A disaster is measured by the number of people it affects. If an event such as a hurricane hits an unpopulated area, it's not a disaster, even though it might bring flooding and knock down trees. If there's no one affected, it's not a disaster.
Hurricane Sandy is a genuine disaster, affecting tens of millions of people across a span of the country encompassing 20 states. Upwards of 9 million households without electrical power. Homes flooded. Public transportation systems disabled. Emergency services stretched to the limit. Contaminated water flowing through the streets, surrounding homes.
After the storm wound down from hurricane strength and the storm surge stopped rushing in from the sea, what was left behind is what constitutes the real disaster. It's the same with earthquakes — the earth shakes for a little while, then stops; and if it has impacted a populated area, then the disaster begins.
So, what are the concerns now that the storm itself is over?
- Power outages over a huge area, leaving millions of homes without electricity to operate furnaces in the chilly weather. This places residents at risk of hypothermia as they endure the cold, wet aftermath of the storm in homes that can't be heated.
- Food spoilage due to the power outages leaving refrigerators and freezers dead. Many people don't have a sufficient amount of non-perishable foods stored in their homes, so food shortage will be an issue as grocery stores have been stripped of inventory and unable to be resupplied.
- Water contamination, with sewage mixed with flood waters. Not only sewage, but also chemical pollutants such as fuel, oil, pesticides, and bio-hazards. If residents are not able to purify drinking water, dehydration will be a problem. Most people don't store enough bottled water in their homes to keep them going for more than a short time. It will be a long time before municipal water supplies can be restored. In the meantime, widespread boil orders will be in place. But without power, people won't be able to boil their water to purify it.
- Transportation routes have been torn up by the flooding, with many roads literally ripped to shreds. Other roads are covered by downed trees or other debris. Powerlines are down across many roads, rendering them impassable until utility crews can clear the hazard. That means resupply of goods to the affected areas will be slow in coming. There won't be fuel for cars, food in stores, pharmaceuticals in drug stores, or much of anything else that people need on a day-to-day basis. What will you do when the toilet paper runs out?
- Families will be financially wiped out. Businesses will die. In tough economic times, the last thing the country needs is a disaster that will push small families and businesses over the fiscal cliff. This will result in increased unemployment, loss of goods and services in the marketplace. This will be one of the long-term impacts of the storm that turn a meteorological event into a genuine disaster.
- Homes and buildings will have to be torn down because of being inundated by water. Homes in coastal communities were flooded with saltwater, which will result in destruction of the electrical circuits that will begin to corrode almost immediately. But all flooded home will suffer damage that will require tearing down interior walls, ripping out flooring, replacing appliances and furniture. Many buildings will have to be condemned because their foundations have been undercut by the flood.
- Cars and trucks that have been through the flood will become rusted junk, not fit for restoration.
So what's the good news? The good news is that this is America, a nation built on a foundation of personal liberty, a country filled with people who take responsibility for their own welfare and reach out to their neighbors to help ease the burden of those less fortunate. At least we used to be that kind of country. The good news is that disasters come along every once in a while that put us to the test again, so we can prove we're still that kind of nation.
Just because the storm has ended doesn't mean the disaster is over. In fact, it's just beginning. It's time to pull up our boots and get to work putting it all back together for those who have lost so much.