The storm now bashing the US northeast reminds us that nature's power can make human endeavour seem awfully small.
Tens of millions of Americans are hunkered down against a colossal storm that threatens the US north-east several days of intense winds and heavy rain, plus floods, power failures, building collapses and property damage.
Life has virtually halted as prudence grounds flights, closes mass transit and shuts workplaces.This late-season storm, called Hurricane Sandy until recently, has been downgraded to “tropical storm” status but its duration and direction make it serious; if as is possible it combines with another weather system from the west it may generate a truly ominous “Frankenstorm”.
When a storm threatens the world’s media capital, of course everyone hears all about it in advance. In fact, Sandy is unlikely to do as much damage as a really big natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 killed 1,900 in New Orleans, while the 2011 tsunami killed almost 16,000 in Japan alone; Pakistan’s 2010 floods killed 2,000 and displaced many millions; and Haiti’s 2010 earthquake killed 300,000.
The US has the resources to mitigate the danger, and to rebuild. And yet … Sandy is already big enough to remind everyone that mankind’s flood defences, like our endless squabbles, can suddenly dwindle to insignificance when nature shows its power. For the time being, America’s north-east has all of our sympathy.