BY M.R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, N.Y: Monster hurricane Irma that lashed both coasts of Florida with winds near 130 mph on Sunday, September 10, marked for the first time that two massive storms – the other being Harvey mentioned briefly last week – that powerfully targeted the United States in a single year.
When commingled with wildfires all over the American West after a season of scorching hot temperatures – and September night’s humungous earthquake off Mexico’s Pacific coast of intensity 8.2 on the Richter scale – it is not astonishing that more and more people are searching for reasons behind Nature’s chaos.
I was hence struck by naturalist Terry Tempest Williams’ comment: “For so many years, talking about the weather was talking about nothing. Now, it really is our survival.”
But, to return to Irma: it triggered evacuation orders covering 5.6 million. Beginning by hammering the Florida Keys in the morning it hit the US mainland; six hours later it moved north towards Tampa where the devastation, on the morning after, was much less than feared.
Given Irma’s monstrous size – at some points 400 miles wide – it was inevitable that she would pummel both the east (Atlantic) and the west (Gulf) coasts. Its brute strength propelled it over not just all over Florida but into parts of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee as well, before it dissipated.
What was amazing for someone without personal experience of the horrors of hurricanes was the low loss of lives – a feature that was underlined by the multiple-times higher casualties in the Caribbean islands, battered as Irma ripped through them days before of making landfall in the United States.
There were other dimensions of Irma that provided useful lessons for one and all. Among them: the fact that the concerned authorities continued to warn residents of the impending dangers well ahead of time and came forth with all manner of help thereafter, be it in the shape of first responders or the many exemplary forms of victims helping one another.
This, too, contrasted with egregious cases of looting and other criminal activities in some of the affected islands of the Caribbean.
No account of the above saga can, however, be complete without mention of the splendid, first-hand, on-the-scene reporting of the evolving trauma of the hurricane’s fury by the major TV channels and mainstream newspapers, here. I doubt that any other country’s media could have done a more admirable or more redoubtable job.
For your faithfully, Irma held special interest since my eldest daughter and her family are residents of a Tampa suburb. For days ahead of Irma’s expected landfall in Florida she and her friends and neighbors prepared themselves to leave at short notice – if they deemed it necessary.
As their story is probably typical, a few paragraphs here would perhaps be in order. In their case, after believing, initially, that Irma would go up the East, and not along the Gulf, coast where Tampa is situated, they decided to stay put – but constantly on guard ready to change plans if necessary.
It was just as well for soon the weather wizards declared that Irma would affect the entire peninsula of Florida but with greater impact in the West. This was the trigger for them to head for a Nepali’s friend’s house in Jacksonville in northeastern Florida, a four-hour drive away. After spending a night there – before Irma made landfall for the second time – they learnt that Jacksonville, too, might not be safe anymore.
They then headed for Cary, North Carolina – an eight-hour drive away – where they were put up by a Nepali friend – a childhood pal and neighbour from Kathmandu. It was there that they spent a carefree night talking of Nepal and having a jolly ol’ time – even as Irma was leaving behind a tale of destruction and woe in her terrible wake. It was after this night that the danger from Irma decayed.
By the time this sees light of day, my daughter and her family should be back in Tampa safe and sound – if understandably fatigued and shop-worn after their forced travel. Thousands of Floridians have had a similar experience – but a huge learning opportunity for all, including my two Floridian granddaughters.
DISAGREEMENT AND DISSENSION
South Asia, meanwhile, has as usual been mired in disagreement and dissension. In Afghanistan, public anger simmered over US military leaflets seen as disrespecting Islam. Also concerning Islam was the plight of Rohingyas which, as the UN tells it, is reflected by the flight of as many as 270,000 from Myanmar into Bangladesh!
Critics of Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s impotence, or unwillingness, to deal effectively with the problem of Rohingyas has drawn criticism from such international luminaries as South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu, US Senator John McCain and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai.
I was flabbergasted that, according to a Nepali news portal, arrangements were being made to set up Rohingya refugee camps in Nepal! I find that incredulous, but if it is true the government must be taken to task and asked to explain why Nepal should be chosen for such an honour.
Not only does Nepal not have any border with Myanmar but both Bangladesh and India do. If Bangladesh has taken enough of them (they are after all Muslims and speak Bengali) why not India? I seem to recall news reports noting that during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recent visit to Myanmar, he did not raise the issue.
Finally, it was hugely instructive that Beijing’s Global Times criticized the timing of India’s Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawal’s statement that India must be prepared for a two-front war with China and Pakistan – after the “positive signals about bilateral ties” at the recent BRICS sent “the completely opposite message” about India-China relations.
In other words, is Rawat speaking through his hat or with Modi’s tacit approval?