Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Hurricanes – we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way

Posted by metaphorical on 29 May 2007

Thursday marks the start of the hurricane season. Since 1950, the year the Weather Bureau started naming them, the population most threatened by them, coastal lands from North Carolina to Texas, has more than tripled, from 10.2 million to about 35 million.

This, despite storms such as Katrina, Hurricane Ivan, which in September 2004, “kicked up the tallest, most extreme waves ever measured… more than 90 feet (27 meters) tall from crest to trough and 600 feet (183 meters) long,” and 1989’s Hugo, one of the most severe storms ever to hit the U.S.

In the 20th century, along the United States east coast (north of Florida) – no tropical cyclone has ever recorded a lower pressure, stronger winds, or higher tidal surges at landfall.

In the middle of September 1989 – millions of people throughout the Caribbean and the eastern United States watched in profound amazement as Hurricane Hugo traveled thousands of miles with great intensity. On September 22 , five days after Hugo had left Guadeloupe and Montserrat in shambles, the tropical cyclone was 1,500 miles away in the United States – still ripping roofs off buildings in South Carolina. In terms of size, intensity, and destruction, Hugo was a record storm.

In Charleston Cty, S.C., 1500 miles and 5 days from its devastating Carribean landfall, Hugo’s death toll was 85; the property toll was $2.8 billion.

Despite the damage, people keep moving there. The population of the county has risen 12.5 percent since 1989, from 295,000 to 331,917.

Three of the top 20 U.S. metro areas in population are along the firing line, Houston (#6), Miami (#7), and Tampa-St Pete (#19).

The 35 million people living in the primary hurricane zone includes about 12 percent of the U.S population, up from 7 percent in 1950. Half of that 35 million lives along Florida’s two-sided coastline. In just the single year 2005 to 2006, roughly speaking the year after Katrina, Florida’s coastal population grew by 1.7 percent.

All the uncited stats here came from a very nice Census.gov page. A thank-you to Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute for the link.


20 Responses to “Hurricanes – we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way”

  1. Swanny said

    This to me hearkens back to Sam Kinison’s proposed solution to starving in Ethiopia back in thye 80’s, “You people live in a fucking desert! Move to where the food is!”

    So I don’t get all choked up hearing about the tragic tale of the people whose lives were destroyed because they lived in Hurricane Alley. Y’wanna live on the beach, better build yerself a freakin’ waterproof, stormproof bunker.

    I mean c’mon, it’s be like buying land at the foot of a volcano and then complaining, “No one told me it might actually erupt!”

    Next up: the horror story of the family whose peanut allergic child died of an allergic reaction shortly after they moved in next door to the peanut farm. They’re being represented in their multi-million dollar suit against the farmers by the Breck Girl who sees this as a clear case of corporate negligence.

  2. My post isn’t exactly supportive of the idea of moving to the U.S.’s hurricane zones….

  3. Swanny said

    I know, I was agreeing. Wait, you posted something? ;)

  4. Blue Athena said

    Oh, people are stupid. The fact we didn’t close out New Orleans altogether pretty much speaks of mass as well as individual stupidity. In a democracy we get what we deserve, and this is it.

    On the other hand maybe we’re seeing evolution at work. The folks dumb enough to move to land that is only above the waterline thanks to modern engineering will have far less chance of successfully reproducing.

    And it’s not just the US…Shanghai? Christ, you can’t get people to stop building even after they know the very weight of their construction is going to cause a new Venice. Greed and money and stupidity.

  5. Jeremysmoma said

    People are stupid, even me! I live here on the Coast line of S.C. in Myrtle Beach, and I wonder why in the hell I don’t leave. I keep moving farther and farther away from the beach every few years, but it doesn’t matter when the big hipped ones like Katrina or Floyd come through. I am already 32 miles inland and still cringe when June comes around, but the rest of the time is so worth it,…. NOT! If we have another year like last year, it is only an indication that God is telling me to get out of this beautiful deathtrap and go back to the mountains where I came from, where I’ll freeze to death. I can’t win!

  6. digglahhh said

    Yeah, and while they’re at it the poor and middle class families in those areas should move into some Vinny Chase mansions when they relocate. People really are stupid.

    You guys sound like Barbara Bush.

    When the hurricane season hits, you fill the Range Rover up with some Poland Spring and drive to your other house. What is the problem, people?…

  7. Jeremysmoma said

    I am one of the poor and middle class ones. I don’t even own the first house, much less the second or a Vinny Chase mansion, whatever that is…..

    I came here that way, poor to middle class, and I will leave that way. When it comes to you and your children’s lives, location desirability and possesions are not what is important. I am a single parent, if I can do it, pick up and leave and rebuild my life somewhere else, why can’t everyone else. Either I do it willingly or nature will do it for me I am afraid.

    That’s my fear!

  8. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, note that I specifically referred to the people “dumb enough to move to” such locations, not the one’s born there into poverty.

    There are poor people in lots of places, but people with options also choose to move to a lot of places. And it’s not too bright.

    I made my decision on where to go to graduate school based, in part, on considerations of the relatively likelihood of natural disaster in the location of one of my top choices. These are things that I believe intelligent and knowledgeable people do take into consideration.

    I don’t hate or even blame people for stupidity. It’s just a fact. And a sad and ultimately very expensive fact it is.

  9. Swanny said

    Digg, please. That’s what we call population control.

  10. digglahhh said


    Vinny Chase is a reference in HBO’s Entourage. According the “contributing blogger” blurb, I’m supposed to be up on pop culture and entertainment or something, so sometimes I try…

    First of all, “nature will do it for me” is only part of the equation. We are doing it to ourselves too, as our environmentally destructive behavior gives these storms the BALCO treatment (another sports/pop culture reference, I’m earning my [theoretical] paycheck today, Meta). You want to leave, get up and leave if your fear of natural disaster is that strong. But, recognize that not everybody has those choices. As somebody who claims to be poor/middle class, you should understand that people don’t choose to live in poverty with extremely restrictive options for restructuring their lives. So, Jeremy, I don’t know why you can (again, theoretically)leave and rebuild your life. Why can’t they all become Oprah? I dunno, must be laziness and complacency…


    If you are choosing to move into Hurricane Alley you are assuming a risk. It is that simple. Personally, I don’t know much I’d prioritize hurricane rate when choosing a grad school. You chose the err on the side of caution, however, I don’t think going to Berkley for grad school would be an egregious breech of safety because California has earthquakes.

    There is a difference between transplants, even working class ones, and natives. I’ll grant that. At the same time let’s not pretend that this “choice” we all have is infinite, as we are told it is.

  11. Blue Athena said

    “If you are choosing to move into Hurricane Alley you are assuming a risk.”

    It’s not that simple because you aren’t assuming all the risk. The taxpayers and charity downers are going to end up paying to dig you out, transport you, rebuild your roads, buy out your house or whatever is appropriate to the particular disaster at hand.

    I don’t see anyone here pretending there is infinite choice. But for most people who actually moved to New Orleans, there was a choice. They did it anyway, based either on ignorance or greed. Obviously we’re all ignorant at many levels, and all greedy at some as well. But some ignorance and greed is more costly than others.

  12. Jeremysmoma said

    I may be stupid, after the fact (like, what was I thinking, call it impulsive behavior I guess), for moving here, but I am not ignorant. I have a college degree, that I got HERE. I was very young when I moved here and not a single parent then. My point only is, enough is enough. How much death and destruction do we have to see to understand that we are in it’s very path? When I came here I only had the clothes on my back, no job, and nowhere to live. Young, “dumb”, and flat broke. I managed to secure a job, while living in a shelter, while pregnate, have my child, alone, go to college full time while holding down two jobs with a baby, by myself, no family, graduate with a 3.0, struggle after I graduated until I found a job, alone. I now am a government employee. Although I only make under $25,000 a year, I believe that is quite an accomplishment for a “dumb and ignorant” person don’t you think? I believe it is laziness and complacency Digglahhh. If I can do it, why can’t they? As far as Oprah, I have no interest in becoming anyone but myself or having so much money that I don’t know who I am. There are many reasons one can give of why they can not do something, but they are just reasons of why they do not WANT to do something! That is the difference….I know it, you know it, and God knows it!

  13. digglahhh said

    I don’t know Athena, and I don’t mean to lash out at you, but this “the taxpayers foot the bill” line is such a platitude, and it is used all the time. I can only counter by saying, yes, the taxpayers are forced to foot the bill, but what about the children?…

    Personally, I have no problem, as a taxpayer footing the bill for disaster relief. I don’t care about footing the bill for welfare; I don’t even care about paying for food stamps – even if I am guaranteed that the person who receives them is going to sell them to buy crack. Although, I’d like to be notified, so that I can put myself in a position to be the subsequent crack dealer as well… That’s what taxes are for, to foot bills. I have a problem, however, with my tax money going to corporate welfare and pork.

    Theoretically, a lot of costs associated with disasters would be handled by insurance companies too. But we see how they attempt to weasel out of making good on every contract they enter into and spit in the face of their clients’ good faith.

    I fail to see why choosing to move to New Orleans is really any more greedy or ignorant than moving to Peoria. I’m not clear on what you are suggesting, but I have a lot of questions. Should people pay a sort of penalty tax if they live in a more disaster prone area? People who lose their homes in hurricanes shouldn’t receive redress because, what, they deserve it for living there?… Do you have a problem with the Feds dishing out cash (or at least planning to) to NYC after 9/11? Are you saying that these areas should be uninhabited? Would we not have to pay to relocate these people anyway, if we were to do that?

    Taxpayers put money in the pot for services, they use some services and don’t use others. I can see some sort of case to limit financial aid to people who have another home besides the one in N.O. or whatever, but other than that I don’t get it. Your previous post follows the logic of the “girl in the bar with a short skirt who gets raped invited it” argument. People have a right to live wherever they choose, and the government, at all levels, has a responsibility to take care of its citizens when they are victims of disaster – that, in my mind, is the end of the story.

    Of course, we could just split the difference and move the White House, the Pentagon, etc. down there and let nature take its course…

  14. digglahhh said

    So you don’t believe that you accomplished anything, Jeremysmoma?

    I mean, on the one hand you tell us of all the adversity you had to deal to overcome to get to where you are. Then, on the other hand, you completely undermine those accomplishments by saying that if you did it, anybody could.

    Yeah, you relocated, had a baby, went to school, and got a job. A lot of privileged schmucks would tell say, “big fucking deal, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” But that’s the perspective of these silver spoon fed yuppies who have no conception of the realities of a poor or working class existence. I would expect somebody who did very otherwise ordinary things under very difficult circumstances would understand that, because of certain circumstances, everyday things are often incredible accomplishments.

    Understand that you are the exception, not the rule. What you did is a big deal and you trivialize it by claiming that everyone else should be able to do the same.

    A lot of people think like that, JM. It’s one of many examples of the underclass adopting aristocratic ideals that are in conflict of with their own best interest.

  15. Jeremysmoma said

    So because of my weaknesses I gathered streangth, while others with the same weaknesses are just gathering more weakness…..character flaws, laziness, complacency? It is just so sad. I will leave, taking my son with me and watch the News to see my friends and neighbors go through Hell? It is so unfair! I just believe that if you want something, like survival of yourself and your family, you will survive, no matter what you have to give up, no matter what struggles or mountains you face. I went through Hell. I still believe that If I can do it, why can’t they. My perception is that if you want it, go get it (like living). I know you are right, they are right, we are all a little right on point about the whole situation, but the weather always gets the last word, no matter where we live. Look at what is happening in Georgia. Look at the giant tornado that just came through Kansas wasn’t it? Weather happens, no matter what! So who is right or wrong, who the heck knows?!

  16. Blue Athena said

    digglahhh, You state that:

    “People have a right to live wherever they choose, and the government, at all levels, has a responsibility to take care of its citizens when they are victims of disaster – that, in my mind, is the end of the story.”

    Do you mean a legal right or some sort of moral right? I’m pretty sure people in most parts of the US don’t have a legal right.

    If you mean a moral right I’m not sure really of your basic moral principles. I’m basically a rule utilitarian (a vague one, as I don’t think the system is entirely perfectible…but neither are the alternatives). I do not think it brings about the greatest happiness, or welfare, or conscious well being of the greatest number of sentient being to let people live anywhere they choose. Nor, I think, do you. I suspect you do not, for instance, think that the government should allow people to buy and sell residential land on toxic waste dumps. Tell me if I’m wrong.

    It’s all very well to go around saying “I don’t mind paying taxes for…”. Well, there are a lot of things I don’t mind paying taxes for. But the fact is there’s only so much of it to go around and if we’re using our tax dollars to bail out people who chose to live in New Orleans rather than spending it on a decent national health care system that’s a loss. And without a decent health system a lot of people who aren’t young and healthy don’t have a lot of money to risk throwing at unnecessary taxes.

    And you can’t just go around saying “Your previous post follows the logic of the ‘girl in the bar with a short skirt who gets raped invited it’ argument.” If you’re going to make a comparison to a widely criticized (really “condemned is the right word) argument…and one difficult to defend against because of issues of political correctness…you need to spell out the comparison.

    I did not, for instance, say anything about the people “inviting” disaster. Whether or not people had moved to New Orleans I suspect the hurricane would have taken place. In the case of a rape it is possible that no rape would have taken place. This makes the issue of “invited” (a word I didn’t even use) one which ends up with multiple possible meanings, which would likely have very specific implications in the case of rape.

    Additionally, this mixes up moral and causal issues. Saying that Jane is more likely to get raped in a mini skirt than wearing a fat suit that camouflages her figure is a statement that anyone familiar with the stalking habits of stranger rapists will agree. The fact that she is causally more likely to meet disaster does not mean she shouldn’t wear the skirt. There are other issues at stake, such as Jane being cool on a hot day or feeling attractive. This is a balance of benefits issue like anything else. The issues balanced in the case of hurricanes are completely different issues.

    Lastly, for anyone who believes in free will (as most Americans do, though not myself) there is the significant issue of a second free consciousness in the mix in rape case to whom “blame” can be attributed.

    But it isn’t really because of these inconsistencies between the two issues that I object. This issue is really that, as you well know, it is difficult to defend oneself against a comparison to such an non-debatable statement. Almost no one dares point out the obvious point that wearing a miniskirt is, in fact, likely to increase your odds of getting raped (not here, though in more violent societies, believe me, anyone in their right mind discusses it). But here in the US, this is an unacceptable thing to point out, or one which, in a public forum, will at least require paragraphs (if not pages) of debate and footnoting to numerous studies. So basically throwing out such a comparison is cheating, and most of us don’t have the time or energy to deal with that.

  17. Blue Athena said

    To clarify one above sentence with better wording:

    “Almost no one dares point out the obvious point that wearing a miniskirt is, in fact, likely to increase your odds of getting raped (they won’t point it out here, though in more violent societies, believe me, anyone in their right mind discusses it).”

  18. I think Athena is right in general about the taxpayers, though wrong in the specific instance of New Orleans. The market has a mechanism for situations like this: we generally offset high risk with insurance, and if insurance companies won’t issue it, we’re forced to assume the risks ourselves. We as taxpayers have subverted this market mechanism by stepping in with insurance that private insurance companies won’t issue. To that extent, it’s just nuts the way we’re subsidizing the settlement and continued resettlement of areas that shouldn’t be settled.

    Katrina is a special case though, for two reasons. First, there needs to be a port city in at the bottom of the Mississipi — the U.S. economy flat-out requires it. And if there are going to be 70,000 port workers of various kinds, then there are going to be spouses and kids and schools and stores and hospitals and nightclubs and so there’s going to be a city of a half a million. That’s how we had one before and we’ll have one again, eventually.

    Then too, Katrina was an undeserved disaster, in that the people there had a reasonable expectation of surviving without great flooding a storm of Katrina’s severity, which, after all, was a Cat 3 storm when it hit New Orleans. If the Army Corps of Engineers turns out to be flamingly incompetent in the construction, maintenance, and assessment of its own levies, that’s not something that could have been anticipated in June 2005, when the hurricane season was starting.

    That’s not to say that a Cat 5 hurricane can’t hit New Orleans — it can, and eventually will. It’s to say that we have a special obligation to rebuild New Orleans, and to take the opportunity to do it right this time.

  19. digglahhh said

    Sorry Athena. I didn’t really intend the bar rape comment to be a low-blow. And, for the record, I’m fully open to debating all kinds of issues. Basically, all your worries should be moot with me. I don’t even think it is entirely undebatable. How debatable it is, is related to how we talk about it. And, in terms of risk management, which is how I’m approaching this, there is plenty to debate.

    I would like to point out that, the bar rape analogy is similar in many deeper respects, down to the fact that the taxpayer foots the bill for the police work, and possibly the subsequent counseling, that result from a rape. Also, “the other issues at stake” in the rape are at place here too. In fact, “the other issues at stake” have been the core of my points.

    Let’s begin very simply here, and bring the discussion in a different direction.

    What plan would you suggest? Basically, what do we do about this; how do you fix it? In light of your previous objections, ideally, that solution should be one for which the taxpayers don’t foot the bill. If you can’t fulfill that criterion that’s okay. I’ll even grant you the supposition that we may have to foot a bill for a plan now that will prevent us from footing more bills in the future, and thus footing a bill now will save money in the long run. Though, that gets complex and it involves a lot of assumptions about what happens to these people afterwards. We can discuss these issues as they come up; I don’t want to presuppose anything.

    Do you have a solution to offer?

  20. Poetry said

    4 June 2007

    After the storm, my mine cleared.

    And a high wind arose and blew the tropics north.


    running quartz crystals through a blender.

    sand through your engines.

    bubble in your bays.

    estuaries reaching out toward forbidden seas…

    sand through your eyes.


    5 June 2007

    Calm as baby’s breath

    as peaceful as the storm’s eye

    Clouds spread and drawn with rough strokes of stratospheric winds

    a warm and windy tropical day.


    7 June 2007

    Black water at dusk.

    Lighting on the horizon.

    Warm winds coming in across the darkening waters.

    A flash of white wings as an egret takes flight.

    And Thunder like God clearing his throat.

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