Two disaster stories have dominated headlines over the past couple of days – 1. Hurricane Florence barreling in to the Carolinas, killing at least eight, flooding communities, and leaving at least a million people without power; and 2. Thousands of Boston area residents fleeing for their lives as a series of gas explosions set scores of houses on fire, and later left thousands of households in the dark, without gas or power.
Different stories, indeed, but stories with at least one common element – inadequate and decaying infrastructure that puts at extreme risk the health and safety of everyone within its reach. A year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico (killing, we now know, more than 3000 people), and Hurricane Harvey half-drowned Houston, no substantial changes in either storm-resistant infrastructure or mass evacuation plans have been made in countless vulnerable communities. What we know is that storms are becoming bigger, stronger and more frequent, aided by climate change and warming oceans Yet public officials are doing far too little to mitigate predictable impacts.
Ditto regarding the Massachusetts gas explosions, though in this case the public safety derelicts are the for-profit companies responsible for infrastructure maintenance, repair and replacement. The pipelines serving the area are some of the oldest and most leak-prone pipes (many of them made of ancient cast iron) in the country. It costs about $1 million per mile to replace the pipes, and the companies simply don’t want that cost eating into their profits. Again, too little, too late to protect people’s lives and property – or, perhaps, nothing at all.