Monday, May 23, 2011

Mourning with those in Joplin and elsewhere

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Joplin, MO, as well as everyone else suffering from yesterday's tornado damage and all still reeling from the storms that hit the southeast several weeks back.

As I read and viewed photos about this tragedy online I was struck by an aside about the configuration of many homes in the Joplin area. Evidently the region experienced significant growth in the '60s--era of the rambling ranch house--and thus had been constructed without basements.

No basements. In tornado country.

I am sure this is not uncommon, nor, obviously, is it the fault of the residents. What, however, will it take to learn even the smallest lesson from an overwhelmingly destructive history? Tornadoes happen in the midwestern United States. They always have. One of the many reasons my own grandfather left Oklahoma for Oregon in the late 1940s was to escape the recurring threat of tornadoes.

The Wizard of Oz was written in 1900.

How much evidence did Americans need to realize that homes in tornado country should be constructed with basements, cellars or other shelter from such storms?

Again, this isn't anyone's "fault." Nor is it a regional foible. (See "unreinforced brick construction, West Coast earthquake zone.") In the wake of all this death and destruction, however, I hope we can learn some important engineering lessons--and apply them elsewhere, as well. Tragedy cannot always be avoided, and there is only so much we can do to protect ourselves, but we should certainly be doing what we can do. We--and our progeny who will live in what we construct today--deserve nothing less.

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