Sep 13, 2004
As we go to press, Hurricane Ivan has become the third hurricane in a month to come across the Atlantic, tear through the Caribbean and hit the American mainland. And the hurricane season isn't over yet.
The exceptional number of hurricanes this year was predicted by meteorologists, based on changes in water temperature and salinity in the Atlantic Ocean. Five or six major hurricanes were predicted for 2004, far above the average over the last 50 years. Ivan is the fifth actually to happen.
Meteorologists say they think this pattern will continue at least for the next few years. Whether the changes in ocean temperature are cyclical or are tied to global warming isn't clear, but the authorities certainly are doing their best to ignore the question.
The damage done by these hurricanes is immense. Together, Hurricanes Charley in August and Frances at the beginning of September killed at least 43 people in the Caribbean and the U.S. It is estimated they destroyed a combined total of about 20 billion dollars worth of property. Even before hitting the Cayman Islands, Cuba and the American mainland, Ivan, the most powerful of the three, has already killed at least 56 people in the Caribbean, most of them on the little island of Grenada, where 90% of all the houses were destroyed or heavily damaged.
The devastation from these hurricanes is massive; nonetheless, their impact varies greatly depending on which class people belong to. During the storms, millions of ordinary people had to evacuate and crowd in with relatives, or sweat it out in bare-bones public shelter facilities. The rich were able to fly away to other homes they own elsewhere, or party it up in fine, well-built hotels that had stocked up with food and drink in anticipation of their patronage during the storms.
As for the fate of people's homes, the cheaper homes and trailers that most ordinary people live in are the most susceptible to damage. What happened on Grenada showed this very well.
In this capitalist world, governments do not organize society's resources to help repair or rebuild damaged houses. Supposedly, private, for-profit insurance companies do this. But what insurance does for the rich is different than what it does for poorer people, many of whom can't begin to afford full hurricane insurance. For ordinary working people and many small businessmen, these storms will be a catastrophe. With the limited coverage they have, and with big deductibles, they face years of rebuilding, if they are able to rebuild at all. Most rich people will recover from these storms just fine, because the insurance policies they can afford to buy cover all, or almost all, of the expense of rebuilding. The insurance companies will make out like bandits, no matter what they pay out. Government regulations guarantee it.
These storms – or rather their impact on people – are no different than other aspects of life in this capitalist society.