It is an ill wind turns none to good, Thomas Tusser taught us in the 16th century. He was so right. And it would be disastrous not to learn from the consequences of that wind.
So, after concluding our look back on the year since Tropical Storm Irene laid waste to so much property and so many hopes in the North Country, we’re grateful that much thought has been focused on decreasing our vulnerabilities and bolstering our readiness.
Irene was the second natural disaster to take historic tolls on our region during the past two decades. The Ice Storm of 1998 was the undisputed king of mayhem, virtually freezing the life out of the North Country for weeks. Five people died directly as a result of that calamity.
But, in the aftermath, stories emerged of neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger, so that the damage, literally to life and limb, was not worse.
Irene also inflicted severe damage on the landscape and took two lives in the process. And, again, the best of human nature surfaced to keep the suffering from being worse still.
Perhaps more important is that both storms reminded us all that we need to be prepared.
Nature doesn’t impose on us in the North Country the kinds of devastation we hear about elsewhere — the floods, fires, typhoons, hurricanes, tsunamis and other sources of destruction that level communities and kill by the hundreds or even thousands.
When we see the destruction and the threats to human life that the southeastern United States endures year after year, we should take some solace in the fact we don’t face that almost inevitable peril.
But we do occasionally stand in the path of a storm that will stalk the unprepared. We need to constantly ask ourselves whether we have defended ourselves against the worst we will confront. Do we need to absorb the high cost of flood insurance? Should we reinforce our dwellings and our public places? Are we equipped with generators and other potentially life-saving gear should the services we’re used to be taken from us?
The government, as we have learned so painfully, isn’t always going to be the protectors and restorers we may expect. But we gained knowledge from the Ice Storm that helped during Irene’s punches. Rescue equipment and generators were more available. Shelters were more easily established. Evacuation and rescue plans were in place.
As a hurricane, Irene demolished much in its path. We were at the end of its long, malignant journey. While the Southeast recently endured Isaac and is resigned to the certainty of that storm’s successors, we know our bouts will be far fewer and further between.
But let’s not assume that there will be none. The lessons have been painful, but, in their way, comforting nonetheless. We will learn from Irene, as we did from the Ice Storm.