Friday, May 16, 2014

CA wildfires underscore how disasters can make hundreds or thousands homeless suddenly

One of the leftover issues from the “emergency preparedness” meeting Tuesday night by the Arlington Civic Association would be the idea that it is possible for hundreds or thousands of families or people to become homeless suddenly.  This is unlikely in most of the DC area, except for an act of terrorism.  It happened with Katrina and Sandy, with very large, long-tracking tornadoes, large earthquakes, and with some of the wildfires.  But, anyone can have to deal with homelessness, with enormous practical problems regardless of financial condition and insurance if an area is affected badly enough.

Many of the wildfires in the past seemed to have been concentrated in more remote areas, affecting mainly people who had “chosen” to live in more fire-prone natural areas.  However, the news reports from the areas north of San Diego leave the impression that the fires have destroyed homes in much more concentrated, “normal suburban” areas.  I was last in the area in May, 2012, but not in the exact neighborhoods, so I don’t know how exposed most of them are to brush.  In February 2002 (ten years before) I had driven through the low mountains west of San Diego and definitely noticed the dry conditions and exposure for people who live there.  Likewise, I’ve driven the “Rim of the World” (in 1979) somewhere around San Bernadino or Riverside. Some friends or at least associates have owned property in Oakland, Malibu, and various areas around the high desert areas (like Morongo Valley), and Palm Springs;  but no one that I know of has had a major loss.  (LA Times story is here. )

It would seem that new suburban neighborhoods should be built with “moats”, brush-free areas of a few hundred feet before the houses and businesses start.  

In the DC and Baltimore areas, there have been long term displacement of homeowners after soil collapse or mudslides in a few neighborhoods after two recent heavy rain events.  Homes are not necessarily damaged yet, but homeowners are not allowed back into evacuated areas to recover possessions (like personal computers) so they can continue working.  It’s unclear how insurance works in these cases. WJLA story is here

Will there be more emphasis on “radical hospitality” in the future, in asking people with home space to house strangers from hundreds of miles away?  I wonder. 
The idea of sharing as barter (Katherine Rampell, “Paying your fair share”, Washington Post, May 16, p A21, 2014) seems “off base” here

Do we expect people to “take care of themselves” or not? 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of San Marcos. 

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