Erica M. Mentone
Disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes cause massive damage and destruction. If the disaster occurs in a city or town, houses and buildings can be damaged or destroyed, highways and roads may become impassable, and the economy often suffers. In nature, earthquakes, hurricanes, and the floods often associated with them can destroy animal habitats and create a break in the food chain when plants are uprooted and killed. Whether natural disasters occur in a city, or in a forest, there can often be a long recovery cycle that is different for each disaster.
In nature, disaster recovery is a natural process. It can be a long process, but one that most often occurs in nature without the aid of civilization. Hurricanes can cause flooding and wind damage that destroys trees and animal habitats. Volcanoes can also cause damage. Trees animal habitats and ecosystems are burned or covered in volcanic matter. Slowly, life begins to return to disaster sites.
After a volcanic eruption, there is an area in the immediate vicinity of the volcano that is for the most part completely destroyed. It is singed; it may be covered with cooling lava and pyroclastic flows, or suffocated under volcanic ash. In an area further away from the volcano, life continues as normal.
Once the eruption is over and the damage has been done, the recovery cycle begins. It is important to note that recovery cycles can be different because of the area affected and the nature of the disaster. Some insects that live underground survive the eruption. Soon, spiders and birds return to the area to feed on these insects. Seeds are spread by the animals and by wind. Volcanic matter can sustain plant life, and as it begins to break down into sand through erosion, plants begin to take root. It is the smaller plants, such as grass and moss that grow back first. Then larger plants and trees begin to grow. Once the plants begin to sprout, the animals return to their homes because there is now food for them to sustain their life cycles. Depending on the density of the area, it can take forests hundreds of years to fully recover from a volcanic eruption. (del Moral & Grishin, 1999)
Floods from hurricanes or other storms can cause rivers, and oceans to overflow their banks and flow into the surrounding area. Hurricanes leave areas of low pressure at the surface of the ocean when they pass. In this area of low pressure, the wind pushes the water up into a swell called a storm surge. Storm surges cause the greatest amount of damage during a hurricane. These overflows could cause algae, which are usually beneficial, to become overgrown. Algae can block out sunlight and deplete oxygen levels causing the deaths of many plants and animals. It can also destroy habitats and breading grounds of animals that thrive on the banks (Wroble, 2003).
Once the water levels recede back to normal, the flow of water to the ocean and the hydrologic cycle cleanse the waters and in a short period of time, usually two to three months, the water returns to its normal chemistry, plants re-grow, and animals return (Wroble, 2003). The recovery process can be longer if the flooding occurs near a city, or area where the floods can pick up man made pollutants.
Recovery in populated areas is much different and must be initiated by society. The more populated an area is, the more difficult and expensive the recovery efforts are. Immediate responses include quick construction of emergency medical facilities, creation of shelters, and shipments of food and clean water to be provided to the victims. The actual rebuilding can take years depending on the affected area and the economy. Debris must be cleared, buildings and businesses need to be repaired and rebuilt, and people either decide to rebuild, or relocate. The economy in the area is often in crisis until businesses are back up and running.
In modern times we have resources to help protect us from natural disasters. To protect us from floods and storm surges, structures are built to keep water out of residential and business areas. There are also many different tools used to predict the time, location, and severity of natural disasters. Because of our knowledge, we are often able to evacuate people in order to keep them safe during disasters. This makes the recovery cycle somewhat easier because there are survivors that can rebuild.
In ancient times, some civilizations never recovered from disasters. We are able to evacuate people because of tools and technology used to predict disasters; and although a long process, we can rebuild cities. Prior to these modern developments, people were not often warned of the arrival of disasters and they were not prepared.
Pompeii is a city in Italy situated directly above a subduction fault. Today, it is clear to us that this may not be a safe place to live and people can choose to reside there or not to. We also are able to detect warning signs that would warn us of a possible eruption. The people of Pompeii; however, were not aware of an impending disaster in 79AD. The volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius covered the city in volcanic rock and ash. Pompeii was just a small part of the vast Roman Empire, so the Roman civilization was able to continue to thrive and grow. The Minoans however were not so fortunate. The Minoan society on the island of Santorini was practically wiped out completely by a series of natural disasters including the volcanic eruption of Mt. Krakatau, earthquakes, and a tsunami; this lead to the downfall of the entire civilization circa 1470BC (del Moral & Grishin, 1999) . Scientists and historians are just beginning to learn about the Minoans because of underwater excavations of the ruins.