While the political landscape in the South last night might have resembled a battlefield of sorts, an onslaught of major storms and tornadoes brought devastation to the region on and after Super Tuesday, transforming the actual landscape into scenes that might have been lifted from a war memoir. Powerful tornadoes swept through Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, leaving several dead, as well as homes, college dormitories, malls, power lines, and even a natural gas pumping station damaged or destroyed. Many more were injured in an uncommon bout of severe winter weather.
The storms were triggered by a cold front that is currently pressing its way north, bracing areas in its path for storms, but none that are expected to be quite so intense. Many speculate that La Ni√±a–a cooling of the Pacific waters the opposite of El Ni√±o’s warming–is to blame, since one of its effects is known to be erratically altered weather patterns in areas far from the Pacific. Recent studies have suggested that one such alteration might be an increase in these kinds of weather disturbances in the southern U.S.
The occupants of a nursing home in Jackson TN, and those near the Columbia Gulf Transmission gas plant in Hartsville, TN were among the lucky ones, as all survived what could have been lethal incidents caused by the tornadoes, not least the spectacular explosion that came when the gas plant was struck by one of dozens of individual twisters reported.
Presidential candidates interrupted their high-energy victory speeches to express their condolences to the victims. Hillary Clinton asked her supporters to “keep the people of Arkansas and Tennessee in [their] prayers” while Huckabee emphasized that the lives of those affected by the catastrophe were more important than political victories. In addition to a pause for thoughts and prayers, Barack Obama added, “I hope our federal government will respond quickly and rapidly to make sure they get all the help they need.”
While the National Guard assisted rescue teams and monitored sites for looting, emergency response crews surveyed the damage and death tolls. Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, announced the deployment of FEMA teams while Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor said in a statement, “I will not tolerate a slow reaction time. FEMA must not use bureaucratic excuses to avoid helping Arkansans.”
President Bush answered today on all counts, assuring the people and their states’ respective governors that assistance was on the way. “More importantly,” Bush said, he wanted the governors “to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold those who suffer up in prayer.” Folks in these heavily Christian states who found concrete slabs and twisted debris where their houses once stood almost certainly appreciated the outpouring of spiritual solidarity, but material reconstruction and support will as certainly be of the utmost as they attempt to repair their lives in the coming months.
Josh Strawn is a writer and musician based in New York. His band is Blacklist.