Complacency fu­els storm toll

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION - Chris Freind Chris Freind Colum­nist

One of the late co­me­dian Sam Kin­i­son’s most fa­mous bits was about hunger: “… there wouldn’t be world hunger if you peo­ple lived where the food is! You live in a desert! It’s sand. Go live where the food is!”

A joke, but con­tain­ing an el­e­ment of truth. The real-life les­son is that, ide­ally, peo­ple should live in ar­eas of high pro­duc­tiv­ity and low risk. But since that’s not al­ways fea­si­ble, the next best thing is to mit­i­gate those risks as much as pos­si­ble.

That’s why build­ings and bridges in Cal­i­for­nia are en­gi­neered to with­stand earth­quakes, sea walls are built in tsunami zones, and ex­ten­sive ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems are con­structed in dry ar­eas. Makes sense. So how is it, then, that a whop­ping 80 per­cent of home­own­ers in the Hous­ton re­gion do not have flood in­sur­ance? How is it pos­si­ble for so many, spread across all in­come lev­els and de­mo­graphic lines, to have been so penny wise and pound fool­ish – a fact driven trag­i­cally home af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey laid waste to that area?

Was it be­cause Hous­ton never gets hur­ri­canes? Not even close as that area, lo­cated on the Gulf of Mex­ico, has ex­pe­ri­enced ma­jor storms through­out its his­tory.

In fact, the hur­ri­cane that smashed into Galve­ston in 1900 – less than an hour’s drive from Hous­ton – re­mains the worst los­sof-life dis­as­ter in Amer­i­can his­tory, when up­ward of 12,000 per­ished.

Was it be­cause flood in­sur­ance is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive? Think again. The av­er­age pre­mium is $555 (up from $514 last year). That’s per year, not month. In other words, the av­er­age cost of one trip to Star­bucks, per week, would have pro­vided vir­tu­ally all the cov­er­age nec­es­sary to re­build from the dev­as­ta­tion (the fed­eral flood in­sur­ance pro­gram caps lim­its at $250,000 for struc­ture and $100,000 for per­sonal pos­ses­sions).

So why the lack of cov­er­age? Complacency, fu­eled by thoughts that “we’re un­touch­able,” com­bined with an en­ti­tle­ment men­tal­ity that “some­one” will bail them out if the un­think­able oc­curs – with that some­one be­ing “tax­pay­ers.”

(Let’s get it out of the way. I am a cal­lous, heart­less wretch tram­pling on those who need help rather than crit­i­cism.

Do it later, the crit­ics will say, af­ter peo­ple re­cover.

Sorry, but no. “Later” is sim­ply guar­an­tee­ing that no one will care about les­sons learned – un­til, of course, the next storm looms, but by then it will be too late.)

If you live in a flood re­gion, it’s not a ques­tion of if, but when, you’ll get hit. Yes, the amount of rain Har­vey dumped was un­prece­dented. So what?

Weather is be­com­ing ex­po­nen­tially more in­tense, and once-in100-year storms are in­creas­ingly com­mon.

The ar­ro­gance of New Or­leans prior to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina should have taught us the les­sons of shak­ing off complacency and be­ing pre­pared.

Time and again, the di­vine watched out for the Cres­cent City, as nu­mer­ous “guar­an­teed to hit” hur­ri­canes veered away at the last minute. The re­sult? For decades, city lead­ers re­al­lo­cated funds ear­marked for stronger lev­ees to pet projects, in­clud­ing stat­ues and foun­tains.

Had they done their job, Ka­t­rina’s dam­age would have been a frac­tion of what it was.

Speak­ing of complacency, if you live in a hur­ri­cane zone, is it re­ally that hard to buy a case of wa­ter per month, and store it in a garage? And how about keep­ing 20 gal­lons of gaso­line on hand, as well as food, flash­lights, and bat­ter­ies?

If the storm is bad enough, peo­ple with com­mon sense will leave. But if they want to stay, let them. It’s a free coun­try, and there’s some­thing in­her­ently primeval about rid­ing out na­ture’s fury – so long as those who do un­der­stand there are con­se­quences. They can’t have it both ways: Ig­nor­ing warn­ings, but ex­pect­ing to be res­cued when things de­te­ri­o­rate.

Can we stop politi­ciz­ing hur­ri­canes? From say­ing cli­mate change is di­rectly re­spon­si­ble (a vastly un­founded leap) to al­leg­ing that it was God pun­ish­ing Amer­ica for its “sins,” (so much for a mer­ci­ful God) such state­ments don’t help mat­ters.

But the worst was tel­e­van­ge­list Joel Os­teen ini­tially re­fus­ing to open his 17,000-seat megachurch to those seek­ing shel­ter be­cause “the city didn’t ask.” Re­ally, pas­tor? Last time we checked, char­ity starts at home. And on that test, you failed spec­tac­u­larly. Here’s hop­ing your con­gre­ga­tion cre­ates its own storm and redi­rects con­tri­bu­tions away from your lav­ish life­style, to­ward those who truly need it.

Amen.

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