Monday, March 31, 2008

Disaster in Branchville ?

On March 15 a tornado touched down at Branchville, SC, visiting damage upon that small town as seen in the photos. These few buildings were badly damaged, but most were not including structures very close to the vortex. Torandos are like that: selective, narrow, arbitrary.

Unlike our coastal hurricanes, tornados do not get named, cannot be planned for and you don't know that they're coming until they are gone. Hurricanes are like large armies massed and marching across someone's country. A tornado is like a stinger missile out of nowhere. Another difference is that tornados do not unite people as the hurricane usually does. One family loses their house, but the one across the street hasn't a scratch. The immediate neighbors all pull together, but beyond that narrow radius, few people really give much of a hoot.

If there is not a uniform blanket of photogenic devastation, it's not exciting enough for network news and fails to gain notice, it didn't happen. The big question, of course, is who or what agency will clean up this mess. Some buildings are likely under insured if they insured at all. Declaring this a "disaster area" is a bit complicated.

A law called the Stafford Act defines the process that triggers most federal disaster assistance other than assistance for crop losses. A big news splash is very helpful because the criteria for disaster declarations are vague. The law defines only two categories of presidentially declared disasters: "emergencies" and "major disasters".

Where the costs of a damage exceeds the resources of state and local government, a governor can ask the President to declare a major disaster. If the President determines that the damage is severe enough, the affected area then becomes eligible for FEMA assistance.

That's not likely to happen here


Blogger Mike Burleson said...

And what's interesting, the places most consistently in the path of natural disasters, like the coastlines, or along the Mississippi, frequent wild fires zones, or in the tornado belts of the Mid West where people should know better than live, get all the government funds they need with little questioning. But a fluke storm in an inland town, and they get the shaft.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Windviel said...

Mike, you make a sound point. The damaged structures in Branchville have been there for many years on solid inland ground not bothering anyone. The placement of assets in harm's way by building in the predictable path of destruction seems an unwise gesture to subsidize with government backed flood insurance.

The Branchville tornado lacked the key entertainment elements which draw the TV news crews.

10:53 PM  

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