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Facing (Un)Natural Disasters

Humans Across the Globe Face a Series of Natural Disasters due to Climate Change

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes. These words have been appearing a lot on the news recently. Hawaii’s wildfires, which happened only a month ago, set a start to a number of natural disasters to follow, such as another series of wildfires in multiple regions around North America. Not long after, Greece and Libya faced harsh flooding events, and continents around the Atlantic Ocean became at risk from hurricanes. Most recently, a severe earthquake in Morocco left many killed or seriously injured. As of September 2023, it only took about a month for all of these events to occur, and there are many more that have gone unrecognized.

“I feel like I wasn’t personally affected, but I know that it hurts me that a lot of people near me and a lot of people from where I moved from, Guam, were affected a lot,” junior Giada Price said.

When Hawaii wildfires set in on Aug. 8, 2023, global concerns regarding the severity and death toll spiked on the internet and in local areas, predominantly on islands of Maui and Lahaina. Only a day after the wildfires began, an emergency proclamation was extended to the entire state. The wildfires, under unusual weather conditions from a storm such as high air pressure and extreme winds, faced destructive blazes and started spreading at a faster rate. On Aug. 15, officials declared an estimate of the area burnt to be around 3,200 acres, constituting 10 square miles. At least 2,200 buildings were destroyed, and the economic toll is estimated at up to 6 billion dollars. As of mid-September, the latest announcement from the government reports that 31 people are missing, and 97 people died, 74 of whom are identified. The precise cause of this detrimental event remains under investigation, but abnormally dry conditions in around 80% of Hawaii and severe droughts in some areas, accompanied with a tangled interaction between construction, vegetation and other factors of climate change, are attributed to an increased risk of wildfires.

“My biggest concern is with the loss of human life and the amount of  injuries that people sustain,” senior Venkat Maddipotti said. “I think with these natural disasters you can’t really do much to stop them, but it’s important that we make sure anybody that could be affected are in a situation where they won’t be affected.”

While the public’s attention went mostly towards Hawaii wildfires, Hawaii was certainly not the only state going through severe natural disasters. In California, flooding rain as an aftermath of Hurricane Hilary also led to a call for a state of emergency on Aug. 19. After the storm, the roads across California were swept away with water and mud, and several rescue missions took place. On Aug. 20, San Diego saw the wettest day on record with 1.82 inches of rain, beating the previous record dating back to 1977. As in the case of Hawaii wildfires, it is impossible to attribute one event to flooding in California; however, experts claim El Nino, a natural climate cycle that involves high sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric changes, is a prominent factor. Typically occurring every two to seven years, El Nino is associated with rainfall, severe drought, hurricane and climate warming. This year, El Nino led to a massive heatwave around the world, especially in the U.S., Greece, Italy, Spain, India and China. Among these countries, Greece also experienced flooding that destroyed farmland, crushed the roads and left 16 people dead.

“Now it [climate change] is up in your face,” sophomore Will Yaegar said. “A while back in the early 2000s, my mom was hearing about climate change for the first time. Now we have more hurricanes and wildfires, the weather is more extreme and it is hotter outside. Now it feels like we are really starting to see it.”

Even in the midst of these events, many individuals outside of the affected areas, including at Maclay, were not fully aware of ongoing issues with the environment. At the end of August, however, discussions regarding these issues became more prevalent on campus when Florida was hit by Hurricane Idalia. On Aug. 30, Idalia arrived near Keaton Beach as a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds and was later reduced to a tropical storm. High winds and increased water levels damaged countless homes and businesses, and trees and power lines went down, which resulted in evacuation orders in at least 28 counties. The impacts extended to Maclay as well, causing the school to close for two days. After striking Florida, the storm took its way to Georgia and South Carolina.

“Luckily we did not have any extreme damage to our house and our power wasn’t out for too long,” freshman Lauren Conn said. “[But I was concerned that] it was  going to be very destructive for houses along the coast and lots of people could become homeless or have severe damage from these events.”

On the other side of the planet, in North Africa, a destructive earthquake wreaked havoc on Morocco. The quake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit the High Atlas Mountains on Sept. 8, marking Morocco's deadliest one since 1960. The damage quickly spread to surrounding areas, leaving thousands dead or injured. Of  2,946 deaths confirmed, 1,684 came from the province of Al Haouz. In some villages like Tafeghaghte, residents claimed that half of their population died. In total, 2.8 million people were affected. International governments have organized funds to support Morocco, but aftershocks are expected to continue.

“These things are regular occurrences for us; earthquakes happen a lot, and hurricanes happen a lot,” upper school physics teacher Will Perry said. “But I feel like we need to throw more resources at our ability to predict them because we don’t tend to do that well, and a part of that is that these are newer sciences – things that we haven’t been looking at for long periods of time – and they’re also very complicated matters because of things like pressure differentials.”

Just as the name suggests, natural disasters happen due to natural occurrences and are most often impossible to prevent. However, the severity of damage could be eased with technology and human effort. One of the common voices in response to a recent series of natural hazards is that humans need to put more focus on developing and utilizing technologies to predict natural disasters. Still, the most common opinion from the public revolves around nature itself. In communities under marginalization and inaccessibility of resources, the aftermath of natural disasters is more harsh. Moreover, human-caused environmental factors like deforestation, urbanization, environmental degradation, climate change and water scarcity, just to name a few, increase the chance of natural disasters. To make a real impact, however, our planet requires internationally combined human effort led by large corporations with greater influences rather than individuals. Especially after humans have witnessed multiple tragedies over such a short period of time, more needs to be done than said.

“Stuff like earthquakes is geologic in the way that that occurs, but the weather events are what really concern me, and I do worry they’re just going to continue to get worse,” upper school biology teacher Arial Evans said. “We don’t spend enough time outside or experience the planet as was intended biologically as people, so I feel like everyone should spend more time caring about nature.”


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