Cue the locusts: Mother Nature is angry.
With an area as large as was impacted by Irene, it's hard to really understand what happened for a number of days. The media send out their people to the most likely places to be impacted, and to major cities, but large disasters don't always hit exactly where they are forecast to do so. Then, the media go with what they have, and skip over the rest. You need to see the local news to have a sense, and that data doesn't always filter out for a while. 21 people are confirmed dead at this writing, hopefully that number will not rise, and thankfully the number is still in double-digits and not higher. So far: six in North Carolina, four in Virginia, four in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Florida and one each in Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.
Kudos to the locals, Feds and state officials who all worked together to get the warnings out, make proper preparations, and minimize loss of life. As someone who sustained major damage last year in a blizzard I'm here to tell you: "stuff" costs money to fix, it's a pain in the rear, and it's horrible. But you can always get more stuff: lives are irreplaceable.
Here in PA, Tom Corbett put together a great team: state, local and Federal. People were staged not just in Philadelphia, but in other places. The governor was on the news every few hours letting people know what was going on. Mayor Nutter was the face of Southeastern PA. While the national news focused on Philadelphia only, which took damage, the 'burbs, which took more damage, were fundamentally ignored beyond the local media. It appears to be a similar situation in other states, too.
From what I understand, all of us north of the Hampton Roads area were spared what could have been much worse because Irene basically stalled over North Carolina, disrupting the eye, and breaking down the ability of Irene to suck more water from the Atlantic. Thus, we all got the leading edge, but missed the winds that would have come had the storm been faster.
New York City was spared, but the surrounding suburbs were not. Boston seems to have escaped major damage, but more inland areas in New England are in pretty bad shape.
There will be a lot of talk over the next few days about whether the government and the media overreacted. Ron Paul has already said that there should be no FEMA, the locals can take care of everything. Eric Cantor (whose district includes the epicenter of last Tuesday's earthquake) says no money should be spent on disasters unless is comes from somewhere else (think: Social Security). Some will say that because it wasn't as bad as it could have been, the preparations were a waste of time and money.
But they're missing the point. Better this situation than what happened in the Gulf 6 years ago. Shelters were used, and people went home after. Workers were deployed, and lives were saved. There's a lot of damage, and a lot of cleanup left to do. Had Irene been a little quicker, or wobbled a little differently, it would have been far uglier. And then these same naysayers would be blaming all levels of government for not being in place quickly enough.
Kudos to the first responders, to the officials who planned. Government did what government was supposed to do: Irene could have made Katrina look like a minor inconvenience. Better to be prepared then to be the stadium in New Orleans.
By the way, Nick Kristoff tweeted this yesterday:
@ NickKristof: If only the century-long threat of climate change would arouse as much mobilization as the day-long threat of #Irene.
We should think about that, too.