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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene, Goodnight

And so, in the end, Hurricane Irene turned into a big fizzle. A storm the size of Europe couldn't even deliver a serious punch to New York City with a direct hit. Nothing bad happened. It was yet another case of media hype and big government telling people what to do when the people knew better.

None of that is true. Except for the part about Irene being the size of Europe.

Irene was a monster of a storm. Not in terms of strength or speed, but in terms of size and the sheer number of people in its danger zone.  Most of those people got very, very lucky: the storm lost a lot of strength once it made landfall in North Carolina. Of course, it was still pretty strong when it hit North Carolina. Folks there probably didn't feel so lucky.

No area along its path escaped unscathed.  Hundreds of thousands Millions of people are currently without power. (Sorry, at the time I wrote this I was working from old information. Turns out the number was somewhere around four million. More than twenty-four hours later, many of these people are still without power; some have been advised that their power will be out for up to a week.) Trees are down everywhere. Roads and bridges have been destroyed. Creeks and streams have flooded, and some rivers have yet to flood. Houses have been inundated. Landslides have cut off access to highways. People have died - some of them jackasses playing in the surf, some of them thrill-seekers who were killed while playing disaster tourist, but most of them just people going along the business of trying to cope with a major storm and getting killed in the process by falling trees.

Even New York City, which the popular wisdom has apparently decided got off easy, did not make it through the storm undamaged. Flooding has affected homes and businesses, streets and tunnels.

But there seems to be a general sense of disappointment on the Internet. Disappointment that this wasn't some big, dramatic mass casualty event, like the September 11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina. Instead it was just some boring old storm. Sure, people got killed. People get killed every day. But where are the people gathered on the tops of apartment buildings and skyscrapers, waving white flags and begging for rescue as bodies bob in the water that surrounds them? Where are the dramatic shots of cars being blown off the bridges leading out of the city, or maybe of one of the great suspension bridges giving way in the tremendous winds, swaying, snapping, collapsing, dumping its load of panicked drivers and pedestrians into the Hudson River? Where are the scenes of drivers making last-ditch escape attempts through the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, only to find themselves condemned to a watery grave as flood waters rush in after them?

Pffft. None of that happened. Change the channel, see if there's anything interesting on.

No, Irene wasn't the blockbuster hit that so many people were hoping it would be. It was just a really big, really bad storm. Sure, it affected lots of people. But it didn't deliver death and destruction on the scale some have come to expect.

We got lucky. New Yorkers got very lucky. Many of them chose to be thick-headed, stiff-necked, obstinate and arrogant New Yorkers about the situation: ordered to evacuate, they chose to ride it out. And most of them survived the storm.

Prior to 2005, New Orleans was threatened by hurricanes many times. It didn't faze the locals. They had seen storms come and seen them go, and they had learned how to deal with them: hurricane parties. Everybody would get drunk and jeer at the storms, and time after time the storms would pass over them. Until Katrina, the one storm that didn't.1 The storm that caused so much death and destruction, and made for really exciting TV viewing for a few weeks.

So, New Yorkers, count your blessings. You got incredibly lucky. Next time there's a storm aimed right at you, maybe you won't be. Maybe you'll deliver the spectacular blockbuster disaster that so many people were looking forward to this time.

In the meantime, the rest of us will be binding our wounds, clearing fallen trees, pumping out cellars, repairing bridges, rebuilding roads, tearing down houses, burying the dead. Sorry to have disappointed so many who were expecting more.

1. Actually, it did. Katrina caused relatively little devastation as it passed through New Orleans. Most of the damage in New Orleans came from the flooding of Lake Pontchartrain, to the north of the bowl that the city sits in.

1 comment:

Linkmeister said...

A-frickin men, brother.