Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 19 Issue 02

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Volume 19, No. 2
Pages 138 - 147


Disasters, Death, and Destruction— Making Sense of Recent Calamities

By Roger A. Pielke, Jr.  
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A disaster happens when an extreme event occurs in the context of societal vulnerability. Nowhere is the meeting of vulnerability and extreme more tangible than where the land meets the sea. This was horrifically apparent on 26 December 2004 when a powerful earthquake under the eastern Indian Ocean caused a massive tsunami that killed more than 280,000 people and caused billions of dollars (all dollars in this article refer to U.S. dollars) in damage. Other disasters at the ocean-land boundary are similarly fresh in our minds—the U.S. hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and more deaths than in the previous 35 years combined. We do not have to look too far back in time to recall other tragedies, such as Hurricane Jeanne, which killed several thousand people in Haiti in 2004; the Venezuelan coastal landslides in 1999, which killed upwards of 30,000 people; and Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed more than 10,000 people, mainly in Nicaragua and Honduras (Taft, 2004; Pielke et al., 2003). In 1991, perhaps 150,000 people died in Bangladesh as the result of storm surge and flooding from a tropical cyclone (Pielke and Pielke, 1997).


Pielke, R.A., Jr. 2006. Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture: Disasters, death, and destruction—Making sense of recent calamities. Oceanography 19(2):138–147, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2006.83.

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