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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

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Coming to grips

As we gather more information on last week's tornado outbreak, it's becoming clear that it was the worst such event in U.S. history. Here's a map from the National Weather Service that shows preliminary tracks of the largest tornadoes that hit the region:

Preliminary Tornado Tracks - Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Enlarge Enlarge

From a macroeconomic standpoint, our job is to analyze the potential impact on overall economic activity. We continue to do this by talking to our business contacts in the larger affected areas such as Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville. As we noted in our previous post, we anticipate that disruptions of the April 27 tornado outbreak will be temporary and do not pose a threat to the broader economic recovery under way in the region. Power is being restored, and the cleanup is under way. We expect that disruptions to production, transportation, and general business activity to be short-lived in most areas. Neighborhoods where the devastation was significant will, of course, take longer to recover.

So we think we have a pretty good handle on how this event will play out on a macroeconomic scale: short-term losses will be largely offset by longer-term recovery and rebuilding activity, a pattern that tends to apply to natural disasters' impact on overall economic activity.

What I don't have a handle on—and can never hope to come to grips with—is the human cost. I didn’t lose any family or friends. My home was not damaged. In most ways April 27 was just another day for me. But something is different.

My wife told me about a story she heard on NPR about how Hackleburg, a small town in northwest Alabama, was practically wiped out, and how residents there are coping. (See the follow-up NPR story on the town and a video shot from a helicopter surveying the damage.) Hackleburg is one of dozens of small towns that face an arduous path to recovery. I have not really thought about that aspect until I read the story. I still don't know how to think about their plight.

Then I saw something that brought April 27 more into focus for me. I came across an aerial photograph of the track of the Tuscaloosa tornado. I noticed it passed within blocks of the apartment complex where my daughter lived when she was in school there. I can only imagine what people are going through. I don't have a clue how the people of Hackleburg will manage.

It had always been a dream of mine to go storm chasing—to maybe take my sons on what I pictured to be an adventure of sorts. I wanted to take pictures of a tornado, see it up close. Not anymore. I never want to see a tornado. Ever.

Photo of Michael ChrisztBy Mike Chriszt, an assistant vice president in the Atlanta Fed's research department

May 4, 2011 in Alabama , Recovery | Permalink


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