The preparations to tackle Hurricane Florence that is currently hitting the North Carolina coast in the US, causing flooding in several counties and towns, show a stark and dire contrast to the woeful shortage of such measures in India. Could we really not mitigate the devastation and destruction that Kerala faced just last month?
Tracking Over Tattling
The White House began putting in precautionary measures in place to handle Florence before Labour Day on September 5.
According to official releases and news reports in the US media, President Trump granted declarations of an emergency situation for North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands as soon as information surfaced about three storms–Hurricane Florence, followed by two tropical storms Helene and Isaac.
He followed it up with warnings “not to play games” with nature and requesting people to voluntarily evacuate and cooperate with authorities.
The hurricanes have been tracked every minute by various organizations including the National Hurricane Centre, National Weather Service stations, and the emergency response and administrations of all the affected states, besides several private channels and experts. Georgia and Florida have been added to the list of states in the line of the storm, as the tracking continues.
Residents of all the affected states have been bombarded with emails, SMSes and intense messaging on all media that Florence is a “catastrophic” storm, a strange animal that cannot be predicted as even experts are finding it difficult to decipher how bad it could be.
Protection Over Politics
Florence is expected to dump 40 inches (1,016) of rain over two days over the Carolinas. Kerala saw 13.74 inches of rain at Peermade in Idukki on August 16.
Kerala saw the loss of 483 lives and property worth Rs 8,371 crores due to the recent flood, but not a single citizen of state was warned in advance that such a situation could take place, either by the Centre or by the state government or by weather centres.
Both the Centre and the Kerala governments have been pointing to each other over relief measures.
In the US, five days ahead of Florence hitting the North Carolina coast, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, backed by Trump, a Republican, ordered the evacuation of over 1 million (10 lakh) people from all towns and habitations along the shoreline.
Personalized warnings were tweeted, televised and radioed that there could be “huge wave surges” coming over seawalls and into homes. Cooper’s counterpart in South Carolina Henry McMaster, a Republican, also ordered mandatory evacuation of similar numbers and declared the state highways to be treated as one-ways leading away from the coast to ensure it.
Preparations Over Panic
In regions far inland like the North Carolina capital Raleigh, warnings of power outages had people rushing to all supermarkets that ran out of bread and water by Monday evening. Store managers were bombarded with requests to source water from “somewhere” as water supply to all households is pumped in through electricity. A power crisis essentially means no water.
At the present moment, with Florence still hovering off the coast, an estimated one lakh people are without power. Most have been rushed to shelters that came up well in advance, with over 4,000 emergency personnel already in the field.
Gas stations were running low on fuel as people filled up and evacuated to higher regions.
All shops, malls, schools, colleges have shut down in all the areas that are expected to be affected, including those on the edge like North Carolina capital, Raleigh. Several malls have opened up their multi-level parking areas for free, so that people can safely park their cars away from the flooding roads.
Both the Carolinas are also facing a severe farm situation as Florence is all set to hit bang in the middle of the harvest season. North Carolina residents recall Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which caused crop and livestock damages of $800 million according to news reports, with just 24 inches of rain. South Carolina has terrible memories of the 2016 Hurricane Matthew, called the ‘1000-year-flood. ’
Cooper quickly removed all restrictions on movements of farm equipment in North Carolina and farmers rushed to harvest and save standing crops of corn, tobacco and cotton.
South Carolina farmers have been in a similar whirl, picking whatever amount of cotton and peanuts that could be recovered.
While the extent of property damages following Florence, despite all such measures, is likely to be higher than Kerala, the effort to save life and ensure safety to the population is the real contrast. Disaster after disaster has struck India, be it the tsunami in 2004, Kosi floods in 2008, the Uttarakhand floods in 2013, the Srinagar floods in 2014, the Chennai floods in 2018 or the Kerala and Nagaland floods this year.
There has rarely been an advance warning or preparation to meet any of them, leaving the people to fend for themselves, destitute and despairing.
(Sowmya Aji is a journalist and author. This is a personal blog and the opinions expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)