In this ABC News article Most Say God Was Not Factor in Hurricanes I was relieved to see that most Americans do not blame God for the recent hurricanes. Interestingly, the highest percentage of people who do say that God was the cause is among Evangelical Protestants. But in the fine print at the bottom of the article it says that only 8% of those who believe that God was the cause thought that it was an act of punishment.
It’s true that in the Bible God sometimes uses natural disasters as a punishment, but we have to be very careful assuming that we know the reason behind a specific natural disaster. In a general way all natural disasters can be seen as a result of the Fall, but they are not necessarily punishment for the sins of the people living in a specific area. In natural disasters Christians as well as atheists die, and it is always possible to find another region that seems to be even more sinful than the area where the disaster occurs.
Perhaps the high figure for Evangelical Protestants simply reflects their belief in the sovereignty of God. But I do not believe that biblical sovereignty requires us to see God as the direct cause of everything that occurs. So it depends on how you ask the question. If someone asked whether or not God caused the hurricanes I would say “no.” But if they asked if God had allowed them I would say “yes.” God is “in control” in the sense that nothing happens without His permission (see Job chapter 1), but that does not mean that He “causes” everything.