Monday was Mississippi’s worst day of tornado activity on record. Nearly every part of the state was hit, killing twelve people and injuring dozens more. Thousands of Mississippians lost homes and possessions. The images of the devastation have been heartbreaking.
Here are four thoughts about recovering from this disaster and preparing for the future:
For many of us, Mississippians are defined by their compassion. Our state’s bonds are only magnified in the wake of tragedy. As families grieve and communities rebuild, we must all pull together to supply volunteers, money, and goods. The Clarion-Ledger compiled a list of ways to help in the Jackson metro area, and a website was launched to coordinate relief efforts in Tupelo.
If you were directly affected by the storms, visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to apply for federal assistance.
2. Mississippians look out for Mississippians… but so do other Americans
The hats and shirts of recovery workers read “MEMA,” for Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, but most of the funding for their work is coming from the federal government. During the current fiscal year, the federal government contributed nearly $470 million to the state for disaster relief and recovery. Mississippi taxpayers kicked in only $4.5 million, or less than 1 percent.
Last night, President Obama heeded Governor Bryant’s request for an expedited federal disaster declaration. Mississippians are now eligible for recovery loans and grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In short, as Mississippians do the hard work of rebuilding lives and homes, let’s not forget that the rest of the country has our back.
3. In Mother Nature’s crosshairs, preparation is key
Mississippi is one of the most vulnerable locations for natural disasters in America. The Gulf delivers strong and frequent hurricanes. The River brings floods to the Delta. The New Madrid fault threatens to rock the state with earthquakes. And in the heart of “Dixie Alley,” Mississippi has the highest rate of deadly EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes in the country. In fact, three of the 10 deadliest tornadoes in American history have set down in Mississippi. This interactive map from the New York Times illustrates the threats.
Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in New York and New Jersey showed that no place is immune from nature’s wrath, but Mississippians must batten down the hatches with regularity. We cannot be afford to be good at cleanup alone — preparation is essential. That starts with individuals and families, but it must also include wise planning on the local and state level.
MEMA offers a guide for preparedness here. Among other things, families should always have an emergency supply kit and a clear evacuation plan. MEMA also recommends that neighborhoods set up Community Preparedness Groups to keep their neighbors informed about safety — especially looking out for those with special needs during times of crisis.
On the policy level, Mississippi can always do more to require that buildings are constructed and retrofitted according to the latest safety standards, ensure that schools and businesses drill proper safety and evacuation protocols, and improve pathways to alert the public about potential danger.
4. Science saves lives, so let’s listen to it
Doppler radar was first adopted by the National Weather Service in the late 1950s. The technology has steadily improved, increasing the precision of tornado monitoring and prediction. In Monday’s storms, Mississippians were warned approximately 13 minutes before the tornadoes hit. In the 1980s, we would have had no more than five minutes lead.
The emotional toll of even one death is incalculable. But every second of advance notice prevents many more. We can thank scientific advancement in early warning systems for limiting the human cost of these catastrophic storms.
It is irrational, then, to reject the overwhelming scientific judgment that man-made climate change is real and forebodes increasingly violent and erratic weather in the future.
That does not mean that Monday’s tornadoes (or any other individual weather event) wouldn’t have happened without climate change. It does mean that we should expect these events to happen more frequently until we reverse the elevating carbon levels in our atmosphere.