In face of disaster, take cautious path

New York's Michael Bloomberg is having one of those can't-win-for-losing runs.

Around Christmas last year, the New York City mayor got a stocking full of coal from irate New Yorkers. He came under fire for underestimating the impact that a severe storm system would have on his city. The storm paralyzed New York, and many critics felt the city was far too slow in reacting to the weather conditions that left heaping piles of snow.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Hurricane Irene is bearing down in the East Coast mainland. On Saturday, as rainfall started in New York, Bloomberg made a decision to order 370,000 people in low-lying areas of the city to evacuate.

At the time, some projections were calling for a storm-of-the-century type weather event. And that may be what they end up calling it -- in Vermont and other areas that absorbed the brunt of Irene. From North Carolina, where the hurricane made landfall, to Vermont, 35 people lost their lives. In NYC, though, there were downed power lines and some flooding. Initially there were reports Sunday that no one in New York City had been injured, though Monday there was a report that there may have been one drowning.

The lack of severity of the event has a lot of New Yorkers second-guessing the mayor's action. Some argue that he was overcompensating for the bad call he made last December.

The fact is nature is untamed and will do what it will. Weather experts can guess where a storm might go and what it might do when it gets there. Computers can make projections, but they can't make foolproof predictions.

Some may think that a tropical storm is more benign than a hurricane, but that's far from the truth. Folks in our area well remember the disaster that struck when a tropical storm -- Alberto -- stalled over Americus in 1994. In many ways, we haven't recovered completely from that event.

Bloomberg said Sunday night that, if he had it to do over again, he would make the same call on Irene.

The bottom line is, given the information he had, he made the right call. The decision he made was prudent and may have saved lives, though there is no real way to prove it. The same people who are criticizing him for being overcautious would be crucifying him verbally for non-action if people had died because he had failed to order the evacuations.

When it comes to forces of nature, the cautious road is the one best traveled. It may end up being an inconvenience, but that's far preferable to mourning the loss of loved ones.