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After El Nino, Prepare for La Nina

Kathy Quintana is chairwoman of disaster emergency services for the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross

It seems that bashing the media has become a national pastime. Last summer the public grew weary of all the coverage on El Nino.

Nevertheless, newscasts gave frequent progress reports and newspapers dedicated pages to this global climate change. The last time El Nino had visited us in 1983, it resulted in more than $25 million in damage to the county, including significant damage to the Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and San Clemente piers. Heavy flooding occurred in the coastal communities and more than 600 people were forced to evacuate their homes. Fifteen years later, the message was clear: Be prepared for El Nino.

Initially, the tenacious nature of the coverage blinded reality. Weather stayed perfect. Winter was here and doubters wondered if El Nino was just more fodder for the media’s hype machine. Those doubts have been erased.

The devastation and tragedy caused by February’s El Nino storms have left an inexorable impression on Orange County. Torrential rains, tornado-force winds and earth-sliding walls of mud destroyed homes and upturned lives, killing two people. Since El Nino first hit the county, the Red Cross has cared for some 250 storm victims, providing meals, shelter, clothing and other vital services.

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But for all the destruction, the situation could have been far more devastating. Thanks to the “hype,” residents and businesses took steps to protect themselves. These same media outlets provided constant information on what the public could do to minimize hazards. Orange County Red Cross Disaster Services staff, both paid and volunteer, has seen evidence of this preparedness everywhere.

The job of the American Red Cross is to keep the public informed and help them prepare for any emergency or disaster. It’s an important job that we do not take lightly. The media should be thanked for raising awareness. Without the help, the impact of El Nino could have been more tragic.

We challenge the local media to continue raising public awareness about the probable effects of El Nino’s aftermath, La Nina. Experts say that the weather this summer will be hotter than usual, and with increased brush growth, there will be a greater risk of wildfires. Heightened awareness will encourage the public to prepare now to protect our families.

The Orange County Red Cross remains steadfast in helping families prepare.


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