A number of mid-Missourians have been hit hard by late-spring weather events.
With the frequent rains across the Midwest, river flooding has locals recalling the historic floods of 1993. It also has farmers champing at the bit as many of their fields are still too wet to get a spring crop planted.
The old adage about corn growing “knee-high by the Fourth of July” looks improbable.
Then the night of May 22, heavy storms and tornadoes swept across northern Boone County and to the south through Jefferson City, tearing up numerous buildings and turning a number of residents homeless overnight.
Our interest and sympathy are naturally alerted when our fellow man is in trouble, particularly when they live in nearby communities.
Neighbors rush to help neighbors; family members frantically call close relatives to make sure they are OK.
Back in 1993, I remember going with my dad to Rocheport to stack sandbags around a home.
When Joplin was ravaged by a tornado some years ago, waves of volunteers rushed to help any way they could, with fundraisers and trucks full of donated clothing and such.
A friend of mine chainsawed debris in a Jefferson City neighborhood last weekend, an effort organized by the United Way.
In general, local public safety personnel tend to go above and beyond when historic natural disasters affect their community. Sometimes states call up National Guard troops for emergency humanitarian projects.
Private nonprofit organizations arrange group projects, community groups like churches look to fill gaps and individuals step forward on their own accord.
While such weather-related “acts of God” are out of our control, the scientific consensus these days declares that human action has caused climate change, increasing the frequency and intensity of storms.
Perhaps our perception of disaster is heightened by the bulk of news and information at our fingertips.
Our interest is heightened to events farther away from home as our society at large has become less local and regionally concerned and more national- and international-minded.
Statistically, with the increase in population and housing developments that take up a much wider footprint, the probability of someone’s house being in the path of extreme weather has also increased. Perhaps more luxurious modern homes mean the cost of damage has increased, too.
Our federal government subsidizes people who live in harm’s way. A recent AP headline declares: “Cost of buying flood-prone homes: $5 billion and rising.”
The story describes how FEMA spent this amount over the last three decades so flooded-out homeowners could rebuild in the same places — more recently paying them to rebuild on higher ground.
That is just one type of program when FEMA chases storms in order to pick up the pieces — although FEMA famously failed after Hurricane Katrina flooded out New Orleans, letting undistributed new trailer homes rot.
The feds also subsidize flood insurance, making is seem less risky to live in risky areas. Subsidized crop insurance intends to erase the risk of farming near rivers.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers has been under more heat in recent years as it maintains deep river channels for barges but then must decide which communities and farmland get priority for levee protection and which ones do not.
It’s rare to even question the insane precedent of the federal government taking responsibility for disaster recovery. In fact, yet another disaster aid bill, this one aiming to spend $19.1 billion, was set to rush through Congress last week.
It was blocked by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who protested that it was going to be rammed through the House without the regular voting process.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused her underling’s call for basic procedure a “last-minute sabotage” of a “bipartisan” effort.
In the old days, people tended to build on high ground to avoid the risk of floods. People in tornado or hurricane alleys built basements and storm shelters to survive a periodic life-threatening twister.
A fellow in Florida made news last fall when his home somehow withstood a hurricane and nearly all of his neighbors were wiped out.
Turns out he deliberately had his home built with hurricane-grade construction techniques, and it worked. Still, he paid up front for his own prudent preparation; his less-prepared neighbors may have been bailed out.
My friend who volunteered in Jeff City said he noticed that houses in low-lying areas were flooded and that many on the top of a hill were blown away. Those out of the flood plain and protected from the wind tended to remain OK.
One house may have been demolished, while the house next door survived. Tornado winds are unpredictable, and who knows? Maybe the two houses were built differently.
He also said he was encouraged to log his hours after the shift so the city could collect federal disaster funds.
It seems as if much of society has forgotten about how to avoid or prepare for natural weather events, living in flood plains and poorly constructed homes.
We’ve forgotten that the world is full of risks, and Washington can’t make nature disappear.
In the meantime, when disaster strikes, we can still help our neighbors with acts of kindness and generosity.
Columnist Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.