can still rise in the Florida Keys.
The pain was felt when the storm struck the strongest, as the Florida Keys, where about 25 percent of the homes were destroyed and the dark-eyed inhabitants contemplated a destroyed destruction landscape.
And the pain was also felt: in Jacksonville, where there were still major floods from a dreadful epic, heavy rains and rising tides; Georgia, where at least 1.2 million customers were powerless on Tuesday; and in Charleston, SC, where the effects of Irma coincided with high tide, causing some of the worst flooding since Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the area in 1989.
Will policy that Mr. Wolshon quoted largely emerged from the two very different disasters and disasters of the century: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and, four years later, Hurricane Katrina, whose waters floodplanes have placed most of New Orleans under water and have left more than 1,800 people dead.
Terrorist attacks in New York and Pennsylvania have revolutionized the way the US government coordinated disaster response. Katrina stimulated a new and robust conversation about the power of natural disasters and, more specifically, forced the Americans to rethink the growing threats of floodwaters.
These issues have become central themes for the government in recent years and Richard Serino, a former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was not surprised that the response to the storms so far has been relatively good.
"This is not a coincidence," he said. "We have trained people for this for 16 years."
These events and other disasters before and after have fueled collective knowledge of how a modern nation should respond to hurricanes, catalysts for the 39 improved weather forecasts, evacuation policies and hurricane-resistant construction practices.
Experts said all of these elements probably played a role in keeping the dead lower than expected in recent weeks. Planning and response also benefited from a few lucky turns in time, from the increasing sophistication of personal technology – the iPhone did not exist when Katrina hit – and an audience was posted on Internet and has elapsed in the 24-hour television news.
The deadly problems of hurricanes are both old and new: Hal Needham, a coastal hazard specialist who runs a private consulting firm in Galveston, Texas, notes that this is that after the Second World War the populations began to rise in states vulnerable to the hurricanes of Texas and Florida. The rise of satellite meteorology only occurred in the 1960s. Before that, hurricanes could still be a surprise.
Today, lawmakers enjoy better weather forecasts, but now face the problem of what to do with millions of people who may be in the path of 39 ;a storm. Mr. Wolshon disagreed with all the evacuation decisions taken against Harvey and Irma, but stated that they were made with an evolving understanding and increasingly sophisticated challenges.
In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local officials have decided not to ask for a mandatory evacuation before Harvey arrives, partly because of the nature of the threat to the region. Harvey, at the moment he reached Houston, was not to provoke a storm or strong winds as long as heavy rains and heavy rains. In this case, it was difficult to know which areas would flood and this would not be the case. So the officials decided to encourage people to stay in place.
This was a marked difference for Governor Rick Scott's strategy in Florida, which announced Thursday to 6.5 million people: "Leave now, do not wait."
Dr. Needham said the move was probably the right one. "When Irma touched on southeast Florida, it seemed that we could see category 5 winds in the Miami area," he said. "When you have a huge flood event, if you can just go up, if you're in a condo or an apartment."
But in the whip, the winds of the hurricane force, the lodging in place probably will not have been as safe as hitting the road. Evacuation was also logical considering the threat of huge storm surges, experts said.
Miami did not end up having extreme winds, although much of southern Florida had beats. The lives may have been saved due to the drastic revision of the construction codes of southern Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This massive storm damaged or destroyed 125,000 homes in the area and the new codes have forced developers to build structures that could better withstand the hurricane force winds.
Houston, too, has learned of his tragic past. In July 2001, southeast Texas was hit by tropical storm Allison, which caused severe flooding. This prompted officials at the Houston Medical Center in Houston, considered the largest medical complex in the world, to undertake a $ 50 million upgrade that included the installation of flood gates and the installation of generators high enough so that they can not be flooded.
Dr. Needham said these changes probably helped reduce the number of deaths in Texas. "If power has gone out in a hospital with premature babies and elderly people on the fans, you can really see an increase in the loss of life," he said.
Texas and Florida have also benefited from the growth and sophistication of the Federal Department of Homeland Security and the training that even tiny communities have suffered since the attacks of September 11.
Storms also took place at a time when the response of governmental disasters grew more sophisticated, an evolution that did not necessarily begin with the attacks of September 11: James Witt , the FEMA director under President Bill Clinton, remembers going to Congress to fund a modern operations center after discovering what happened to the headquarters of FEMA until, 39 at this point.
"The center of operations was so bad that they had telephone wires hanging from the ceiling and the chairs and tables," he said.
But the Federal Response to Disasters The system has clearly increased after 9/11. And while the Department of Homeland Security has been criticized as expensive and inflated, it has also ensured a system in which local, state and federal officials are involved in the idea of working and communicating together.
Still, few observers openly celebrate the government's response to storms in the United States. The damage was too large, not only in Texas and Florida, but also in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The answer continues, with the probable reconstruction in the last years. And everyone knows that Texas and Florida have had a good fortune beyond the reach of human influence: high winds have never hit the big urban areas, and in Florida, Irma capricious has not caused a storm as devastating as expected by some.
"Although the impact on people injured or killed is low, it is largely a factor of chance," said Ahmad Wani, CEO of One Concern , a California-based company that seeks to use new technologies to create "the next systems of" disaster management "
. Serino said Harvey had introduced another cutting edge idea: relying on residents, not just the government workers, to make an important contribution to the response of hurricanes. "Now we have seen pictures of neighbors helping neighbors," he said.
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