Cyclone Tauktae, COVID-19 and the Siloam Lesson

This week hasn’t been a good time for India.

Statistics say Tuesday was their worst day yet for COVID-19 pandemic deaths. It’s also when the worst cyclone of recorded so far hit India’s west coast.

There’s quite a bit going on here.

Cyclones generally hit India’s east coast. Or, rather, have generally hit the east coast. Weather patterns are changing, so India’s west coast can expect more cyclones.1

Part of the good news is that folks know what to do when a storm is coming. Basically, find shelter or get out of the way. Sounds simple, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.

And getting away from Tauktae hasn’t been easy near the Mumbai coast.


Comparisons (or) India isn’t Minnesota

Map of India, population per square kilometer by in States/ Union territories. Source: Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India.About 21,000 folks live in each square kilometer of Mumbai, 13,000 for Surat — a city about halfway between Ahmenadabad and Mumbai.

That compares to something like 26.6 per square kilometer in my state, 804 down in the Minnesota Metro’s Hennepin County.2

Whether they’re called cyclones or hurricanes, tropical storms don’t happen here in the Upper Midwest. Blizzards are about the nearest thing we’ve got, in terms of potential risk.

And with blizzards, evacuation isn’t an option. There really isn’t anyplace we could evacuate to. Our best option is to stay inside, wait out the storm, and hope that power failures either don’t happen or don’t last long.

Tornadoes are another matter. But again, staying inside makes survival a great deal more likely. Provided that “inside” includes a basement. Or a hardened shelter. I’ve heard about those, but never actually seen one. Possibly because it’s easier to dig a basement.

A distinct lack of hurricanes is among the reasons I enjoy life in the Upper Midwest. Blizzards, fire weather warnings during thunderstorm alerts, tornadoes and all. Our weather is wild. But it’s wild almost every year. Which I suspect helps us pay attention and stay prepared.


Hurricanes and Attitudes

Hurricane Harvey, seen from the International Space Station. (August 2017)
(From NASA, via YouTube, used w/o permission.)

Even under ideal conditions, I figure evacuating a town or city would be hard. And we don’t, I strongly suspect, often enjoy ideal conditions.

Take what happened during 2005’s Hurricane Rita, for example. My guess is that hurricane-related missteps will be debated for decades. At least.

Assumptions

March 15, 1915: Billy Sunday giving another rip-roaring performance.September of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina inspired acts of practical charity.

And at least one religious rant with an all-too-familiar slant.

Katrina: God’s Judgment on America
Anonymous; Restore America, via Beliefnet (2005)

“… There was the burgeoning Gulf Coast gambling industry, with a new casino that was to open on Labor Day weekend. But of course, what is a little gambling if it supports ‘education’ and brings revenue into government coffers? And then there was the 34th Annual gay, lesbian and transgender ‘Southern Decadence’ Labor Day gala to be held from August 31st to September 5th….”

But oddly enough, I don’t remember a parallel prophetic proclamation featuring Hurricane Rita.

Possibly because nobody’s thought of denouncing air conditioning. If someone had, then framing Houston’s Hurricane Rita evacuation debacle as the wrath of God would almost make sense, since the city was famous for its air conditioning. Among other things.3

For someone who assumed that air conditioning offends a prickly deity, 2005’s ‘death by evacuation’ might, again, look like divine retribution.

Think about it. Houston authorities had detailed evacuation plans. But about a hundred people died trying to leave the city. Surely, taking a “…God’s Judgment on America” viewpoint, their deaths were the work of a petulant Providence.

I think that’s a crazy idea, but no crazier than framing wholesale death and destruction as an anti-gambling smite-fest.

So I’ll look at what actually happened. Briefly. But not from a ‘sinners in the hands of an uptight God’ viewpoint.

Houston, 2017’s Harvey: Lessons Learned from 2005’s Debacle

Submerged Houston roads during Hurricane Harvey (2017)
(From Reuters, via Al Jazeera, used w/o permission.)
(Houston: August, 2017. Being told to not drive into submerged roads angered some. And arguably saved lives.)

Brett Coomer/Chronicle's photo of Hurricane Rita evacuation, on Interstate 45 in Huntsville, Texas. Gridlock and accidents killed roughly a hundred people. (2015)Houston authorities thought their 2005 evacuation plans would work.

Until folks were told to evacuate. And got caught in gridlock.

On the ‘up’ side, body count estimates only range from 90 to 118. Of those, 23, or maybe 24, were from a self-igniting bus. Seems that oxygen tanks, mobility-impaired passengers and unlubricated axles are a bad mix.

Comparing roughly a hundred deaths to the millions who evacuated is possible. But maybe not reasonable. Millions evacuating from the Texas coast area included folks who were getting out of Houston. But I haven’t found numbers for the Houston-only evacuation.

Based on what little I know, I think the folks in charge could have made better decisions.

Media types could have spent more time, learning what words like “voluntary” and “mandatory” mean.

Someone should have realized that an engineer’s high-resolution map doesn’t display well on television screens.

And wondered if maybe non-engineers might have trouble reading it.

And, finally, folks living in Houston could have used more common sense. Some of them.

But it’s not all bad news. Folks have studied what went wrong, thought about it: and published what they learned.4

I very strongly suspect that’s why Houston authorities didn’t tell folks to evacuate via submerged roads in 2017.


Storms, a War and “the Wakened Giant”

18th century engraving by an unknown artist, '...Wherein Rear Admiral Beaumont was lost on the Goodwin Sands....'
(From unknown artist, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The Great Storm of 1703: bad news for England.)

Storms happen. People die. That’s sad, often tragic.

Simple explanations for why disasters happen have been and still are popular.

In 1703, the War of the Spanish Succession hadn’t been all beer and skittles for England. Then a winter storm hit. It felled 4,000 oaks, collapsed 2,000 London chimneys and killed 1,000 English sailors.

Politics and propaganda of the day being what they were, England’s state church said that the storm was God’s way of punishing the English for not killing enough foreigners. Catholic foreigners, of course.

Daniel Defoe’s “The Storm,” published in 1704, said pretty much the same thing, and English pastors featured the disaster in their moralizing sermons for at least a century.5

Times change, but human nature hasn’t. Not that I can see.

Official declarations that God’s on a smiting spree because we’re not killing enough ‘bad guys’ isn’t fashionable. Not in America, at least. And I don’t mind a bit.

Mother Nature’s Gonna Get You?

Gustave Doré's illustration for Canto XXXIV of Dante's 'Divine Comedy, Inferno.'These days, we’re more likely to hear earnest glitterati blame storms on Mother Nature’s anger. Meanwhile, the more profound thinkers warn us that we have awakened the earth-giant.

Jennifer Lawrence calls hurricanes ‘Mother Nature’s rage and wrath’
Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly (September 8, 2017)

“Jennifer Lawrence says the deadly hurricanes that have formed in the Atlantic Ocean over the last month — including Hurricane Irma, which is set to batter Florida this weekend — are the result of ‘Mother Nature’s rage and wrath.’…”

Forget ‘saving the Earth’ – it’s an angry beast that we’ve awoken
Clive Hamilton, The Conversation (May 27, 2014)

“Environmentalism is undergoing a radical transformation. New science has shown how long-held notions about trying to ‘save the planet’ and preserve the life we have today no longer apply.

“Instead, a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as ‘the wakened giant’ and ‘the ornery beast’, a planet that is ‘fighting back’ and seeking ‘revenge’, and a new era of ‘angry summers’ and ‘death spirals’….”

An ‘up’ side is that C. Hamilton’s “growing chorus of senior scientists” may be consciously using metaphor. I’d rather think that, than assume that they’re on the verge of making burnt offerings to a chthonic earth-god. And that’s another topic. Topics.


Remembering What’s Important

Quirijn/Coryn Boel's 'The Good Samaritan.' ( 	1673)
(From Quirijn/Coryn Boel, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Where was I? India’s May 18, 2021, death by disease and disaster. Cities, Minnesota, storms and blame games. Practical charity.

Right.

I’m a Catholic, so I think charity is a virtue:

CHARITY: The theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God (1822).”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Feeling charitable is nice. But charity, Catholic style, isn’t an emotion.

Not that there’s anything wrong with emotions. They’re part of being human, and not good or bad by themselves. What matters is what I decide to do about them. Having emotions in sync with my reason and will would be nice, and that’s yet another topic. (Catechism, 17631794)

Anyway, I don’t see that feeling charitable makes sense without doing something charitable. When and if possible.

I’ve talked about the Samaritan story before. (February 1, 2017)

What “doing something charitable” can mean is more than I have time for right now.

Death and Reminders

Pieter Claesz's 'Vanitas Still Life.' (1630)Death happens. It’s among the few things we can count on.

What’s less certain is when we will die.

So I figure high-profile disasters, besides being an opportunity for practicing prayer and charity, are helpful reminders that I’ve got a less-than-perfect record. And that repentance is a good idea.

“At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
“He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
“Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!'”
(Luke 13:15)

Even if the high-profile disasters aren’t high-profile a couple millennia from now. The only reason we know about Siloam tower collapse and that particular Pilate bloodbath is that they’re recorded in Luke’s Gospel.

And that’s yet again another topic.

John Tenniel's Alice, Griffin and Mock Turtle for chapter nine of Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland.' (1865)So are my reasons for thinking that Jesus isn’t telling me that if I don’t repent and start reeling, writhing and fainting in coils😀 ASAP, God the Father’s gonna drop a tower on me.

As I see it, admitting that I’ve messed up makes sense. Because I have.

So does asking for mercy.

But auditioning for Sanctimonious Sourpuss of the Month? Honestly: would anyone really want that?

And that’s — like I said before — yet again another topic. Topics.

Other vaguely-related stuff I’ve written:

😀 Reeling, writhing — and recalling L. Carroll’s Mock Turtle.

“‘I couldn’t afford to learn it,’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. ‘I only took the regular course.’

“‘What was that?’ inquired Alice.

“‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied: ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’…

“…Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said, ‘What else had you to learn?’

“‘Well, there was Mystery,’ the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers,—’Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling—the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.’…”
(“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Chapter 9: The Mock Turtle’s Story; Lewis Carroll (1866) via Wikisource)


1 India’s unpleasant Tuesday:

2 Mumbai and Minnesota, mostly:

3 Houston, air conditioning ace:

4 Learning from mistakes, it’s an option:

5 ‘And the moral of this storm is:’

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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2 Responses to Cyclone Tauktae, COVID-19 and the Siloam Lesson

  1. Manny says:

    We had Hurricane Sandy here in Staten Island, NY back in 2012. It’s coming up on ten years, oh my. How the time flies. There are still places on Staten Island that have not been rebuilt. Hurricanes are devastating. I had not heard about the cyclone in India. When it rain, it pours (pun not intended) I’m afraid. The poor Indian people have been in my prayers. My boss and a co-worker are both immigrants from India and have family there.

Thanks for taking time to comment!