Tuesday, March 17, 2009

One Year Later: Disaster Relief in Branchville ?

On March 15, one year, one day ago, 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.

One year and one day ago we predicted that was unlikely to happen. To date we seem to be have been correct.


Post a Comment

<< Home