Hurricanes and Other Extreme Weather Events
Hurricanes, floods and other extreme weather events are becoming a fact of life and the destruction from these storms goes beyond individual homes and health centers; they may completely destroy neighborhoods or entire communities in a few hours or even minutes.
The 50+ inches of rain that flooded Houston with Hurricane Harvey, the fury of Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico, the monstrous EF-5 tornado that leveled Moore, Oklahoma, the swath of destruction cut by Typhoon Haiyan through the Philippines stand as testimony of the escalating threat from “100 year storms/floods.”
Hurricanes: While high winds cause great damage, storm surge can be the most deadly threat for coastal areas, along with major flooding from torrential rains. These storms can be tracked for days, however, and preparations can be made that save lives.
Tornadoes: A deadly funnel appears, giving only minutes of warning; the incredible power of the wind vortex can literally tear apart anything above ground.
Floods: While major floods are often “slow moving disasters,” flash floods catch people unprepared in cars or at home. Flooding rivers and broken dams can sweep away entire communities particularly in low lying areas. Floods also contaminate water supplies, leading to water borne disease outbreaks, as well creating conditions for deadly mudslides.
And what about typhoons and cyclones? Physically, they are hurricanes by a different name. They are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and in the Eastern Pacific, typhoons in the West Pacific and cyclones around Australia and India.
Epic Floods in Mozambique and U.S. Midwest
Americares emergency teams responded to major flooding disasters caused by major storms in Africa and the central plains of the U.S.
Cyclone Idai followed by Cyclone Kenneth devastated Mozambique and then carried more death and destruction to Zimbabwe and Malawi, putting nearly 1,900 square miles underwater.
Record rainfall and continued violent storms, spawning dozens of tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest brought historic flooding to Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and other surrounding states, covering entire communities and caused massive damage to farms in the region.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Drought & Deadly Wildfires
Now extreme weather is manifesting itself in the form of record drought conditions that produce famine in some parts of the world. Here in the U.S. drought followed by high winds and then combined with such phenomena as insect infestations in forest lands and manmade causes including land management and building code practices or electrical accidents have created some of the worst wildfires on record in California and in parts of the Southwest. As is often the case with extreme weather events, manmade factors can complicate and amplify the destructive force of the event itself.
The Camp Fire in northern California in late 2018 became the worst fire in the state’s history killing more than 80 people and destroying thousands of homes. Photo by Gene Blevins / REUTERS
Extreme weather events create some specific challenges for Americares Emergency Response Team and our health care partners, and good planning provides response solutions. For example:
Wind and subsequent water damage to roof, windows and doors of the facility — destroying equipment, medicine & supplies, rendering the facility inoperable when it is most needed.
Provide emergency repairs or a temporary facility, restock medicines/supplies, replace equipment and then build back better.
Loss of access to ongoing health care due to remote location and/or infrastructure damage. A particular threat to people with chronic disease, expectant mothers and children.
Send emergency medical teams to communities and house-to-house if necessary to provide primary health care and referrals for specialized care.
Loss of power and thus loss of medicines that require refrigeration such as insulin and vaccines.
Generators and/or fuel to run them along with rapid resupply of lost medicines. Tetanus and chronic diseases are life threatening without vaccines, medicines and supplies.
Evacuations to temporary shelters or to makeshift camps.
Hygiene kits, emergency medicine and supplies for those who had to flee quickly without their personal belongings or medications. Supplies such as mosquito bed nets, insect repellant, water purification and cleaning materials and tetanus vaccine are also important for those who return to their homes in the aftermath and face possible water and vector borne diseases and cleanup injuries.
Trauma and other extreme stress for survivors including health workers in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
Trained health workers to identify trauma and support programs for those most at risk, and especially support for health workers who are often survivors themselves.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Americares has expanded and deepened emergency programs to meet the formidable challenges of storm destruction on an ever-larger scale. We actively engage with our partners in regions particularly at risk for these storms to prepare for the next one by building greater resilience and capacity in each local health center and for every health worker. And in storm-prone regions, we often seek out and serve the most vulnerable members of a community – children, elderly, the very poor, single-parent families, expectant mothers and those with chronic disease. A person with diabetes will still need insulin after the storm and a mother about to give birth will still need a safe place to deliver.
Emergency teams constantly evaluate and deploy new tools and programs that target local concerns and needs. Better weather forecasting and tracking of storms allows us to deploy a team early, connect with our local partners and respond more rapidly when the storm strikes. But even with better technology, we have learned to “expect the unexpected” in each disaster and be ready to adapt to conditions on the ground and respond accordingly.
See Our Work Past Disasters
We Expect Extremes
Emergency programs at Americares represent a continuous cycle of Ready, Respond, Recover and then get Ready again, only better. Each disaster presents a new set of challenges to lay the foundation for a better response the next time around. It is a dynamic process, ever changing as more extreme weather and unforeseen manmade crises arise – always demanding that we increase our knowledge and capabilities. In that work, we are ever mindful and incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of our individual and corporate donors along with the presence of local partners who have the ground sense and skill necessary to meet the challenges and often only lack resources to prepare for them.
An EF-5 tornado, like the one in Oklahoma in 2013 had winds near 200 mph and was over 2 miles wide. Typhoon Haiyan in the same year was the most powerful storm on record. Extreme weather of this magnitude is merciless and leaves little standing in its path. With the rise in such disasters, we know the life-saving value of “ready, respond, recover”.
The 2017 Hurricane Season produced Harvey, Irma and Maria, leaving death and destruction on an epic scale. Americares responded to all 3 and continues the recovery.
Americares responded to Hurricane Matthew's deadly path through Haiti and other Caribbean nations and continues the recovery work.
On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the most powerful storm ever recorded, dealt a massive blow to the Philippines. We responded within 72 hours.