State News

Researchers map deaths by natural hazard in South

Posted December 20, 2008 1:53 p.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2008 7:22 a.m. EST

— University of South Carolina researchers say the South rates high in deaths by natural disaster, due to its tornadoes, lightning and severe weather.

But they say drought, heat waves, and wintry weather account for the bulk of deaths nationwide blamed on Mother Nature.

"What is noteworthy is that over time, highly publicized, often catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to more frequent, less catastrophic events such as heat waves and severe weather," Dr. Susan Cutter, a geography professor, said in a release.

Cutter and Kevin Borden, a doctoral candidate in geography, created a "death map" to pinpoint the risks of dying from a natural hazard. It shows why and where nearly 20,000 people died between 1970 and 2004.

The results of their research were published in the Dec. 17, 2008, issue of International Journal of Health Geographics.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security paid for the research to help emergency officials prepare for events.

"This work will enable research and emergency management practitioners to examine hazard deaths through a geographic lens," Cutter said. "Using this as a tool to identify areas with higher-than-average deaths can justify allocation of resources to these areas with the goal of reducing loss of life."

It shows that drought and heat, severe summer weather and winter weather each account for almost 20 percent of natural-hazard deaths. More dramatic events, including earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes, caused less than 5 percent of such fatalities.