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The Monitor's View

Hurricane Earl brings a whirlwind of fear. It needn't.

The path of hurricane Earl up the East Coast may bring fear and panic instead of calm preparation. Coastal residents can adopt an attitude that can meet nature's challenges.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / September 2, 2010



Each new hurricane that strikes or skirts America’s shores also brings a whirlwind of fear. Along the East Coast, hurricane Earl has been no different.

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What should be a spirit of readiness and caution appears to be slipping into panic, especially with fresh memories of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit the Gulf Coast five years ago. Unchecked, such fear can spread like cyclonic wind.

Is there an antidote to weather fright?

Certainly government officials, especially FEMA and top weather experts, must be well trained to word their warnings carefully and be precise in their advice on taking precautionary measures. They must also calm fears by citing what steps will be taken during and after a hurricane hits, such as making sure health and housing needs will be met.

Those most vulnerable to disasters – the poor, aged, and infirm – are most in need of help. That has a way of opening the heart and bringing calm to dispel any hysteria.

With Earl heading near Cape Cod, it is worth remembering that the Puritans first sailed into those waters in 1630 from England with similar trepidations about the brute wilderness they were entering. Their leader, John Winthrop, wrote to his fellow passengers: “Every man [and woman] must afford his [and her] help to another in every want or distress.”

Winthrop, who was the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, also asked his fellow Puritans to express “less respect toward ourselves” and to be “knit together ... as one man.”

A unity of spirit to meet nature’s challenges can bring the intelligent responses and the adequate resources that are needed. It can help prevent the kind of tragic errors that often make a natural catastrophe worse.

Another way to deal with hurricane fear is to learn from those who have been through one. When asked about their lives after Katrina, many people in the areas around New Orleans talk about their gratitude.

While the suffering was large, so, too, were the many blessings. The outpouring of support in donations and volunteering was overwhelming – and still is. New Orleans itself has been revived with better government, better housing, better schools – and better preparation for another hurricane.

Is preemptive gratitude a way to lessen fears before a hurricane like Earl hits?

Not every disaster has a silver lining, of course, but the hope of something good coming out of an event seen as harmful can have a mental effect that lessens, if not prevents, harm.

Hurricanes like Earl seem vast to humans who may see themselves as small in comparison. But a strong measure of calmness, charity, unity, and gratitude can go a long way to make sure everyone is big enough to weather any storm.

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