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MISERY AND METEOROLOGY

It may be a bit harder to love Paris in the springtime, this time around. Wracked by storms and with much of its winter-furled greenery uprooted by hurricane-force winds, the city is being considered for national designation as a natural disaster area.

It's not only vegetation and scenery that suffers from nature's fury, of course. This last set of weekend gales, which took out 60,000 trees in Parisian urban forests and another 2,000 along its tree-lined boulevards, claimed at least 120 lives throughout Western Europe by Tuesday and left 1.5 million homes cold and without power. And even that pales in comparison to the Venezuelan flooding that started Dec. 15, among the worst natural disasters in modern Latin American history with fatality estimates ranging from 10,000 to more than 30,000 victims.

Buffalo, with its national reputation for storms, can empathize -- but only to a point. There's no precedent here for a 20-foot-deep blanket of mud, rocks and debris. A foot or two of snow is tame by comparison, however temporarily inconvenient it may be.

There also may be a lesson in hubris, here. As humanity contemplates what mischief it may wreak upon an electronics-dependent civilization with a programming shortfall dubbed the "Y2K bug," nature is delivering a reminder that mankind, at most, still can only make a bad situation worse.

Repairs can be made to the French royal palace at Versailles, and to the Cathedral du Notre Dame. The real tasks at hand are those of relief for the afflicted, and better preparedness planning so that storm casualties can be minimized in the future. Modern hurricane warning systems provide a model for that; the fierce finger-pointing debates now under way in Venezuela are pointing out the needs and the possibilities there, too. Our focus on the glitches that might come at the stroke of 2000 should be tempered by the knowledge that nature still packs a wallop, and with certainty.

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