Geology for Global Development

Hurricane Sandy: A round up of the coverage from Haiti to New York

We thought we would summarise the coverage of Hurricane Sandy and direct you to some of the wide-ranging political, scientific and development based discussion that has arisen in the last few weeks; simply follow the links in this article.

Hurricanes are just one of the many natural disasters that affect countries in the Caribbean, such as Haiti. They are rarely an issue further north, but Sandy is an exception as it passed through the Caribbean and then onto the East coast of the United States. The influence of the hurricane’s winds has been mapped in stunning detail. It is interesting to compare the preparation, devastation and subsequent clean up in a developing country with the effects of the same hurricane in an economic superpower. It is also interesting to see the way the US prepares for a major disaster in an area that doesn’t have a history of dealing with extreme weather events.

Compared to other natural hazards, our predictive power with hurricanes is very advanced. Once a hurricane has formed we can use satellite observations to track it’s course, normally leaving generous time to prepare and evacuate from danger zones. There was a call for people to collect water samples during Sandy to help us understand hurricanes even better next time around.

In the USA, Sandy took 88 lives and left up to 40,000 people without electricity or heating, just as the winter weather begins to bite. The damage in the US will cause long-term problems as the foundations of many buildings have been undermined. With NYC being a financial capital, there is also a large economic impact: the mayor had to waive public transport fees, the NY stock exchange closed due to weather conditions for the first time in 27 years and many people were forced to miss work. With the election looming in the USA, the hurricane will also have had a political influence. The response of the Bush administration to New Orleans (August, 2005) will be compared with the Obama administration’s response to Sandy. The hurricane is also likely to throw climate change, an issue that wasn’t mentioned by either candidate in the presidential debates, back onto the mainstream agenda. Was this storm ‘fueled by fossil steroids?

In Haiti there have been 54 deaths, but this number is expected to rise as the standing water  gives deadly cholera some breathing space and the anticipated crop failure, in an already strained agriculturally-dependent country, leaves people desperately hungry. There were also 200,000 people made homeless, and all this despite the country only catching the edge of the storm. There is likely to be a much slower recovery here than in the US. The multiple natural disasters Haiti has experienced in the past two years have depleted their resources and caused a complex web of problems. In some cases, people in Haiti were living in worse conditions before the storm hit than Americans are after it, many still in temporary camps after the 2010 earthquake or last year’s hurricane destroyed their homes. Lisa Laumann, the director of Save the Children in Haiti, thinks that ‘if the road infrastructure was stronger, and if there were better flood control, fewer people would die in emergencies like this’ [whilst speaking to the Guardian]. Many of the deaths in this event would have been avoidable with better resources and advanced preparation.


Rosalie was the Himalayas Programme Officer for Geology for Global Development and writer for the GfGD blog. She is a geochemist and a postdoc at the University of Oxford.