While the Pine Belt suffered minimal damage and disruption from Hurricane Isaac, many other communities in the storm’s path were far less lucky. Property and infrastructure damage is eventually expected to run to several billion dollars from this single slow-moving Category 1 storm.
Major infrastructure damage – to roads, bridges, dams, power plants, water and sewer systems – is par for the course with extreme weather, including storms, heat and drought. Asphalt melts, roads buckle, dams crack, water systems are inundated and corrupted. The decaying and neglected state of much of the nation’s infrastructure only amplifies the damage.
The connection between extreme weather and threats to the infrastructure is clear. There’s a positive, unmediated correlation; as the frequency of extreme weather events goes up, so does the threat to infrastructure. Local and state authorities, reeling under the impact of year after year of bad budgets, understand this only too well, and are already protesting their incapacity to meet infrastructure maintenance and repair needs.
Somehow less evident seems to be the profound connection of damaged infrastructure to public safety and health. Unfortunately, awareness of threat tends to wax and wane with the immediacy of crisis. A bridge collapsing, a dam bursting – especially if people die as a result – is dramatic and draws at least short-term attention. But damaged or decrepit water and sewerage systems – easily forgotten once the storm has passed and the “boil water” notices are lifted – in fact take a longer-term, and ultimately heavier, toll on the people’s health and safety.
Ignoring or minimizing public infrastructure needs – like ignoring or minimizing climate change and its contribution to extreme weather – puts us all at risk.