The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 2: Using Law and Equity for the Poor and the Environment
Dinah Shelton In October 1991, the periodic shift of wind direction that Californians experience, usually in the autumn, arrived around the San Francisco Bay. The normal off-shore coastal breeze disappeared and the so-called ‘Santa Ana’ winds blew in from the desert, coinciding with unusually hot and dry days. The winds were much stronger than normal and they picked up embers from a construction site high in the East Bay hills, creating a conflagration known as the ‘Oakland Firestorm’. The fire destroyed nearly 4000 homes and killed 28 people in the space of a day. Some of the displaced persons were given refuge temporarily in the Claremont Resort Hotel, where each one was registered as a ‘Distressed Person’. Most of the fire victims were insured and the insurance companies had agents available within 24 hours, providing funds to meet initial expenses. The insurance policies largely covered the costs of rebuilding and refurnishing a destroyed home; they also covered the cost of renting a comparable residence until the rebuilding project was completed. In the meantime, local, state and federal officials provided assistance to those burned out of their homes. Shops gave discounts for the purchase of replacement goods. Other communities reached out to help. The neighborhood rebuilt itself completely within a couple of years and became a highly-desirable area in which to live. Only the elderly did not return, because the stress of the fire took their lives within months. In New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward is not elevated. It is...
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