Irene bears down on us here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
Comparisons can be useful. I got an email from a friend on the island of Guam, where I lived on a sailboat for eleven years and went through three super typoons (Cat. 5's) and some earthquakes that were up there around 6 to 7 or even a 9 on the Richter Scale. On that far-off speck in the western Pacific, our piddling little earthquake last week and our relatively meek and mild hurricane of this week would have been non-events. Scant notice would have been taken of the earth moving and Irene would have fallen in the "banana" storm catagory; that is, just strong enough to take the bananas off the trees.
But of course, comparisons like this are misleading. Guam has evolved to take this kind of punishment. The houses are mostly made of reinforced concrete and there are no big trees to mention (and that's because they can't grow big due to the frequency of the typhoons that blow them over). Huge storms and major quakes are a fact of life on Guam and the people have adapted. In 1997, when Typhoon Paka hit the island with 200+ mph winds, there was not a single storm-related death.
Here on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., though, things are very different.While hurricanes occur every year, they mostly affect Florida and the Caribean islands. A direct hit along the length of the east coast is rare. And so, we have big trees, forests of them, and houses made of wood and lots of trailer parks with cockleshell mobile homes sitting on cinder blocks with those big trees hanging over them. And there are lots of mountains with rivers and streams pouring out of them and lots of people with little experience dealing with big storms.
The end result: When Irene's 40 to 80 mph winds and 12 inches of rain had finished passing through, 40 people had died due to the terrible flooding (Vermont and Massachusetts are in real trouble and the death toll keeps rising) and houses and cars being crushed by falling timber, and I'm certain that the final bill will be in the billions of dollars.
We got lucky. Big trees surround our house on the Eastern Shore of Virginia but only one came down and by raw luck, missed the house and the TV satellite dish. Better than that, before the storm I made a last-minute decision to move my powerboat; it was parked right there. And my wife had always wanted that tree removed, so that project was taken care of for me.
An ode to inovation: We went up to my mother-in-law's house to ride out the storm with her. This is the generator that my father-in-law (who died last December) had cobbled together from wood and spare parts. It ran perfectly.