Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike's impact on the US, Cuba and Haiti

Hurricane Ike is about to make landfall in Texas. Ike is so broad that it is affecting an area from Mexico all the way to Florida. Though only a category 2-3 storm, Ike may turn out to be one of the most destructive hurricanes in US history. Thankfully, a million or more residents of coastal Texas have left for higher ground.

The immediate concern from such a large storm is the surge, which may top 20 feet in Galveston, Texas. Heavy rainfall may also be a serious concern, and not only in coastal areas. The forecast rainfall in the central and midwestern US, far from the Gulf of Mexico, is also expected cause extensive flooding.

Amidst the U.S. media storm that is likely to follow the actual storm, we may forget about the victims of Ike in Haiti and Cuba [UPDATE: like, for example, worrying about gas prices]. In Haiti, a poor nation with little modern infrastructure and a deforested countryside prone to landslides, Ike and earlier storms have killed a thousand or more people, left hundreds of thousands more temporarily or permanently homeless and destroyed most of the nation's crops. Donations to aid the relief effort can go to the American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross, as well as a number of other organizations.

The impact of Ike on Cuba was not quite as severe. Regardless of what one might think about the Cuban government, there is no denying from current and past experience with hurricanes that the centralized system is reasonably effective at dealing with disasters. The difference between the impact of Ike in Haiti, Cuba and possibly the US is a reminder adaptive capacity is as, if not more, important than the physical magnitude of the storm or other "disturbance" event.

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