The Costs of Mother Nature's Fury - Opinion and Insight

*Photo from Yahoo Images of Tornado's*

Dateline:  1919* to 2011
Event:  Weather
Result: Destroyed buildings, general disarray of landscape
Solution: Clean up and rebuild.
     “Let’s talk about the weather.” At one time in our past, a line like this might be reminiscent of a conversation starter in a new relationship or dating advice.  Thanks to Mother Nature’s fury, it is now a very versatile subject full of fascinating facts, and some scary scenes that we all see either by firsthand experience or through our media outlets.

      In seeing all these images of trees uprooted or power lines twisted and broken and houses smashed, we hear that clean up is underway or will take place.  I am sure with a bit of thought, we can imagine large trucks and bulldozers pushing all that debris to be loaded and carried off to ‘Oz’ located someplace far away. 
     Just out of curiosity, I decided to use our worldwide research tool (aka the internet) to pose the question, “Where do they put all that debris?”  The answer depends on what type of debris we are referring and where did the natural disaster occur.  Logically, we know that if a neighborhood is destroyed, it is likely that roadways will be blocked with garbage, vegetation, and general hazards. The first objective is to clear roadways, which will allow free access to the affected areas. The initial problem with that approach is not only will that include trees, but it may include, your neighbors car wrapped around a tree, entwined with Electrical wires. 
     Crews, which may include private owned companies, work to separate, immediate environmental hazards from others.  Trees may be chopped up on the spot or sent to lumber yards to make wood chips, or maybe mulch with the usable part of what is being recovered.  Recyclable materials are usually sent off to their respective centers.  What about the “other stuff”?  All the cotton from stuffed animals and smashed furniture and general waste debris is sent to a landfill, buried forever into a whole other eco system.  We cannot forget all the concrete and materials used to build those homes, that material gets sorted into usable and non usable groups, where non usable may include : Chemicals like antifreeze or gasoline soaked into timbers all the way to items examined for the stress crack that says “nope, can’t use this one”. 
     Who pays for all this? I know, I know, you’re screaming, “The taxpayers”. Well duh, but the initial costs are usually absorbed by your local government (thank you mister or madam mayor), federal aid or state aid would be delegated by that region by applying formally, unless the area is large enough to declare the region a federal disaster area.  At that point, FEMA would step in.  Now, now, sit down, FEMA doesn’t come in and take over the clean up, nor do they absorb the cost, instead in this situation, they give advice on how best to dispose of all the junk and how to pay for it, remember Federal Emergency MANAGEMENT Association.
     The debris is still handled the same way in its proper disposal methods, and yes that does include your cities trash truck folks, private contractors, out of state helpers and citizens. Yes, there is Federal money available, but it may not provide for the complete cost of the whole scope of the clean up, it is more likely about 75% of the total cost, leaving the local or state government where the disaster occurred to absorb the rest.  How is that for an unexpected budget shortfall on multiple budget platforms, especially when the United States is blessed with areas such as Tornado Alley or all those lovely coastal states in the direct aims of hurricanes, and California, which is destined to separate into two states when that one particular Earthquake hits.
     Which brings up other questions, such as, “What if they find a body?” or “How do they prioritize what is important?” and “What do you mean FEMA doesn’t do anything but advise.”  The short answer is this, trust that when someone finds a body, the coroner is called to do their job, which depending on circumstance, might result in the coroner seeing homicide instead of natural disaster death.  Same as prioritizing something deemed “Hazardous Waste” being directed to professionals whom know how to dispose of those items and have the equipment to do it.  FEMA, when called in, oversees the clean up by monitoring, advising, and guiding things so that clean up is as efficient as possible, of course this is barring no large scale hang-ups such as the thousands displaced by hurricane Katrina. Size of clean up of the damage does affect speed of results, which include your local collectors, contractors, and volunteers.
     The final thought here is this, the next time you see a news story about some huge weather event that has displaced a large amount of people in a short time, remember it literally takes an organized approach of lots of people to finalize any cleanup process. That process is taxing in that it negates the need for equipment and man-power, which requires money. Speed of clean up depends on the hazards present (we wouldn’t want someone to clean up say … mercury in a hurry or have an unqualified person wiping it up with a dishrag).  In all cases, the landfill only gets what is not able to be saved or reused/refurbished.  I now have a new found appreciation for all those who really are involved. We should all start being more patient in large weather events, and maybe even thank our local trash collectors the next time we see a street of downed branches disappear, be it however so slow.


1         News  from The Miami News-Herald, April 23, 2011 Article on Record Number of Storms
2         News article from Providence Business News, April 28, 2011 Article on Costs of Clean up
3         FEMA Debris Management Guide, FEMA.Gov
4         * Approximate year of formation of American Meteorological Society, Encyclopedia.com
Scott Hall

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