EDITORIAL | Disaster victims are not equal

Americans are not equal. There are many examples of this, but few so glaring as the response to natural disasters.

A big natural disaster affecting thousands of Americans gets a huge response, both in government and private giving. A small natural disaster gets a big “ho hum,” as if what happens to a relatively few people living on Whidbey Island doesn’t require any help.

Last week, the Island County commissioners officially ended the emergency declaration for Ledgewood Beach. The March 27 landslide there gained considerable attention, nationally and regionally. The number of people whose property was damaged or ruined was small. One house was red tagged, meaning it was unsafe to enter, while five were yellow tagged, meaning homeowners could visit their homes but for only a few hours to collect belongings. Others have problems we haven’t heard about.

Although few, their lives were still disrupted and even devastated. Many people have almost all their wealth tied up in a home, and insurance companies write policies excluding land movements and water damage. Residents are literally wet, but figuratively left high and dry.

Compare that to the response to Hurricane Sandy last winter on the East Coast. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged but there was no problem getting help. The federal government doled out at least $50 billion in relief. The Red Cross collected over $300 million. Total spending is estimated at over $60 billion.

With this money people are rebuilding public facilities, businesses and homes. Waterfront homes that should never have been built so close to the water are being rebuilt with flood insurance backed by the federal government.

The lesson is that if a hillside falls on your house at Fox Spit, Ledgewood Beach or Possession Point, nobody cares. You’re on your own. If a hurricane damages 10,000 houses the government response is immense. Ultimately, it has something to do with the number of voters affected and who they will vote for in the next election.

It’s not fair that Ledgewood Beach slide victims are on their own. Here’s an ironic wish: When the inevitable “big one” hits one of Whidbey’s earthquake fault lines, let’s hope it’s really big. Otherwise, we’re on our own.


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