FEMA Ignoring Small Town Ravaged by Tornadoes?

In April of 2011 tornadoes struck Cordova, Alabama killing 250 people while destroying thousands of homes and businesses. A year and a half later the town still looks like the disaster happened yesterday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency promised the small town, which has a population of just over 2,000, that it would provide the monies needed to demolish the damaged buildings, but after waiting for a year and a half, city residents are growing increasingly frustrated with the broken glass littering the streets, roofless buildings barely still standing, and the downtown area sealed off by a chain-link fence because it is considered unsafe. The tornadoes left behind $1 billion in damages.

FEMA has made numerous requests for documentation of the damage, but has still not provided the necessary funds. Cordova officials are asking for an estimated $933,000 to demolish the structures.

It’s very frustrating,” Mayor Drew Gilbert told the Associated Press. “You would think it’s been touched and seen now by everyone who needs to touch and seen it.”

Elizabeth Brown, preservation officer for the Alabama Historical Commission, said FEMA has never provided information as to when they would begin the much-needed demolition process of the ruined buildings.

FEMA officials told the AP that they are still gathering details about the damage before providing the money, which is a time-consuming process.

“This project involves demolition of multiple historically significant structures and requires that FEMA consider all pertinent environmental and historic preservation laws before funding the project,” the agency said.

FEMA’s procrastination has taken a huge toll on the local economy and employment opportunities. The damage wiped out businesses, leaving few available jobs for residents. Only schools, one bank, a pharmacy and a health clinic are open for employment. The town’s only grocery store was destroyed by the twisters, but unless the skeleton buildings are demolished, no new structures can replace them.

FEMA recently told city officials that their review of the city will be finished by Jan. 4, according to Cordova Fire Chief Dean Harbison, but funding for the demolition likely won’t be granted until the two-year anniversary of the tornado strike passes.

Our entire economy is gone, and it’s like they’re just doing nothing,” Mayor Gilbert said.

Meanwhile, FEMA announced Monday that it has provided $500 million to disaster areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, 10 percent of which went to individuals and families in Staten Island. The death toll due to the Alabama tornadoes was more than twice the death toll due to Sandy, but residents in this small town said they felt forgotten just a few weeks after the disaster. Cordova officials have asked for less than $1 million, but it may take them many more months before FEMA hands it over.

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Engineers Warned of North East Storm Surge Dangers in 2009

At a 2009 seminar in New York City convened by the American Society of Civil Engineers, corporate, academic and government engineers warned that a devastating storm surge in the North Eastern region of the country was inevitable and presented detailed measures to counter it.

Participants in the seminar urged officials to install surge barriers or tide gates in the New York Harbor to protect the city. Their views are contained in 300 pages of technical papers, historical studies and engineering designs, copies of which the society provided to The New York Times. Installing such barriers would be costly and take years to build, so it’s likely that they would not have been in place in time to prevent destruction from Tropical Storm Irene last year or Hurricane Sandy more recently.

“Scientists and engineers were saying years before Katrina happened, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen, folks. Stop putting your head in the sand,’ ” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of oceanography at the State University at Stony Brook who spoke at the conference and is an editor of the proceedings.

“The same thing’s now happened here,” Professor Bowman said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has expressed doubt about such barriers and whether the benefits would outweigh the costs which some estimates put at over $10 billion.

“I don’t think there’s any practical way to build barriers in the oceans,” he said on Thursday. “Even if you spent a fortune, it’s not clear to me that you would get much value for it.”

According to Professor Brown the most workable plan would involve a roughly five-mile barrier from Sandy Hook, N.J., to the Rockaway Peninsula while a smaller barrier would stretch across the top of the East River to protect against surges from Long Island Sound. East River barriers might rise from the ocean floor using hydraulics as a threat approached, and the larger barrier would require locks and sluiceways to allow ships and water to pass during ordinary times.

The technology is already being used around the world, including in the Netherlands and on the Thames in London. Several American cities have versions of the structures, and a barrier surrounds St. Petersburg, Russia.

 

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