Natural hazards are harmful occurrences caused by extraneous forces from the natural elements of the physical environment. The forces that cause natural hazards can be geologic, hydrologic or atmospheric (Sherrow, 1998). These forces are very harmful to man and the entire physical environment. The fact that such natural forces are extraneous to man is what makes them hazardous.
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The frequency and severity of natural hazards are what affects the life and activities of man. It is important to note that manmade phenomena that are harmful to man and the physical environment cannot be referred to as a natural hazard (Sherrow, 1998). A natural phenomenon can only be referred to as a hazardous event if it affects man. This paper will discuss Hurricane Andrew as an example of a natural hazard.
A hurricane is a severe tropical storm associated with strong inward winds that are generated by tropical depressions (Green, 2005). Hurricanes are common in low altitude areas where tropical depression can easily form over warm ocean water. The dangerous nature of hurricanes is attributed to their spontaneous generation.
The strong hurricane winds move erratically in a very large zone of influence. It is estimated that hurricane winds move at a very high speed of 119km/hr (Green, 2005). The direct impact of hurricane winds on fixed structures is so big that no structure can be left standing. The wind carries with it some dangerous objects that contribute to the damage caused by hurricanes.
Hurricanes are normally preceded and followed by a heavy rainfall whose magnitude depends on the hurricane speed and the moisture content in the air (Sherrow, 1998). The heavy rainfall causes floods that have very adverse effects on land. Hurricane floods can damage crops and even cause landslides depending on the impact of the hurricane.
Hurricane Andrew occurred in 1992 and is still remembered as one of the most dangerous and costliest hurricanes to have hit the United States (Harper, 2009). There is no other hurricane that can be compared to Hurricane Andrew in terms of damage. The hurricane began on August 16 from the central Atlantic.
The hurricane began with a tropical cyclone that had originated from a tropical wave and gradually developed into a relatively strong wind that was blowing over the Atlantic Ocean (Harper, 2009). The wind then developed into a very strong tropical storm by August 17 because of favorable conditions such as high moisture content in the air at that particular time.
On August 23, the storm had already developed into a minimal hurricane as the upper environment of the tropical cyclone continued to improve (Harper, 2009). Hurricane Andrew intensified after the strong tropical winds had turned westward towards the Bahamas. In the Bahamas, Hurricane Andrew had developed into a Category 5.
Hurricane Andrew weakened as it passed over the Bahamas and went back to Category 4 (Harper, 2009). After passing over the Bahamas, Hurricane Andrew proceeded to Elliot Key, Florida and Homestead in the form of a land fall on August 24 as a Category 5 (Harper, 2009).
The Gulf of Mexico was the next destination of Hurricane Andrew after Homestead. After the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Andrew proceeded northward as a Category 4. Hurricane Andrew then went over the Gulf Coast of the United States still as a Category 4 before making landfall in Louisiana. After Louisiana, Hurricane Andrew passed over Mississipi as a weakened Category 3 hurricane (Sherrow, 1998).
In Mississipi, Hurricane Andrew had been downgraded to a weak tropical depression without any intensity. The final destination of Hurricane Andrew was the southern Appalachian Mountains where it merged with the frontal system on August 28 (Green, 2005).
Hurricane Andrew was very destructive in the Bahamas because of its high intensity. In the Bahamas, Hurricane Andrew was associated with tornadoes and force winds which resulted in very high tides. Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 800 houses in the Bahamas and left transport and agriculture sectors in severe damage (Sherrow, 1998).
Hurricane Andrew left substantial damage in all the affected areas. In the Bahamas, $250 million was the estimated cost of damages (Green, 2005). Four people were killed by Hurricane Andrew in the Bahamas. It is estimated that 117,000 houses were destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in Florida. Hurricane Andrew destroyed 70% of the trees in Florida leading to a serious environmental degradation.
The hurricane destroyed 13 oil platforms and 104 structures in Florida. Hurricane Andrew blew off almost five drilling wells causing a substantial loss of $500 million in the energy sector (Green, 2005). It is estimated that over 152,000 homesteads in Florida were left without electricity as a result of Hurricane Andrew. Louisiana was also not spared by Hurricane Andrew when it came to environmental destruction.
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Almost 80% of the trees in Louisiana were downed by the heavy storm that caused severe damage to the environment (Harper, 2009). The Atchafalaya River Basin was almost left without freshwater fish after it was reported that 187 million fish died as a result of Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Andrew killed 17 people in Louisiana and destroyed 123, 000 homes with a total cost of damages amounting to $1.5 billion (Harper, 2009).
In Mississipi, 65 people died from Hurricane Andrew with the total cost of damages being estimated to be about $26 billion (Harper, 2009). From the figures, it is evident that Hurricane Andrew was the costliest natural hazard in the history of the United States. The intensity of Hurricane Andrew was so high that nothing could have stopped the physical damage that was caused by the hurricane.
The reason for the low death toll in the Bahamas was good preparation (Green, 2005). The forecasters in the Bahamas had warned the people about a possible storm surge before the hurricane. The forecasters began issuing hurricane watches on August 22 which were followed by hurricane warnings on August 23 (Green, 2005).
The fact that the local people in the Bahamas were warned in advance enabled them to move to safe areas before the hurricane could catch up with them. Many people would have died in Florida but the authorities responded quickly to the warnings by forecasters.
The authorities in Florida evacuated 1.2 million people from the nine counties that were likely to be affected by the hurricane (Green, 2005). The same thing happened in Louisiana and the United States Gulf Coast where evacuations were done in advance.
The damage caused by Hurricane Andrew was so severe that foreign countries stepped in to offer humanitarian aid (Harper, 2009). The United Nations and Canada distributed food and blankets to the victims of Hurricane Andrew in all the affected areas.
Local humanitarian bodies such as the American Red Cross responded quickly to the disaster by offering some temporary shelter to the victims. The United States House of Representatives approved an $11.1 billion aid package on September 18 to help in repairs and cleanup (Green, 2005).
Green, J. (2005). Hurricane Andrew. New York, NY: Gareth Greening Publishing LLLP.
Harper, K. (2009). Hurricane Andrew. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.
Sherrow, V. (1998). Hurricane Andrew: Nature’s Rage. New York, NY: Enslow Publishers.