Monday, August 10, 2009

Camille Brought Changes to Emergency Management

Can you imagine what something like Hurricane Camille would do to a uranium tailings pile?? Every stream, lake, river, field, forest, city and town, for hundreds of miles, would be contaminated with radioactive particulate from the hour of the storm until the end of time.

Please don't lull yourself into complacency by thinking Hurricane Camille was a once in a lifetime anomaly that won't happen again...Mother Nature is not always kind nor is she predictable. Virginia is a coastal state...chances are excellent that she will be hit over and over by hurricanes, tropical winds and tornadoes in the future just as she has been in the past. We can hope that nothing else as fierce as Camille never strikes VA again but to be safe from eternal radioactive ruin, uranium mining and milling must not be allowed in Virginia. Any other course of action is nothing short of criminal irresponsibility.

For a detailed picture of Virginia's history with hurricanes and tornadoes (current to 2006), take a look at Virginia's Weather History.

40th anniversary approaches for Virginia's worst natural disaster.

RICHMOND - Almost 40 years ago, the remnants of Hurricane Camille forever changed the lives of many Virginians and permanently altered the landscape of the Commonwealth. The storm also drastically changed emergency management in Virginia and throughout the country. Prior to Camille, emergency officials focused on protecting Virginians from the effect of atomic bombs. The night of Aug. 19, 1969, changed that.

Camille was a weakening tropical depression when it entered Virginia, and no one was expecting the 12 to 27 inches of rain the storm dumped in just a few short hours. Water flowed down mountainsides, uprooting trees and hurling them through homes, businesses and vehicles. Landslides were so deep and deadly that they swept away entire families, communities and even a tractor trailer that was never found.

Nelson County bore the brunt of the storm as 27 inches or more fell - an estimated 1.2 trillion gallons of water. Extensive river flooding affected Buena Vista, Lynchburg, Scottsville, Richmond and many other areas.

Camille left 153 dead in Virginia, more than 300 homes destroyed, 133 bridges washed out and damage of more than $140 million, an enormous amount for the time. President Nixon declared the state a disaster area.

News of the devastation was slow to reach Richmond and the State Office of Civil Defense, which would later become the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Officials began to act, but Virginia did not have a state emergency operations plan. Federal assistance was very limited.

Things changed after Camille. In 1971, the Commonwealth developed its first natural disaster plan. Testimony from Virginia state and local officials helped in the creation of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, the forerunner to the current national disaster recovery law.

"Up until that time, our agency focused mostly on protecting citizens from the threat of atomic bombs," said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, who joined the agency in 1972. "After Camille, it was apparent that we had to help prepare and protect people from natural disasters and also improve our response and recovery plans."

Virginia's emergency operations plan has been improved many times during the years and now reflects both human-caused and natural hazards.

"Emergency management is much more defined now," said Cline. "Local, state and federal responders train year-round. We have new technologies that give us critical information in real time, and we work together under a standardized structure. We are much better prepared to protect people and property."

Even with the improvements in emergency management during the past 40 years, it is essential that Virginians know what to do to protect themselves and their families in case of emergencies. To learn more about preparing your family for disasters, go to

Emergency preparedness is everyone's responsibility

Everyone should have a personal emergency plan.

Everyone should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least the first 72 hours in an emergency.

September is National Preparedness Month.

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