Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Breaking News

April 27, 2013

Disasters prove more costly as people move into storm-prone areas.

This is the first in a series

NEWBURY, Mass.; There’s yellow police tape at the entrance to the Plum Island Beach on a Monday in mid-March. Behind it a generator is running. A Komatsu front loader and a Caterpillar digger sit nearby. Off to the right, a large backhoe is visible above rooftops crammed onto every possible lot.

What you can’t see are 13 houses that have been deemed uninhabitable, including three that have been torn down and three others that eventually will be razed, victims of yet another ocean storm.

About a quarter mile west, a crowd jams the Plum Island Taxpayers and Associates Hall for the monthly meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance. The group coordinates preparedness efforts for Plum Island and neighboring coastal areas here along the Atlantic seaboard north of Boston. Nine television cameras train on residents and property owners, most of them angry, all of them concerned about what’s happening to their community in the face of nature’s irresistible force.

One of them is Cheryl Jones-Comeau, who had to abandon her house temporarily after this storm, which hit three days earlier. She’s had a house on Plum Island for more than 30 years. In the past, islanders have bulldozed up new sand dunes during low tides to protect their houses from flooding and erosion. She wants to do so again, but the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulates pushing around sand on the barrier beach.

Comeau’s had it with that.

“I’m tired of DEP — they don’t want us living there anymore,” she says in the meeting. “There are houses that have been here a couple of hundred years. It’s too late. We’re here. We have to work with what we’ve done.”

People like Comeau who live in places prone to natural disasters know how to prepare, to have rations and a supply of water on hand, to bring patio furniture inside to limit damage from approaching storms. But the last decade has seen super storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac and monster tornadoes like the ones that swept through Alabama and destroyed one-third of Joplin, Mo., in 2011. Experts say that a major Midwestern earthquake along the New Madrid fault is possible at any time.

Our preparedness efforts are rooted in 1950s-era Civil Defense. Are we ready?

Changing climate?

The question matters even more as the climate changes. Some data suggest the weather is getting worse. For example, wind speeds during storms have picked up over the last few decades, according to MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel. But weather records don’t go back far enough for scientists to say conclusively that storms are any worse or more frequent because of climate change.

Regardless, storms today do more damage. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the first storm in the United States to cause more than $1 billion in insurance claims. For all of the 1980s, there were $263 billion in insurance claims due to natural disasters. In 2005, Katrina alone caused $46 billion in insurance claims — out of an estimated $81 billion in damage. For the first five years of the 2000s, $420 billion in insurance claims were filed.

Hurricane Sandy was never more than a Category 3 hurricane, albeit the widest hurricane ever recorded. When it slammed into New Jersey and New York in October 2012, it was a mere tropical storm. Yet it’s estimated to have caused $50 billion in damage.

The storm that hit Plum Island in March and made Cheryl Jones-Comeau leave her house didn’t even do enough damage to qualify for state disaster relief.

More prone

Here’s why natural disasters are doing more damage: The United States has more than doubled in population since 1950, to 314 million. That growth centers on urban areas, especially along the coasts. Fifty-three percent of Americans now live in the 17 percent of counties sitting on a coast. Development is happening in vulnerable places.

People are more prepared for disasters in the wake of events like 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, say experts including Arnold M. Howitt, co-director of the program on crisis leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Preparation in America depends on two things: local dedication and regional cooperation. The strength of the relationships between state and local officials helps communities respond when a natural disaster has wiped out the cell phone network and power grid.

But storms are brazen trespassers, sneering Hulk-like at puny human boundaries. So many relationships are needed.

Plum Island’s Merrimack River Beach Alliance isn’t unique but offers a good model for preparedness. It brings together representatives from three communities, three private citizens groups, state politicians, and at least seven state agencies, plus the Army Corps of Engineers. The National Guard, the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are not typically at such meetings.

The beach alliance has no formal authority, but given the breadth of its representation, it has clout, and has had some successes. “The level of communication has gone exponentially upwards,” says Bruce Tarr, a Massachusetts state senator who is its co-chairman.

Better communication is key for smaller communities, which by themselves don’t have the resources to respond effectively to disasters.

Laws have been changed to allow FEMA to bring in personnel and equipment ahead of major storms, which helps speed response, notes Timothy W. Manning, deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness at FEMA. But he says centralized command otherwise does not make response faster.

“The most important thing is being prepared yourself, having your family ready,” said Manning.

Disaster planning

The United States’ start-local approach can lead to scattershot results, as Sandy showed, with some New Jersey communities suffering major damage while neighboring towns with better preparation did better.

That raises the question of whether the country should centralize disaster planning, a la the Netherlands, which responded to the catastrophic North Sea Flood of 1953 with the Delta Works, a massive waterworks project.

Arjen Boin, a governance expert from the Netherlands who holds appointments at Utrecht University and Louisiana State University, scoffs at the idea that the Netherlands works as a model for the vastly larger United States.

“Nobody lives on the coast” in the Netherlands, he says. “Development never got out of hand. Because once they live there, you have to spend all that money protecting them.”

In the United States, disaster preparation at the local level vies for resources with roads, playgrounds, schools, senior needs and other issues. In smaller communities, the fire chief or police chief may double as the emergency management official.

A building inspector may not seem as important to the town budget as a teacher or a police officer. But communities that suffer severe damage in a disaster often turn out to be communities that have poor building codes, have lightly enforced existing codes or allowed development in vulnerable areas.

“Cost is an issue for every community,” says Louise Comfort, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Disaster Management. She says communities have to balance the risks of storm with the need to respond to them.

Risk is the crucial calculus. Communities can’t put a Category 5 hurricane or an EF-5 tornado into the town budget.

Smaller things come into play, too. On Plum Island, the houses now falling into the ocean used to be protected by an offshore sandbar. That sandbar has moved south, exposing these homes to increased erosion effects.

When you build your house on sand — or a barrier beach — you have to know that things might shift.

Text Only
Breaking News
  • Middlebury man burned in water heater blast 
 MIDDLEBURY — Authorities say a Middlebury man has been hospitalized after he was injured when a water heater exploded. Firefighters tell WSBT-TV the man in his 20s was trying to light a water heater that had run out of gas and used too much fuel. The

    July 26, 2014

  • Clinton Frame leaving IN-MI Mennonite Conference over same-sex marriage

    After nearly 100 years of being in the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Clinton Frame Mennonite Church officials announced it will be leaving because of the controversy related to same-sex marriage.

    July 24, 2014

  • Red D Mart armed robbery New Paris Police ask for public's help in identifying would-be robber

    Elkhart County police have released still photos captured from video of the man who attempted to hold up Red D Mart gas station, 68310 Ind. 15, New Paris, on Saturday, July 19.

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Red Cross in urgent need of donors

    The American Red Cross is facing a blood shortage, leading to an urgent need for donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve and give.

    July 23, 2014

  • Huron Street residents under boil order

    Tuesday morning, Goshen water crews shut down the water main on Huron Street to replace a broken fire hydrant.
    The Indiana Department of Environmental Management requires the Water Utility to issue a boil water order for the affected area, which is Huron Street from West Lincoln to Pike Street.

    July 23, 2014

  • GN140723 CR34-Ind. 13 Crash 1 LaGrange man airlifted from scene of crash A motorcyclist was seriously injured in a crash at Ind. 13 and C.R. 34 at 1:48 p.m. Tuesday. Terry Fry, 44, LaGrange, was airlifted by MedFlight from the scene. Elkhart County police said he was taken to South Bend Memorial Hospital with fractures to

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Suspicious blinking package with battery pack causes police to evacuate business area

    A package with a battery pack and a blinking red light found on the desk of an employee at MSC, 28551 Laura Court, Elkhart, caused police and firefighters to evacuate the area this morning.
    The package turned out to be a GPS tracking device and not a bomb.

    July 22, 2014

  • Cat beaten to death in burglary

    A house cat was found beaten to death following a burglary at a home in Howe Sunday.

    July 21, 2014

  • GN140721 Kosciusko Fatal Photo #2.jpg Fiery crash kills one, critically injures two in North Webster

    A fiery crash in North Webster left a Pennsylvania man dead and two others critically injured at 3:21 p.m. Sunday on Ind. 13, near Esterbrook Drive.

    July 21, 2014 4 Photos

  • GN140719 obit mcdaniel Jeanine M. McDaniel OSCEOLA — Jeanine M. McDaniel, 61, died Thursday afternoon at Elkhart Hospice House. She was born Feb. 16, 1953 in Noble County, to Everett and Nyra Lucille (Reynolds) McDaniel. Surviving are two sisters, Patty (William) Wray, Paducah, Ky. and Bever

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
Poll

With military action and tensions escalating between Russia and Ukraine, as well as Israel and Palestine, are you worried that the U.S. and other nations may get drawn into these conflicts?

Yes, it is a great concern of mine
I’m a little worried, but not too much
No, I’m not worried at all
     View Results