Is This Disaster Natural Enough For You?

Last Friday I read an innocent enough tweet from @Slate:

Tornado outbreak now the worst US natural disaster since Katrina: 29 2011

My first reaction was “wow, those tornados were nasty.” ¬†Which is, i’m sure, how it was intended. Then I thought “worst? what are they using to determine badness?” ¬†Of course, this was somewhat of a second-level headline. ¬†The main headline said it was the “deadliest US natural disaster”. ¬†So the manager of the twitter account had taken the step from death = worst (i tweeted a response), which the author (Josh Voorhees) of the article likely didn’t mean to imply.

I’m sure the economic impact of Hurricane Ike was much greater than that of the recent tornados. ¬†Tornados are pinpoint, one block can be toothpicks the next unharmed. ¬†Hurricanes paint with big brushes, but thankfully we get advanced warning which mitigates deaths. ¬†I’m would guess that Ike left more homeless as well. ¬†(Death tolls: Katrina ~1800, Ike ~200, recent tornadoes ~300+)

Not wanting to figure a calculus for death vs. destruction, I soon focused in on “natural disaster”. ¬†Hurricane Katrina, like Hurricane Ike, was itself a weather event, and caused a natural disaster. ¬†But the Flooding of New Orleans was not a natural disaster. ¬†It was caused by the breaching of a human-made levee, a combination of engineering and bureaucratic failure. ¬†I would certainly not attribute all those deaths to “natural disaster”.

Was the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis a natural disaster? ¬†Certainly the elements caused it to deteriorate, but I think all of us would answer “no”.

The recent earthquake-tsunami combination in Japan was certainly a natural disaster. ¬†Was the subsequent Chernobyl-sized welt-down and the economic and possible death toll? ¬†I would certainly say “no”.

So, I ask again, was the Flooding of New Orleans a natural disaster?  The only answer can be no!