The Raleigh News and Observer dedicated four pages of prelim coverage to the catastrophic event, with headlines such as "Shelters Ready as Isabel Heads for 1 PM Landfall," "Schools Are Closed from Triangle to the Coast" and "Trains, Some Flights, Performances Canceled." On Wednesday evening, September 17, several Public Health Service (PHS) comrades and I received voice mail messages from the Secretary [for the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services] Command Center (DHHS) with orders to report to the North Carolina State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Raleigh and assist in determining the need for Federal support. On Thursday, September 18, 1:00 pm, the eye of Hurricane Isabel passed over Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Based on my previous experiences with such events [usually from the comfort of my home], I imagine that the story that unfolded in the public eye through news accounts and pictures was primarily one of destruction, confusion, frustration and disappointment. While our hearts go out to those who suffered loss, my comrades and I were at the same time deeply moved by the practiced, professional, heroic and uplifting response of many individuals from several organizations that encompassed the NC State Emergency Response Team (SERT). From this experience we gained a very different perspective of this catastrophic event.
Hurricanes, destructive and disruptive as they may seem when they strike land, are important for life-essential balances on Earth.1 Researchers have shown that hurricanes play a vital role in sustaining the right range of temperatures for life. They counterbalance the ocean's tendency to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This leaching, if unchecked, would result in a catastrophic cooling of the planet. During the summer of 1995, three hurricanes over the Sargasso Sea increased the flow of carbon dioxide from the water to the atmosphere by more than fifty percent.2 So, hurricanes pull carbon dioxide from the ocean, collect it in one place and redistribute it to the atmosphere for the benefit of the planet. In much the same way, my comrades and I found that a hurricane can also collect people from the ocean of humanity, collect them in one place and redistribute them back into society, changed in a way that will help them better serve their fellow man.
On Thursday, the day Isabel hit the North Carolina coast, nearly 800,000 families, and many hospitals were left without power. By Sunday, thanks to the efforts of several area power companies, the National Guard, Civil Air and others, less than 100,000 families were without power and all hospitals were operational. Many generators had to be distributed by air due to road closings. On Thursday, Red Cross shelters in 26 counties were filled with nearly 2,000 people. By Sunday, just 133 people were reported in five shelters. On Thursday, the 3,000 residents of Hatteras Island that had not evacuated were stranded due to a new 300 yard inlet that cut them off from the rest of society. Their access road (State Route 12) was completely buried by water and sand for miles. By Sunday, the State of North Carolina and the National Guard had supplied them with all their needs, including generators and food supplies, an entire trailer of which was airlifted to the site. On Thursday, most of the residents of the Northeast quadrant of North Carolina did not have clean potable water, causing the implementation of a water boil advisory/warning. By Sunday, water plants in the region were back in operation and all residents had access to clean, potable water. Throughout all this, I felt and heard people calling out to God in unified prayer. Together pledging their allegiance to Him and our flag.
Meteorologists affirm that too many or too few hurricanes would spell disaster for advanced life on Earth. We can also contest to the fact that hurricanes draw people together to work and pray in a way that unites them and ignites them for a common worldly and heavenly good. The fact that their frequency and intensity fall into precisely the right range for life support provides one more piece of evidence that God carefully designed Earth with the necessities of life in mind.
1 Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2nd ed., (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), p. 136.
2 Nicholas R. Bates, Anthony H. Knap, and Anthony F. Michaels, Contribution of Hurricanes to Local and Global Estimates of Air-Sea Exchange of CO2, Nature, 395 (September 3, 1998), pp. 58-61.