Super storm shows power of nature; man’s ability to respond

The raw power of super storm Sandy was on full display Monday and Tuesday along the East Coast, hammering, especially, New York and New Jersey.

Great walls of water tore up beaches and flooded towns and cities, including the City that Never Sleeps.

And after doing it’s worst to the coast, the storm headed north across Pennsylvania toward Canada, dumping rain and snow along a line that stretched from Lake Michigan to Maine.

For Mahoning Valley residents cold rain — lots of it — was an uncomfortable reminder only of how lucky we were. A few hundred miles away, Sandy was a killer storm; here she was an inconvenience.

At this writing, the death toll as reported by the Associated Press was 50 and rising. More than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far west as Michigan.

But clearly the hardest hit were the states of New York and New Jersey, where power substations exploded, people had to be rescued from rooftops, hospitals had to be evacuated and a neighborhood of 80 homes was leveled by a flash fire.

Still, the one message that was heard repeatedly Tuesday was how well coordinated the emergency response had been and how much worse it could have been.

Governors and mayors crossed political lines to give credit to President Barack Obama for the effectiveness of the government’s response.

Thousands of Mahoning Valley residents who had been looking forward to President Obama’s scheduled Monday visit became aware of the seriousness of the threat when his appearance here was cancelled.

FEMA responds

When a natural disaster threatens multiple states and tens of millions of people, the proper role of the federal government comes sharply into focus.

When damage is likely to exceed $20 billion to restore roads and bridges, or rebuild ens of thousands of homes and businesses, the job is too big for any one state. And the challenge of coordinating immediate and long range responses properly falls to the federal government.

That was the idea behind the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1978, and since then it has responded to disasters ranging from chemical spills to fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. The Mahoning and Shenango valleys got a firsthand view of FEMA’s response to the tornadoes of May 31, 1985.

This super storm has focused political attention on an issue that wasn’t part of the general election campaign, but did come up in the Republican primaries. It was then that Gov. Mitt Romney said he would shutdown FEMA because its work would be better done by the individual states. It is difficult to understand how New Jersey and New York — not to mention 15 other states — would have been better off if each had been left to rely on its own disaster response teams and infrastructure.

It’s equally difficult to understand Romney’s stance that it is “immoral” for the federal government to take on the expense of disaster relief at a time of budget deficits.

We doubt that the states, businesses and people who are being helped today and will be helped in the coming weeks and months to rebuild will feel they are immoral recipients of federal largesse. But we wouldn’t be surprised if before a day or two passes Gov. Romney explains what he really meant.

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