When the elements take a turn for the worse, the much, much worse

I wrote this a few days ago; the worst of the weather might be over but the struggle still continues. Towns are cut off, farmland is under feet of filthy, contaminated water – chemicals, petrol, animal waste, dead livestock, and tragically people are still losing their lives. A flood is not just one single event, it is a terrible ongoing situation which can have repercussions for years.

This is what I wrote as I watched the news:

The news is full of pictures and stories from North Carolina where Tropical Storm Florence is wreaking terrible havoc; floods, hurricane  force winds,, storm surges… As I write it seems winds are at 50 mph which means one can expect branches will be torn from trees, tiles blown from roofs and at sea high crested waves. This is a drop from what was experienced a short while ago, when the hurricane was at full pitch at over 75 mph when there was severe and extensive widespread damage to trees and buildings and at sea mountainous waves. In some places there has already been 24 inches of rain, and more is forecast, maybe as much as 18 inches more. Tragically people have lost their lives, not necessarily by bring blown over or drowning although a woman and her child were killed by a falling tree; an elderly man was blown over, and another woman died from heart problems because the ambulance on its way to her could not get there, its route blocked by debris.

Homes, schools, businesses and other buildings are flooded and some so badly damaged they cannot be repaired. This means people will have nowhere to live, no jobs to bring in an income, no schools for their children to attend and no healthcare for a while. In places which have not been flooded power has been lost by cables blown down or the effects of the rain on the electricity supply – 950,000 people are reported to be without electricity in the Carolinas, and there is a likelihood that as many as two and a half million people in the area might be in the same situation.

Fortunately we are not likely to experience anything like this although The Great Storm of 1987 certainly had a huge and lasting impact on the south of England. I was living in Manchester at the time and came down first thing in the morning, turned on the TV news and I honestly thought World War 3 had been declared as I saw the grim-faced news caster, Nicholas Witchell, sitting in a dimly lit studio telling us about the destruction, damage and loss of life… it was a heart-stopping moment. I was greatly relieved when I realised that devastating though it was, it was not global war. The highest winds were gusts of 134 mph, but its ‘average’ highest winds were 86 mph. Visiting Surrey three years later we drove through a forest – or the remains of a forest where mile after mile of trees lay fallen like so many telegraph poles.

However, we may experience a storm surge one day – we live less than a quarter of a mile from the sea and probably a quarter of an inch above it! Our little village suffered bad flooding in 1981, which damaged a lot of property but fortunately no lives were lost. The sea defences weren’t sufficient to cope with a high tide and a strong on-shore wind; since then we have had massive new sea gates and other defences including flood meadows. The storm surge which I am thinking of may not come from tides and wind, but from something else. In 1607 there was a tsunami which hit the Somerset coast and the coast across the Bristol Channel in South Wales. Between 500 and 2000 people lost their lives. Farms and villages were inundated, livestock was drowned, crops swept away, trees brought down, houses and homes disappeared.

In North Carolina the Florence continues; the emergency services and the military are doing all they can, and ordinary people are doing all they can to keep themselves and their families safe, even at the cost of losing their homes and property. Florence is expected to head off into the Atlantic some time in the middle of next week… then the work will really begin to clear up after her destructive passage and try and rebuild.

 

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