Earthquakes followed by tsunamis followed by nuclear disasters will require decades of cleanup, and the affected area may not be inhabitable in the foreseeable future.
Widespread flooding has provoked difficult choices about where to channel the water to prevent as much destruction as possible. Every option was bad. Productive farmland has been sacrificed to protect densely populated towns and industrial areas that could spread contaminants throughout the region.
In regions not touched by flooding, severe drought has cast serious doubt on this years crop yields.
Tornadoes turn wide swaths of the Midwest and South into gigantic piles of rubble. Joplin, Mo., has lost its hospital indefinitely.
Looking in from the outside, its relatively easy to say, They never should have built there on a flood plain or in a dry place, over a geological fault line, too close to the coast, in the path of storms that seem to have grown more destructive in recent years. Where is a better place? Its hard to know, because disaster can strike nearly anywhere.
In each instance, thousands of people have lost their homes, and most of them have lost their livelihoods. Some have lost their lives. Those communities will not return to normal for a very long time, if ever. The Red Cross is there; church and civic relief organizations are there. Immediate needs are being met, but the task of reconstruction is almost incomprehensibly enormous.
In the United States, these are one of those times when the coordination of the federal government is essential. Borrowing equipment and personnel from the next county or the next state isnt an adequate solution when flooding stretches for hundreds of miles and the standing water is not expected to recede for weeks. Volunteer labor isnt enough when a communitys infrastructure is decimated. A states National Guard is a valuable resource, but many Guard personnel are serving overseas.
A map of declared disasters and major emergencies lists Colorado among just 17 states and territories untouched over the past year. Not all of those required all-out disaster responses, but the needs are great and the resources inadequate. Hurricane season has not begun, and since the Gulf oil spill, few of the emergencies have been human-caused. The picture could grow much, much worse.
Many Americans would suggest that the federal government is the wrong organization to allocate scarce resources effectively. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, fumbled badly in its response to Hurricane Katrina. The agency has responded to some of the lessons learned, and although it still falls short in other areas, its still the only body with the reach and scope to respond to serious disasters, especially when they occur in rapid sequence. The recovery from this springs disasters would be greatly prolonged and perhaps even impossible without federal coordination and assistance. Thats a humbling thought.