Where’s the preparation?
As I am writing this piece, I am completely isolated. Due to the snowstorm in Washington, D.C. area, I cannot open my front door and leave my house. I tried to clear a path to the garage, but I gave up in 30 minutes, progressing less than 3 meters (10 feet).
Shoveling simply didn’t help. In preparation for the storm, I had scattered calcium chloride around my house every three hours through the night. A neighbor gave me a thumbs up and said “Good job!” and I mistakenly thought that I would win over the blizzard.
But my work was in vain. Before calcium chloride could melt the snow, more snow fell. Only a few days ago, we used to say this winter would be historically warm, with cherry blossoms blooming in D.C. But we must have forgotten how powerful Mother Nature can be.
The Tohoku earthquake taught me the power of nature. As a Tokyo correspondent, I experienced countless typhoons and earthquakes. During the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami five years ago, I nearly died. In Japan, 7,500 earthquakes of various sizes occur every year, and 1,500 of them can be felt by people. Last year, there were only five days on which Japan did not have an earthquake.
The blizzard in the Washington, D.C., area had the biggest snowfall since 1922, or in 94 years. The storm was accompanied by strong winds. However, aside from certain inconveniences, the damage was not serious. Japan also does not suffer from earthquakes often, aside from the devastating Tohoku earthquake.
I thought about the reasons for my isolation. I concluded that the preemptive preventative measures by the authorities were the answer.
Authorities in Washington, D.C., announced the suspension of metro services at 7 a.m. on Jan. 21, 30 hours before the storm began at 1 p.m. on Jan. 22. Thousands of flights departing from and arriving in airports all across the east coast were cancelled. The decisions were made on Jan. 21, when it was still sunny. Passengers on cancelled flights were told they wouldn’t be charged for changing their flight to another date. The mayor had a televised press conference. I thought they were being excessive before the blizzard even began, but preemption turned out to be the key.
Japan is also well-prepared. When a natural disaster is anticipated, the authorities order or recommend evacuation. Citizens don’t criticize the decision, even when the situation doesn’t turn out to be as dire as the forecast.
Jeju Airport was snowed in over the weekend, and 1,200 flights were cancelled. Ninety thousand passengers were stranded in the aftermath of the island’s first snowstorm in 32 years. But when the blizzard was forecast, the authorities should have made preemptive plans and notified passengers of possible cancellations. They shouldn’t have let the passengers board their flights. If heavy snow isn’t anticipated, it poses a serious problem.
Blizzards hit both Washington, D.C., and Jeju last weekend, and the chaos of Jeju Airport was an embarrassing contrast to the calm and empty Ronald Reagan Airport.
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 26, Page 34
BY KIM HYUN-KI