Monday, November 22, 2010

Deb Southworth's Society’s Vulnerability to Natural Disasters

PHS 100 Environmental Studies
Warner Pacific College
November 9, 2010

“And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: / And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (King James, 1960)

Human kind insists on living on seismic fault lines, in flood plains, on geologically unstable ground, in high risk fire areas and in meteorologically risky areas. This has been going on since the time of Jesus and his disciples as we see from the biblical quote at the beginning of this paper in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders.

Back in the latter part of the 15th century when Christopher Columbus first discovered The Americas, the native populations that inhabited the country knew that there were certain areas that were more difficult to live in than others. Consequently, these native tribes settled in valleys, plateaus and flat lands that satisfied their needs and provided safe places to live that did not flood, catch fire, or quake with seismic events. The natives of the time had long experience with their country and knew how to live in it safely. Keep that word in mind; safely.

But it is the Early American settlers with whom we are dealing in this paper and their living arrangements in this country that is the subject matter discussed within. This dangerous situation has been the case in the United States since the French colonists who settled Louisiana, the Spanish settlers who settled in California and the English settlers on the hurricane ridden West Virginia coastline saw beautiful country and plentiful land and decided to live there. But none of these early settlers had any idea what legacy they were leaving for future generations to deal with. Fast forward 300 years to present day USA.

In the last 300 years, the original population centers of the USA have grown enormously. As we are all painfully aware, European settlers did not heed the warnings, help, or examples set for them by the Native Americans. Instead, these foolish men built their houses upon the sand, quite literally.
In North Carolina the setback factor, or the distance the structure must be placed from the water’s edge, for all structures between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet is 60 times the erosion rate and increases incrementally with structure size, reaching a maximum setback at 90 times the erosion rate for structures 100,000 square feet and greater. Development in communities with a static line exception is subject to a minimum setback factor of 60 times the erosion rate for all development greater than 10,000 square feet total floor area. In all cases, the minimum erosion rate is considered to be two feet per year. (Beach Property Erosion, 2010) That is a standard formula for states that allow the sale of beachfront now days. But further problems abound. The Carolinas are a target for hurricanes. According to NOAA, more than 403 of them are known to have hit the North and South Carolina Coasts since the weather services began keeping records and 39 of them were category 1-5 storms. (North, 1999) More than 10 billion dollars have been spent rebuilding destroyed real property and replacing erosion damage alone. That is not taking into consideration the loss of life and injury to humans and livestock. It seems that our predecessors should have paid more attention to the natives who lived a considerable distance from the sand and water. (Wikipedia, 2010) So not only do people in this country live directly on the beach, they live on a stretch of beach that is subject to hurricanes of such intensity they can blow entire brick and mortar structures to toothpicks. One might say that this is hubris of the purest ray serene. How egotistical can human kind get to think that they can live unscathed in such dangerous areas? Our egotism knows no bounds. Take the next example.
Southern California is beautiful. There is no doubt about it. It is a land of stars of all caliburs and stripe. It has so many natural dangers attached to this beauty it is difficult to know where to begin. So we shall begin with the best known of the dangers of California; The San Andreas Fault.
The San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault. Approximately 810 miles or 1,300 km in length through California, it affects real property from approximately the San Francisco Bay area south through Palm Springs. It crosses wilderness and freeways; it bisects residential and business neighborhoods. The fault's motion is what geologists refer to as “right-lateral strike-slip” or to put it in words most of us can understand the tectonic plates move in a horizontal motion. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plates. The quakes range in frequency and strength from mild tremors that can come every hour to huge frightening earthquakes that can cause millions of dollars in damage, loss of life and disruption of everyday business that seem to re-traumatize the residents with aftershocks that can be nearly as catastrophic as the main event itself. (USGS, 2010) As we all know, the San Andreas has been responsible for the most destructive US quakes in history and some of the most well known. Anyone over the age of 40 will remember the earthquake that struck during The World Series baseball game. Millions of Bay area residents who were in Candlestick Park watching the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants at five in the afternoon were not expecting the 15 seconds that stopped the game, destroyed homes, collapsed freeway overpasses and killed 63 people. (USGS, 1999)
This writer feels certain that a case can be made that man is not a victim of his or her living circumstances, but at the very least an accomplis to the damage they suffer at the hands of nature. Man insists on living in dangerous areas of the country and has the gall to be shocked and saddened when nature acts as she always does, with force and impugnity. She creates tremors in the earth and hurricanes over cold water with warm air to mix. This differs greatly from the incidents where a hundred year flood submerges a few acres of farmland or a lightening strike sets a dry forest on fire and takes a housing development with it. Certainly we are vulnerable to those things. They are the way of nature. It is as this paper has stated; man has settled in unstable lands and reaped the consequences.
When man sees the error of his thinking, ceasing to labor under the misconception that nature can be controlled to this degree, then we will see our vulnerability to natural disasters drop to managable levels.
Coastal Hazards & Storm Information : What You Should Know About Erosion and Oceanfront Development. (2010, March 10). Retrieved November 16, 2010, from North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources:
The Gideon Bible. Mathew 7:24-27
North. (1999, July 20). NOAA Weather. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from TCP NHC US HURRICANE STRIKES BY STATE:
Survey, U. S.-U. (1999, October 26). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989:
Surveyl, U. D.-U. (2010, July 2). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from USGS Earthquake Hazards Program:
Wikipedia-List of North Carolina Hurricanes. (2010, October 4). Retrieved November 16, 2010, from Wikipedia:

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