Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

fountainhall
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#1 Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby fountainhall » Tue Aug 29, 2017 1:20 pm

As CNN ‘s International channel spends most of its time on the issue of hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out to all those affected. My mind makes different observations, though. Yes, global warming is affecting many parts of the world, and not just in a rise in sea level. Natural disasters are also on the rise and the amount of rain being dumped by this hurricane is surely just one small piece of evidence.

In general, though, I find two things surprising about the USA and hurricanes. Not only is a large part of the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast and the East Coast of Florida built on very low-lying land but most of the homes and businesses are constructed of what seems like flimsy wood. A direct hit by even a smaller category hurricane causes massive destruction and billions in damages. A large one like Andrew 25 years ago which I just missed by 3 days resulted in a bill of $25 billion! Why are buildings not constructed more strongly and safely? Given that there are so many areas like New Orleans now well under sea level, communities are protected from severe flooding only by rickety levies built ages ago and almost no sea defences. Surely continuing to build and expand communities that are two and three meters below sea level - or even a few meters above - is now nothing short of crazy when defences against natural disasters are so flimsy?

I cannot help looking at the other side of the world. Major typhoons are a common annual occurrence in East Asia. Last week Hong Kong suffered a category 10 typhoon named Hato, amongst the strongest ever on record, which was quickly followed four days later by the second slightly weaker typhoon Pakhar.

Hong Kong has a very accurate and detailed procedure for typhoons which starts with official warnings when the typhoon is about 400 miles away. By the time Signal No. 3 is issued by the Observatory the city gradually and calmly starts to shut down. The potential effects of massive monsoon rains and 150 mph winds are taken into account in city planning and the construction of buildings. Huge water storage tanks under the city collect much of the rain water and either hold or redistribute it to avoid major flooding. Once a typhoon has passed, usually 24 hours later, the city starts to get back to normal and the minimal cleaning up. Equally Taiwan copes extremely well with major typhoons slamming into the island with relatively little damage and only occasional loss of life. Compare that with the absolute devastation of Rockport. If Asia can protect itself from such regular, predictable and major natural disasters, why has not the USA?

In case anyone is in doubt, this is a question - not a criticism!

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#2 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby Pattayamale » Tue Aug 29, 2017 3:36 pm

I lived in the Montrose area of Houston, Texas in the early 1980's was an enjoyable part of my life. This flooding is certainly tragic.
Why don't all cities have better planning for disasters? My belief is that doing so costs a lot of money that developers won't pay. The United States is a collection of independent States with independent counties with independent cities. Each has different ordinances and political councils that are elected and devided by 2 major parties; Democrats and Republicans who have not worked together very well for years. The USA is no longer a problem solving country.
The USA spends so much money on Military Defense...when is the last time the USA won a war?...that they have little money left and seems no desire to resolve problems.
Look at the roads, bridges, railroads, levies and pumps (some pumps in New Orleans are over 100 years old and no longer pumping water back out to the sea.)
So in response to fountainhall's very well written and thoughtful question: my response is criticism of a country that feels a need to spend trillions on "fake wars" which make billions in profit for corporations as the USA crumbles.
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firecat69
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#3 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby firecat69 » Tue Aug 29, 2017 6:35 pm

First of all comparing Harvey to a Typhoon that quickly goes through in usually 6 or 7 hours with this storm is not fair . Yes the winds did some serious damage in small towns like Rockport but most of the damage is being caused by Harvey stalling and dumping up to 50 inches of rain in Houston over the course of 4-5 days and other areas. No amount of planning can take care of a storm such as this . You can't do all your building on mountains especially in an area where there are no mountains.

Rockport took the brunt of the winds up to 140 MPH. Very few wood structures can withstand that force no matter how well built.

Also I'm not sure but Rockport has been spared in other hurricanes of the last 25 years and thus many homes that were built years before any attempt to strengthen building codes.

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#4 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby firecat69 » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:05 pm

PattayaMale asks when is the last time the US won a War. The question is how many World Wars have been stopped because of the military strength of the USA. Would you still like to have the Soviet Union probably annexing much of Western Europe without the USA standing in their way.

China would be even more on the March in Asia without the USA deterrent.

In addition the defense budget is less then 20% of the overall budget with most of the budget going to SS and Medicare etc.

The Congress for 25 years has not had the stomach to change these programs . Really not that hard to change future retirement ages and tax on higher incomes to stabilize Medicare ,Medicaid etc .

But sadly the politicians are bought off by lobby groups etc and the rich 1%

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#5 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby fountainhall » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:05 am

firecat69 wrote:First of all comparing Harvey to a Typhoon that quickly goes through in usually 6 or 7 hours with this storm is not fair . . . You can't do all your building on mountains especially in an area where there are no mountains..

I agree the comparison is in no way perfect but it is closer. I believe, than you suggest. I was once in Hong Kong around midday in the mid-1980s when the monsoon dropped 13 inches of rain in the space of two hours - and this was not during a typhoon. That caused chaos for a few hours but the effects had all but dissipated by the evening rush hour. Also whilst the average typhoon zips through reasonably quickly, I have experienced many of 12 hours and more, and the rain bands associated with a typhoon can continue for 2 and 3 days.

I agree, too, that hilly terrain is different from flat cities like Houston - and even Bangkok. But it has to be remembered that this can make the situation much worse in the coastal areas. Hong Kong Island is basically hilly. Taipei is ringed on three sides by hills and the island has a mountain range running down its centre. Hong Kong has been hit by several typhoons dumping 20 inches of rain over two days. When the hills become quickly saturated, that water then flows downhill at quite a rate. So to the 20 inches in the coastal area is quickly added another 10 to 15 inches from this hills. Granted, that's not quite as bad as Houston. But it is still a massive amount of water!

In 2001, a severe slow moving typhoon dumped 50 inches of rain on Taiwan over two days - on one of those days the most ever recorded. The rainfall was so bad that the newly opened subway system was badly flooded. Before it was finally reopened, the city constructed steps at the openings to each station to ensure it would not happen again.

I fully accept you cannot build on hilly ground if the ground is flat. But since it is flat, since it is on the seafront and since the entire area is prone to hurricanes, why even consider building with wood? Merely because it is cheaper? Even today it seems many new homes in the coastal Gulf States and Florida are constructed with wood.

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#6 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby windwalker » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:29 am

My observations are that most homes in the USA are constructed of wood.

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#7 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby fountainhall » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:55 am

firecat69 wrote:China would be even more on the March in Asia without the USA deterrent.

I have to query the implied view that China is an expansionist power. Throughout history China has been inward looking; not outward. Unlike many European nations and later the USA it never became anything other than a very minor colonial power despite its military strength. After the invasion of the Manchu, it did advance into the Korean Peninsula. A large group of ethnic Chinese led by the son of a pirate fled to Taiwan for refuge, an island that had been fought over for a century by the Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch. The Manchu followed, defeated them and stayed. China then ruled Taiwan for 200 years before it was handed to the Japanese following defeat in the Sino Japanese War. After World War II, the island was handed back to China - but to what was then Chiang Kai Shek's China. Naturally once Mao won the revolution against Chiang's forces, he claimed the rights to Taiwan.

Apart from these, China's recent wars have been to protect its borders - against the Soviet Union, India and Vietnam. It has enough problems within its borders coping with 56 different ethnic groups. Its adventures over the islands in the East and South China Seas are not a simple case of China asserting its power. These maritime disputes involving 6 countries stretch back centuries and were made more complicated by both the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. Both the Cairo and Potsdam Conferences confirmed that the sovereignty of one group, the Diayu/Senkaku islands, rested with China and Japan had to give up its claim on them. Chiang's China then claimed all the other islands now under dispute. With the US involved in the reconstruction of Japan, it dithered. With Chiang's defeat, his claim was taken over by Mao.

I have no idea how this episode will play out. But it is hardly an example of Chinese expansionism. Now if you were to talk about Chinese economic expansionism in the 21st century, I would fully agree with you.

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#8 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby firecat69 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:01 am

FH

I have to admit I have never been in a typhoon. But comparing 13 inches with 50 inches of rain is just not logical. Also I am not as familiar with HongKong as you but I'm quite sure the city is not surrounded by 2 enormous dams with trillions of gallons of water ,some of which,hadto be released.

Many communities on the Coasts all over the USA have never experienced a Hurricane of 3 or 4 magnitude . In addition many of those homes are as I already mentioned are 40-50 years old or more. They were built to standards of that time and of course a town like Rockport got demolished by 140 MPH winds .

Many communities on the east coast of the USA or Florida that have experienced destruction of both wind and water have established new building requirements such as stilts. But many communities have never experienced such destruction.

What would you have them do. Tell property to demolish their homes and build new ones? Of course not !

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#9 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby firecat69 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:11 am

FH

You have to be kidding about China. Is it my imagination they are building islands out of nothing large enough to land military planes on. Is it a new Disneyland. Is it my imagination they spend the 2nd highest amount of money on their military in the entire world.

And they are trying to protect who? They are responsible for no one unlike the USA who protect 1/2 of the world with their military.

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#10 Re: Gulf Coast Hurricane: Why are the Effects so Catastrophic?

Postby fountainhall » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:42 am

I think you and I will not agree on this particular issue. Take away the islands dispute, when in China's history was it ever an expansionist power, similar to the British, Portuguese, Spanish, Belgians, Germans, Americans and others? China has never been interested in colonial possessions other that the point I made earlier. What China is very concerned about is avoiding what happened to the country as the western powers raped it from Guangzhou to Beijing and then the Japanese further north. That century of Chinese history is imprinted on the minds of every Chinese. The government has as its primary objective that it will never happen again. From the beginning of the 19th century if not earlier, the Chinese armed forces were a joke, completely unprepared to meet any western aggression. The development of a powerful military is first and foremost to ensure the security of the country and its borders. Even though its military was far less developed in early 1979, had it wished China could have marched right through Vietnam and taken-over the country during the border war. It didn't. If it wished, it could take over Taiwan in a nano-second. Sure there would be consequences, but does anyone seriously believe the USA would go to war over Taiwan now in 2017? The Cold War is dead. Gone are the days when Taiwan was a pawn.

To return to the islands, I agree they are expanding their presence. But there is nothing in international law that I can see which states these islands are anything other than disputed territories over which China has a better claim than most of the other claimants. Of course the other five want them since it seems they are rich in natural resources.

As for China having the second largest military, what is so surprising in that? It happens to be the second largest economic power in the world! What else would you expect? The US can unilaterally expand its military and nuclear might whilst everyone else bows down? Remember that the USA has been a far more expansionist power than ever has been China!


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