Utah has had its share lately. Two-thirds of our counties sustained one or more major disasters this year. In June, the huge Wood Hollow fire in Sanpete County destroyed 56 structures and killed one person. Earthquakes in the United States have increased significantly, culminating in a six-fold increase in 2011 over 20th century levels.* Our southern states have been hit particularly hard in recent years by hurricanes and tornados. The drought in the U.S. approaches the catastrophic with 80% of agricultural land affected.**
Last week I toured neighborhoods in Santa Clara inundated by a flash flood, which breached a retention dam and swept through sixty-one residences and sixteen businesses. The volume and force of thousands of tons of mud and water created havoc.***
Natural disasters have increased in severity and frequency. More sensitive tools to record and analyze historic and current events give us baselines to track the frequency and severity of such events; the evidence clearly shows a crescendo in natural disasters. Government scientific records show that natural disasters reported each year in the U.S. have steadily increased in recent decades, from 78 in 1970 to 348 in 2004.****
We humans have had something to do with it as well. As people build in vulnerable areas, the damage from periodic earthquakes and hurricanes escalates, bringing heavy losses in human life and property. Hurricanes cause more damage now due to coastal development. One disaster can lead to another. Saratoga Springs suffered through two dangerous fires, only to have some residences flooded weeks later by mud from the newly unstable soil in the burned area.
My grandson Abe had evidently gathered from TV that Hurricane Isaac threatened to flood some low-lying areas. He asked me, “Grandpa, why do people build their houses in places that are going to flood?” My pithy response: “Umm...well… I ah…umm…. Wow! That’s a great question, Abe.”
So how can we face these increasing risks?
- We need to be prepared—for fires and floods. For anything. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, our families and our property.
- Civic and state leaders must put the right infrastructure in place to avert as many disasters as possible. They must respond quickly and reliably.
- Each of us must help someone else; the elderly, the disabled, and those with limited resources will need our help.
Utah responded to this year’s disasters as they always have—with an outpouring of help. I toured Santa Clara 72 hours after the event. The streets had been cleared of hundreds of tons of mud. The homeowners and more than 2,000 volunteers had mucked out and cleaned all the basements and removed the wet sheetrock. The next day, Saturday, 2,000 more volunteers cleaned up yards and other areas. Today, you would have a hard time knowing there had been a flood last week.
This is what Utahns do.
I invite you to go tohttp://publicsafety.utah.gov/emergencymanagement/naturalhazards.html
to learn what you can do.