Vulnerability to Disaster

Vulnerability to Disaster

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The Recovery Taskforce Identifies the Persons Who Most Need Assistance and Advocacy

All persons are vulnerable to disaster and the negative effects on their lives and property, however, some persons are less vulnerable to problems in recovery because they have personal resources or access to external resources.

The Taskforce and long-term recovery program will endeavor to identify all persons who may need support or advocacy following the disaster.  However the greatest attention will usually be directed toward those with the fewest resources and least ability to cope or provide for their own recovery.

The persons and families most vulnerable to technology-caused disasters are usually the same as those in natural disasters.  Care must be taken to identify those who are dependent on others for food, shelter, transportation, and daily care due to:

  • age
  • economic status or income level
  • health or physical well-being
  • ethnicity, immigration status
  • language, literacy
  • type of employment

The adverse impacts of environmental contamination have for generations been linked with poverty and with political disenfranchisement, i.e. persons with no power over the condition of their neighborhoods and living conditions.  Observation suggests that a community's economic status is a frequent factor in the proximity of housing, schools, and churches to operating or abandoned hazardous waste sites.

Some populations of special concern:

  • Children
  • Pregnant and nursing women
  • Elders
  • Persons who are not fluent in speaking or reading English because they may not understand warnings and evacuation bulletins, roles of government, police and fire departments or their rights and how to access resources; they don't participate in planning; they may be shy and fear bias or hate crimes
  • Agricultural workers, factory workers, landscape and grounds workers, and research personnel who often work around chemicals
  • Itinerant farmworkers who may leave an area before the danger has been identified

"A toxic cloud poured form the punctured rail cars ..."

January 18, 2002:  A deadly train derailment occurred in Minot, North Dakota, resulting in a massive anhydrous ammonia leak.  A total of 31 cars derailed in the incident, including fifteen tankers each carrying 30,000 gallons of the anhydrous ammonia.  At least 7 of the tankers ruptured, releasing over 200,000 gallons of the toxic substance.  Much of the chemical vaporized in the sub-zero air, forming a toxic cloud that drifted over Minot in the early morning hours.  Rescuers initially reported one fatality and injuries to more than 300 people.  But, in fact, the reported injury toll in the months that followed rose to more than 1,600.

The wreck affected life in Minot in other ways, too.  Most residents in Tierrecita Vallejo, the neighborhood closest to the derailment, were forced from their homes for six weeks or longer.  Clean-up crews dug up more than 72,000 tons of polluted soil and cut up more than 25,000 square feet of ice from the Souris River.  Canadian Pacific Railway pumped 15 million gallons of contaminated groundwater into the Minot sewer system, a process that was estimated to take three years.

Derailed Lives:



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Contact Info

Zachary Wolgemuth
Executive for UCC Disaster Ministries
700 Prospect Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115