The Joplin Tornado

I’ve posted before on my frustration about above-ground power lines and how dangerous they are in a storm. And in certain footage of the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, two days ago, the first thing you see when the tornado touches down is a power line being snapped.

But enough about above-ground power lines. On to the next “duh” issue. Every time there’s a tornado in this country, and that’s several times a year in Tornado Alley, TV reporters show us how houses have just disappeared, and how houses were blown apart “like matchsticks.” Well, that’s because that’s pretty much what they are.

Our house under construction

American houses are mostly made of sticks and sheet rock. 2″ x 4″ sticks, with some 2″ x 6″ ones here and there.

And for you Dutchies, sheetrock isn’t any kind of rock. It’s gipsplaat. Half an inch thick at most. So yeah, when a tornado hits, your house is no shelter to speak of.

Our finished house

They may look like they’re made of brick, or, in our case, stone, but that’s just veneer. Those walls are not load-bearing. They have no structural value. They’re just for looks. Nothing more than Disney World facades.

Not only is your house about as much of a shelter in a tornado as a cardboard box would be, but all those sticks go flying around at 100 miles an hour, and act as deadly projectiles. They will go right through the sticks-and-sheet-rock walls of houses that are still standing, and can spear you in your bed.

So, in the case of Joplin, about 117 people (so far) died, and their neighborhoods are wiped out. When is America going to catch on? In the Caribbean, where they have hurricanes all the time, the houses are made of concrete. Heck, in Holland, where nothing ever happens, the houses are made of concrete. But in America everything is about the bottom line and therefore about using as few materials as possible. Hence the sticks and sheet rock.

The government could force builders to build houses that the big bad wolf can’t blow down, or can’t blow down entirely at least. Prefab concrete panels can’t really be that much more expensive. And it would sure save billions on insurance payouts and government aid, not to mention lives and memories lost, which are priceless. Because that’s what the government is for: protecting people, putting regulations in place that ensure safety over greed where “the market” doesn’t do that by itself. But again, that would be seen as government interference, so it’s never going to happen. And people’s lives will continue to be destroyed every tornado season and every hurricane season.

It’s a tragedy, but to me the biggest tragedy is that it’s preventable. Sure, mother Nature is powerful, but a country that can send people to the moon can build houses that don’t get blown completely to smithereens. That wheel was invented quite a while ago already.

4 responses to “The Joplin Tornado

  1. Heck, in Holland, where nothing ever happens, the houses are made of concrete.
    Hey! The nave of the Dom cathedral blew down in a big storm! Sure it was back in the 1600s and it sounds like it was being built the way the US builds houses … 😉

    For so many reasons, I love not having powerlines overhead now. It’s ridiculous that they continue to leave them overhead in the US. It can’t possibly be more cost-effective considering the number of power lines that are downed each winter by snow and ice just in the city I used to live in in NC. Add in tornadoes and hurricanes and car wrecks and tree branches and the million other things that seem to down lines and it just doesn’t make sense not to bury them.


  2. Exactly. It was in the 1600s, not the 21st century. And I’m not saying that having concrete houses would prevent all damage. If a semi lands on your house, it’s going to be crushed, and roofs will come off, but houses wouldn’t be so totally obliterated and it would save a lot of lives and heartache.


  3. Marie-Jacqueline

    Was just roaming around your blog, when I saw this one!

    It is so true! Everytime when a natural disaster happens in the US I always arequestioning why do they have many electricity cables etc. not underground?
    Much saver and less costly in repairs!

    The same about the houses!
    How they are build! Just a “windkracht 12” storm and everything is blowen away.

    It is not cheap to build a house to withstand forces of nature but in the end it is cheaper. Can’t they grasp that?

    I just won’t start about earthquakes; where I live it is near the “Peel breuklijn”; so I know what an earthquake is.
    The strongest one ever recorded in the Netherlands; the epic center very close to my hometown (5,8 on the Richter scale) in april 1992

    How can houses in the US in earthquake regions resist that and much ore as we did here?


    • Yes, there’s not a lot of long-term thinking in America in certain areas. Building and neighborhood infrastructure is one of them. As long as a house lasts longer than the mortgage, it’s good enough. And if government doesn’t require electricity companies to put their wires underground, they won’t, because it’s cheaper that way. And if a local government looks like it might require it, the electricity companies just donate to certain election campaigns and the problem goes away again. As for earthquake resistance, it seems that in California they do a lot more to make buildings up to earthquake code than the rest of the country does to put electricity underground.

      Liked by 1 person

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