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5 US Cities Overdue for a Disaster

No one wants a major disaster to strike in their hometown. We all remember the pain and heartbreak when New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina, and also the valuable lesson in preparedness it had to teach us by unfortunate example.

Unfortunately, not everybody has learned these lessons: a combination of apathy, no clear threat, and lack of funding have conspired to put many American cities on target for possible disasters. Here are the top five.

Read through the list of five below and then let them serve as a reminder to your to keep and maintain adequate home insurance. To find and compare companies just enter your zip above for free insurance rates online!


2007 San Diego Wildfires

#5) San Diego

The Disaster: Hurricanes

San Diego is widely considered one of the luckiest cities in recent history when it comes to hurricanes. California in general rarely sees hurricanes, with most of the state far away from where hurricanes like to roam, and only San Diego, with its proximity to Mexico, is really in range. Yet, year after year, San Diego lucks out.

In fact, there’s only been one hurricane strike on record: that happened back in 1858, and historians took a while to conclude it was actually a hurricane, thanks to the conflicting accounts offered up over what happened.

San Diego is usually spared hurricanes thanks to its water: the waters off North America are very cold and as a result, hurricanes generally stay to the south. But the 1858 hurricane proves that hurricanes can strike San Diego under the right conditions, and with climates changing rapidly, it may only be a matter of time before one strikes again.

Are They Prepared? Not really. Remember, a hurricane hasn’t struck for more than 150 years. San Diego has other, more pressing problems … at least for now.


1927 Tornado Disaster, St. Louis, MO

#4) St. Louis, MO

The Disaster: Earthquakes

St. Louis has the misfortune to be both in tornado country, as the misfortune of Joplin so tragically showed us, and also right near the New Madrid Seismic Zone, .a 150 mile long fault system that touches seven states and has a singularly nasty history.

There are records of the New Madrid Seismic Zone having quakes as far back as 1699, when a missionary noted that he felt the ground shake as he was passing through. It is most infamous, though, for its destruction of the town of New Madrid in 1812, where it gets its name.

The 1812 quakes were so powerful, they rang church bells in Boston and created waterfalls along the Misssissippi river. Aftershocks were felt until 1817. New Madrid itself essentially ceased to exist: it was destroyed so utterly it was difficult to even find it. In short, the New Madrid Seismic Zone is not a place you really want to locate your city, great barbeque or not.

Are They Prepared? Not according to government surveys. Although the New Madrid can make its presence felt occasionally, including a minor 4.5 magnitude quake 50 miles from St. Louis just recently, it hasn’t really piped up in more than 100 years. Not to mention the other problems St. Louis finds itself dealing with: the Mississippi can hand any town plenty of more urgent problems. Still, the buildings aren’t designed to deal with heavy swaying or other quake movement, and there’s a real risk of damage without more repairs to the city.

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1926 Miami Hurricane

#3) Miami, FL

The Disaster: Floods

Hurricanes are old hat for Miami; it’s been clobbered, rained on, hailed on, blown over, you name it. Miami knows from disasters. But there’s one possible disaster it’s not equipped to deal with at all: rising sea levels.

Although many American cities are at serious flood risk, Miami is in the bulls-eye: it’s closest to sea level, and has the most valuable land. If Miami floods, and stays flooded, the insurance losses will be measured in the billions.

Are They Prepared? Unfortunately, there’s not really much to be prepared for in the first place. Miami, of course, will try to keep the oceans from rising, but the rest of the world needs to stop polluting so much. Any sort of levy system would be prohibitively expensive and possibly only a stopgap measure. In short, Miami may become Venice, and there’s little anyone can do about it.

Aside, of course, from sell.

 


Vanport Oregon Flood, 1948

#2) Portland, OR

The Disaster: Tsunami

Portland is uniquely situated, in terms of geography: it has a port, yet is far enough inland to avoid most of the problems related to living near the sea, unless something goes terribly wrong.

Which, as you may have guessed, there’s a good chance will happen.

The entire upper West Coast of the United States has a unique problem in the form of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a long fault that’s a few hundred miles offshore. Most of the time, the Cascadia is fairly dormant: it makes seabed, it destroys seabed, it’s interesting to geologists and nobody else.

The problem is the possibility of a “megathrust” earthquake: that is, one part of the plate is pushed very far up. It’s a twofold problem: megathrust earthquakes are among the most destructive, with all 9.0 quakes being megathrusts, and earthquakes create tsunamis, as so vividly shown to us by the disaster that struck Japan.

If that happened, the destruction would be enormous, and the tsunami would rush right into Portland and overwhelm it.

Are They Prepared? Once again, unfortunately, there’s nothing to prepare for. Basically all they have to do is hope that it never happens.

 


Improperly-disposed beef tallow floating on Houston Ship Channel, 2011

#1) Houston, TX

The Disaster: Drought

Up until now, we’ve mostly been dealing with disasters that involve way too much water, but disasters involving not enough water can be a lot worse. Droughts can create terrifying conditions and permanently destroy cities and even entire civilizations. And Houston is facing one of the worst.

Until recently, Houston got its water from an aquifer under the city. Then somebody noticed that the sea level kept rising, and as Houston was sucking up the fresh water from the aquifer, sea water was taking its place. Houston was forced to start getting its water from local lakes, but that can’t last forever, especially at Houston’s rapid pace of growth.

Are They Prepared? How (or if) Houston can deal with this possible disaster is one of the city’s biggest questions. It’s a potent reminder that not all disasters strike suddenly and unexpectedly, and sometimes the slowest are the most deadly.

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