Natural Disasters: Why Haven't We Learned from Them Yet?

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Whitney Gregory
Dr. Alexander
Third Year Writing
7 May 2010
Natural Disasters: Why Haven’t We Learned From Them Yet?
George Santayan, a famous Spanish-American philosopher, once said, “Everything is life is lyrical in its ideal essence, tragic in its fate and comic in its existence,” (“Quotable Quote” 1). This too can be said about natural disasters in today’s time. A natural disaster is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as, “any form of nature that has catastrophic consequence, such as an avalanche, earthquake, flood, forest fire, hurricane, lighting, tornado, tsunami or volcanic eruption.” Many times the people affected by such an event take a backseat to the actually disaster itself. Why is that? Why is it that certain parts of the world, when hit by a natural disaster, seem to be more devastated by it than the same event somewhere else? And, why have those areas at the highest risk of being affected by a natural disaster made little to no effort of better preparing themselves for such an event? The disaster part of a natural disaster can be prevented when the appropriate steps to better prepare a vulnerable area are taken. By taking the mistakes of the past and learning from them, one has the capability of lowering the statistics of those whom are devastated by a natural disaster each year. The first step to understanding natural disasters is to know what they are capable of doing. The Federal Management Emergency Agent is the U.S.’s disaster relief branch of Homeland Security. The mission statement of FEMA, as stated on their website, is “to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards” (“What We Do” 1). In an effort to do this, FEMA has provided information on planning and preparing, recovering and rebuilding, and on natural disasters in general. FEMA has provided information on every type of natural disaster possible, but in the past decade the ones that have caused some of the most damage and fatalities have been earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. Earthquakes can strike suddenly and without warning at anytime day or not. Many earthquakes occur along a fault line, the meeting of two more tectonic plates below the earth’s surface. The breaking and shifting of these plates causes the shaking of the crust above. About 70 to 75 damaging earthquakes occur around the world each year, and the magnitude of theses earthquakes are measured on a Richter ranging from one to ten, ten being the most severe (“Fast Fact About Earthquakes” 1; 5). Floods and hurricanes can sometimes come as a package deal, case-in-point New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Floods can either develop slowly or in a matter of minutes (“Flood” 2). Hurricanes can be detected while in the middle of the ocean, although the path and wind speed of them is ever changing. They are measured in categories according to wind speed ranging from one to five, five being the highest. In other parts of the world this storm is referred to as a typhoon or cyclone (“What is a Hurricane?” 1). Tsunamis, sometimes mistaken for tidal waves can move hundreds of M.P.H. in the open ocean, reaching heights of up to 100 feet before crashing in to land. Underwater earthquakes most often create tsunamis. The areas with the greatest risk of being hit by one are those that are less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of the shoreline (“Tsunami” 1; 4). Now that a general understanding for five major natural disasters has been developed, it is time to take that and apply it to the, possible, five worst natural disasters of the last decade. In May of 2008 in Sinchuan, China, a 7.9- magnitude earthquake struck this area of western China, where a total of 15 million people lived. The earthquake killed an estimated 70 thousand people and displaced over 18 thousand. Since 1976, when an earthquake...
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