January 17, 2010

HAITI UPDATE: London Times: Haiti earthquake: a few more rescues, but aid still slow. “Nobody can go anywhere without security in the city. No aid workers can go anywhere without taking risks with security. That adds to the difficulty of delivering the aid because you not only have to have transport – which is rare – you also have to have some sort of security with you, or you are taking a risk. People are getting angry, people are getting hungry and thirsty.” This is sounding kind of familiar.

As I mentioned before, disaster relief isn’t like ordering a pizza. It’s hard to get aid into a place where the infrastructure has been wrecked and ordinary social order broken down. I’m seeing some people start to go after Obama on this in an obvious echo of the Katrina-based criticism of Bush. I understand the appeal of payback, but I don’t see any evidence that Obama has blown it here; this stuff is just hard. Of course, the press won’t go after him the way they went after Bush, but that’s a given.

UPDATE: Reader Kevin Greene writes:

Glenn I hope your readers are paying attention.

Granted, Haiti didn’t have a very robust infrastructure to begin with, nevertheless its experience should be an object lesson for every American: In a natural disaster, aid is probably not coming nearly as fast as you think it should. It isn’t coming as fast as you think it will. And aid isn’t coming as fast as you’re going to need it.

If you’re not prepared to go it on your own for at least a couple of weeks, with your own supplies of food and especially water and emergency medical supplies, then you probably deserve your fate. Those of us who survive will be all the better off in a significantly cleansed gene pool.

Might be a good time to link people to this … just as a reminder that the United States is also due some natural disasters of epic proportions.

Well, if the Yellowstone Caldera really blows, the only good preparation will be a trip to Australia — taken before it lets go. But this Haiti earthquake has had me thinking about the New Madrid fault, which could wreck things across a very large part of the United States. And, yeah, you need to be ready to look after yourself for at least a week, preferably two or three at a minimum.

Lots of disaster-preparedness resources here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Some readers think Kevin Greene’s comments are a bit harsh. Well, yeah, but I think they were meant to get your attention. Did they?

Meanwhile, reader Jeff Cook writes:

What I haven’t seen posted, and know from personal experience, is that there is almost nothing worse than a flood (i.e. New Orleans).

When the fire burns out, when the tornado moves on, when the earth stops wobbling, you’re left with a mess and a bunch of bodies. With a flood, your left with a mess, a bunch of bodies and ten feet of water on top of them, and almost nowhere to even land a helicopter, not to mention drive a Humvee or park a generator.

I’ve been through one, (Texas Medical Center 2001) and worked in the aftermath of Katrina. Pure misery and helplessness. No excuse for having a quarter horse association president as your FEMA director, but some perspective of the relative difficulty of response is appropriate.

Yeah, and the damage extended over a very large area, blocking roads, railroads, etc.

MORE: Another reader emails:

You are very correct to be thinking of the New Madrid Fault at times like this. The New Madrid when it goes off will make Haiti look like a garden party.

There is a sort of sneering that goes on at times like this. Look at at that backward country down there. The question is does anyone think Memphis and St Louis would fare any better? Memphis despite knowing better built a huge glass pyramid on a sandbar. Those brick homes and office buildings will come tumbling down with perhaps much more devastation

The death and destruction would have world wide consequences. The Mississippi River would likely change course after the levees break and wipe out critical parts of the United States and indeed the world’s food supply in the Delta. The nation’s most critical Highway would be out of use for some time. In fact the Mississippi River might be coming through your home. What about the critical pipelines that take all that critical oil and gas up north.

There would massive food disruptions and yes rationing on a nationwide basis.

The massive death and disease would be something else.

Here is the frightening thought. Haitians are used to have no support and largely having to get by on their own. In my view the average American might not have the survival skill that the people of that Island do. It might not pretty.

So while look at poor Haiti perhaps we need to be preparing here.

This is not some DOOM and GLOOM History Channel scenario. The Madrid Fault will go off and it is very overdue

One would think the media would make the connection and might mention this all this.

Last time it happened, there was damage in Knoxville — and there wasn’t much of Knoxville to damage. There have been some efforts to prepare for this, particularly in the Memphis / St. Louis corridor, but not enough. Here’s an earlier post on that.

And another reader emails: “When one adds in the looming San Andreas fault catastrophe and the cataclysmic danger to the east cost from the megatsunami that a Cumbre Vieja eruption-caused collapse of the La Palma mountainside in the Canary Islands would most likely cause, there isn’t much of the US that ISN’T under some Sword of Damocles or other.” Carpe Diem, and all that. But also be prepared. . . .

STILL MORE: Reader Ben White emails that people are being too gloomy:

You can look back at any number of disasters that have hit different parts of the US. Remember the disastrous Mississippi River flooding? No widespread deaths. No panicking. No anarchy. Remember the hurricane after Katrina that hit Texas? You probably don’t, because there was no widespread media-hyped chaos. It was hurricane Rita.

The difference is the people. Midwesterners won’t have the problems that New Orleans residents have. Living in a neighborhood with smart, capable people of good character is, by itself, an effective disaster preparedness measure. New Madrid is a threat, but it threatens us where we are the most resilient.

Your readers should try to remember what country they live in. America may be in decline, but every town is not Detroit (or New Orleans, or Washington DC) yet.

Well, people tend to do better than expected in disasters, but a major New Madrid quake would be awfully bad.

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