As we watched the weather events unfold in Caribbean and along the East and Gulf coasts last week we were reminded that mankind has maintained a continuous struggle against assaults by nature. Catastrophic events have occurred since the beginning of time and have been the subject of vigorous religious and scientific study and discussion.
For thousands of years, countless theories have come to light only to be rebuked by new information. The belief that mankind is responsible for natural disasters is not a new premise. Our responsibility was believed for hundreds of years and was the reason for sacrifices to volcanoes, oceans, farmland, and forests. The argument is compelling and it would be convenient to blame us so perhaps we have an option for change and some measure of control.
Not so! When we study the deserts, which were once lush forests, it is obvious that many natural disasters are exactly that… natural. Although science has made vast advances in the prediction of weather related events, where a catastrophe will occur is still the whim of nature.
All week, I have been reading 'Nature on the Rampage' by Ann and Myron Sutton to better understand the forces of nature. Hurricanes were named after Huracan, an evil storm god of the Caribbean. One of the most devastating hurricanes on record occurred in 1780. It began off Barbados and came ashore where it flattened trees and dwellings killing countless numbers of people. It destroyed an English fleet anchored off St. Lucia, then ravaged the island completely leaving 6,000 dead in its wake. It swirled on to Martinique, enveloped a French convoy and sank more than 40 ships carrying 4,000 soldiers before leveling towns and villages killing another 9,000 people. It finally wound down after destroying Puerto Rico and an untold number of ships and fishing vessels caught unaware in open sea.
Weston Martyr is quoted in the book with his description of a hurricane. He said, "You cannot breathe with a hurricane blowing full in your face. You cannot see either; the impact on your eyeball of spray and rain traveling over a hundred miles an hour makes seeing quite impossible. The blowing sand cuts your flesh and you hear nothing but the scream and booming of the wind, which drowns even the thunder and the breaking seas. You cannot move except by extreme exertion. To stand is to be blown away like a dead leaf. You cannot even crawl; you have to climb about twisting your arms and legs around anything solid within reach".
*Pic is by the fabulous N.C. Wyeth.