Natural Disaster Recovery Times Vary

April 22, 2010; 9:12 PM ET
Share | is interested in the long-term effects of storms. (Photo Courtesy of AP Images)

After nature unleashes its fury, the recovery time is as unexpected as the disaster itself.

Greensburg, Kan.

Nearly three years ago, the small town of Greensburg, Kan. was obliterated by an EF-5 tornado. Left with little more than debris and destruction, the town was forced to rebuild from scratch.

Faced with that daunting task, Greensburg residents decided to take the disaster and transform their town with an eye to the future by implementing green technology and tornado-resistant architecture.

The tornado completely destroyed Greensburg High School and severely damaged the rest of the district.

"We are building a LEED Platinum K-12 facility that will be completed in August," said Superintendent Darin Headrick.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings provide a set of standards for an environmentally sustainable design.

"All county kids will have access to the new, sustainable, eco-friendly and technologically advanced educational facility," said Headrick.

The bigger and more advanced school is just one of the many rebuilding projects to truly make Greensburg live up to its name.

Solar and wind technologies are being used, as well as building with better insulation and using more natural light.

The school grounds after the tornado hit almost three years ago. (Photo Courtesy of AP Images)

The new school should be ready by this upcoming school year. (Photo Courtesy of

Fargo, N.D.

With preparation and an eye on the weather, one city in North Dakota was able to prevent a disaster this year.

Fargo was extremely prepared for the forecast flooding of the Red River.

"We've had decades of experience with flooding, and this year we were able to put that knowledge to use," said Karena Carlson, Communications Manager of Fargo.

After the town suffered from a major flood reaching over 40 feet last year, this year the town was prepared for Mother Nature's worst.

"Preparation began months before the original crest date was predicted," Carlson said. "Twenty miles of temporary protection were put in place."

Over 1 million sandbags were filled. Middle and high school students from the area were given the option to stay in class or help during the day. Many city employees, including firefighters, were also a part of the protection plan.

When the river crested on March 21 at just below 37 feet, Fargo saw little damage due to the coming together of the town.

"Keeping an eye on the weather is very important when it comes to protecting our town," Carlson said. "We were observing the flood forecast for months."


However, most places do not have that much time to prepare for disasters.

Louisiana was faced with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and three weeks later they were hit with Rita. In 2008, Gustav made landfall, and then Ike shortly after.

"We are in a process of long-term rebuilding," said Christina Stephens, Spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority. "There is at least another 10 years of recovery."

Hurricane Katrina was considered one of the worst engineering disasters in U.S. history.

"There were 64 levee breaches," said Stephens. "It is going to take billions of dollars and many more years to ensure the levees are built the right way."

The authority's mission is to ensure the rebuilding of safer, smarter and stronger infrastructure than before.

"Our focus at the Recovery Authority is to find the safest and best way to move forward," said Stephens.

They have the largest homeowner elevation program. The program has already donated $8.4 million to 127 families to rebuild, repair or move into a new home.

"Weather plays a huge role in our lives," said Stephens. "It is important for everyone to plan and watch the weather."


Other natural disasters are as unexpected as their recovery time.

Haiti was struck by a catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010. Loss of life was over 200,000, and an estimated 1 million people were left without homes.

The rainy season for Haiti is about to begin, which is going to cause even more problems for the recovery efforts.

"It appears that they are not ready for it," said Expert Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno. "Millions have been displaced to outdoor shelters in low-lying areas."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages citizens to be prepared.

"Every disaster is different, so the length of recovery efforts vary greatly on the nature of the incident," said FEMA Representative Mary Olsen.

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