Disasters complicate pandemics, and vice versa.
The flooding in Central Michigan and the powerful cyclone plowing into South Asia are showing us how the measures we take to be safe from one kind of calamity can heighten our danger from another.
When a dam bursts or a ferocious storm bears down, the people in harm’s way must evacuate their homes and find shelter — the opposite of staying at home and maintaining social distancing. So fleeing the flood exposes you to the coronavirus, and fleeing the coronavirus exposes you to the flood.
Cyclone Amphan, one of the strongest Indian Ocean storms in decades, slammed into the east coast of India on Wednesday and menaced Bangladesh. Both countries are densely populated, and both are under lockdown orders.
More than three million people living in swampy coastal areas of the two nations evacuated to emergency cyclone shelters. But some of the shelters were only half-full, because of widespread fear of packing into places where the virus could spread easily.
And in Michigan, after two dams on the Tittabawassee River failed on Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implored residents to evacuate immediately — but also to keep following social-distancing precautions, which she acknowledged would not be easy in shelters.
“To go through this in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable,” the governor said. “But we are here, and to the best of our ability, we are going to navigate this together.”
At a high school in Midland, Mich., volunteers in masks set up cots and air mattresses six feet apart, encouraged people to sanitize their hands every two hours and frequently wiped down surfaces with disinfectant, The Detroit Free Press reported.
“Everything is just so weird right now,” one evacuee at the school told the paper. “I’m just waiting for the meteor.”