US skids out of disastrous year

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The Independent Online
THE United States skidded, trudged and snow-ploughed its way out of a spectacularly calamitous 1992 - officially branded the worst year on record for natural and man-made disasters - hoping for more clement times in 1993.

The catalogue of the year's misfortunes was headed by Hurricane Andrew, which ripped through the southern fringes of Florida and Louisiana in August, and the Los Angeles riots of last spring. All together, the federal government was forced to declare an unprecedented 45 different disaster areas.

Something that qualifies as a 'disaster' means spending relief money - which has the effect of compounding the government's very own, continuing disaster: the budget deficit. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the bill for all these mishaps will reach dollars 3.17bn ( pounds 2.09bn), nearly two-thirds of it to clean up after Andrew.

Images of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Andrew dominated the traditional end-of-year retrospectives on the television news. It was the worst meteorological onslaught ever to strike metropolitan America.

There were plenty of other 'act- of-God' catastrophes, however: the winter storm in the east last month that temporarily turned the canyons of Wall Street into tributaries of the Hudson River; hurricanes and typhoons in Hawaii and Guam; as well as mudslides, fires, floods and a few seismic rumbles in California, though the 'Big One' has yet to come.

California, in fact, achieved the distinction of being the state with the most sorrowful disaster tally and federal assistance to match, worth almost dollars 250m. Most of that was allocated in the wake of 1992's most notable man-made disaster: the Los Angeles race riots, triggered by the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of a black motorist, Rodney King. The bill for that came to dollars 235m.

And for many parts of the country, the year went out in suitably miserable style, with areas of the west - California again - buried in record depths of snow and, last weekend, almost all the Midwest and the Plains states turned into one enormous ice-rink by relentless freezing rain.

The weekend freeze stretched from Chicago, where there was one 45-car pile-up, down to Oklahoma. 'It's extremely awful everywere,' remarked one Utah Highway Patrolman. 'Mucky, mucky, mucky.'

The same could have been said of the year, 1992, in general.

(Photograph omitted)