May 242013



Friday, May 24, 2013

The funerals have begun for children killed when their Oklahoma school exploded around them during a furious natural display — a tornado of such strength that nothing short of an underground shelter would have protected them. The deaths of these innocents likely will tip the balance toward that end.

After such storms pass, the victims, volunteers, first responders and government leaders are left standing in debris fields contemplating hard and expensive choices. This is happening in Oklahoma now in the wake of Monday’s tornadoes, while here this week officials gathered to ponder similar concerns and talk about what can be done about them.

The annual hurricane preparedness workshop was held at East Carolina University Wednesday, where keynote speaker Coast Guard Commander Linda Sturgis urged a “dusting off” of severe weather plans in the wake of last year’s Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the East Coast. Natural forces unique to the Atlantic Coast and Midwest pose threats that increasingly demand intervention before the fact.

This week’s tornado that swept through Moore, Okla., in the heart of what is known as “tornado alley,” at last report killed 24 people and caused more than $2 billion in property damage. Hurricane Sandy last October killed more than 100 people with costs estimated at $71 billion.

In light of such mind-stretching numbers, Sturgis emphasized the importance of considering worst-case scenarios: “You need … to address whatever you think never, ever would happen.” In Moore this week, there already is discussion of making below-ground shelters required for all new home construction.

Closer to home, this year’s hurricane forecasts so far indicate the region could be in for a busy storm season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday predicted there would be 13 to 20 named Atlantic storms with 7 to 11 becoming hurricanes and 3 to 6 reaching major hurricane intensity.

With predictions like this, it becomes more urgent for preparedness to extend from officials to individuals as the June 1 start of the hurricane approaches. Now is the time to re-evaluate personal readiness should such an overwhelming natural force find its way to Pitt County — an occurrence all too familiar to eastern North Carolina.

Gary Szatkowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist speaking at Wednesday’s workshop at ECU, said the East Coast has been lucky for the past seven hurricane seasons as no Category 3 or stronger storms have made landfall. “It never hurts to be lucky,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be a part of the critical planning process.”

And as this community sadly watches those in Oklahoma pick up their pieces and bury their dead, the words of another official at this week’s ECU workshop ring louder: “Hope is not a course of action.”

via The Daily Reflector.


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