Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, both high category storms, have devastated parts of South America, the Caribbean Islands, and the Southern United States over the last three weeks.
Deaths directly caused by Hurricane Harvey are believed to exceed 83, almost all of which are in the US. At the time of writing, the death toll from Irma is at approximately 81, mostly in the Caribbean area.
Irma quickly progressed from a category 2 to a category 5 hurricane within three days, causing significant damage and forcing officials to declare a state of emergency in Puerto Rico and the state of Florida. The damage was particularly devastating on the island of Barbuda, where the entire 1,800 strong population had to be evacuated to the nearby island Antigua, and an estimated 95 percent of the islandís structures have been damaged.
The British government has promised to provide £32 million to aid relief efforts, and has pledged to double any money donated directly through the Red Cross from the British public. However, the government has been criticised for their slow crisis response in comparison to France and the Netherlands.
Politicians Tom Tugendhat and Stephen Twigg have both voiced their views that the British government displayed a “lack of forward-thinking” even while knowing just how devastating the natural disasters would be for the British territories in the Caribbean.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed that the government “should have acted much faster” in anticipation of the storms. HMS Ocean from the Royal Navy fleet has been dispatched from Gibraltar with supplies and troops in an effort to assist in vital aid work, but will take two weeks from the time of launching to arrive where it is needed.
Donald Trump’s response to both catastrophes was broadcast via social media.
Of Hurricane Harvey, the President tweeted, “Wow – now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood.”
He took a similar response to the second storm, with, “Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen!”.
These tweets came only a few days after a speech made in front of reporters aboard Air Force One, where he claimed that, “if you go back into the 30s and 40s, and you go back into the teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, okay?”
Politcally speaking, Trump will be well aware of the domestic pressure that a natural disaster can bring. The reaction of leaders to crises often has a strong effect on the public perception of their performance, and Trump, with historically low approval ratings and a well established desire to be seen as strong and active, will be determined to get the reponse to this emergency correct.
The size of Hurricane Harvey and Irma have meant that the extent of the devastation has gone far beyond simply the territories in the stormsí trajectories. Due to the far-reaching nature of the storms themselves, landfalls, broken structures, and human casualties have been reported in a wide radius around where the hurricanes directly hit.
The formation of two super storms within days of one another is an unusual weather phenomonon and has reopened the debate over climate change and itís affects on the worldís weather patterns.