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Were We Prepared for Hurricane Katrina?

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I’m watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and I’m thinking, that’s not the worst hurricane I’ve ever seen. Why the high death toll? Why the high levels of damage? From what little I can tell from my vantage point, it doesn’t look like everything was done that could be done to prepare for the possibility of natural disasters. The evacuation and sheltering efforts look like they might be fairly ad hoc.

I found a fellow thinker in Whitley Strieber, who expanded on these points in his brilliant essay, “Lesson of the Storms”, saying

“The House of Representatives, at the request of the Bush administration, cut 70 million dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for the New Orleans District. Last year, it essentially ended disaster planning for the region by transferring the chore to a private company, IEM Corp., and giving it a $500,000 budget. Now, it has shelved a study that was to determine ways to protect the city from a Category 5 hurricane.”

and going on to claim

“The disaster that has befallen New Orleans could have been ameliorated if the Army Corps of Engineers had been able to examine the levees and if they had been adequately maintained. It did not have the budget to do this properly in recent years and, with the new cuts, has no ability even to repair levees, let alone reinforce them.”

Whoa. The implications are staggering. Did politics and incompetence doom people to die unnecessarily? Whitley speculates that the heavily democratic voting base in New Orleans was one cause of this neglect. I know that other countries sacrifice people’s lives in a disaster to make political points. I just never thought that the United States did that.

Read the rest of “Lesson of the Storms” here.

I’ve found Whitley Strieber to be prescient on many subjects. His intelligent reporting and writing can be found at his website, Unknown Country.

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About Cerulean

  • In the 60’s and 70’s NOAA tried to seed clouds with silver iodine to defuse hurricanes. They gave up because it didn’t work and Mexico complained.

  • Not the worst you’ve ever seen? It came in at 902 millibars, worse than Andrew. Only Camille in 69 and the unnamed hurricane of 35 were worse. Which of those did you watch?

    The levees there were put in after the previous worst hurricane in the 60s. They were put in believing they’d be enough. New levees were supposed to be completed in 2018.

    After Andrew, building codes in FL were strengthened. After one of last year’s hurricanes in Vero Beach, the houses built before the new codes were trashed. The new houses next to them were largely undamaged. Before Andrew, FL believed the codes were enough. We’re not going require each homeowner to build a fortress. Until the disaster happens, it is difficult to balance the line between strong enough and a waste of resources.

  • I’m talking about a visual impression of the strength of the winds and the force of the waves hitting land. I’ve seen things that looked more intense many times.

  • SFC Ski

    Not to single you out Cerulean, but your response in 3 is a great illustration of human reactions in general to things; one is a gut instinct based on a what can be seen, the other is a head instinct, based on examining evidence surrounding what was seen. Humans are intersting creatures.

  • New Orleans money diverted to Iraq. Another article by Whitley Strieber shows how most of this could have been prevented. The head of the Army Corp of Engineers specifically requested money to shore up the levees in New Orleans. The money was needed for Iraq. Sorry, you’ll have to cut and paste.


  • Foreign news coverage more critical of Bush than domestic? I just was reading some articles in the Independent in Britain that seem far more pointed than what I’ve been seeing in the American press. Sorry, you’ll have to cut and paste.


  • Heloise

    People, the levees have been there since 1790 put there first by the French who settled it hence the new town of Orleans in the New World. Later the levees were made higher to the deep detriment of New Orleans.

    This makes no damn sense since the academics who live in NOLA had a perfect solution. But instead a bridge to nowhere was built in Alaska with our dollars.

    Are we going to have to fix this mess now regular people and the Internet? Please check your facts before you start making them up. There are no more cat 5 this decade than the last 100 years.

    Those damn Brits also need to shut the hell up. They are lying to the American public by doing commercials calling BP or bp beyond petroleum when it is in fact BRITISH petroleum and they are the ones with $6 gas in Atlanta!!!

    It’s the oil stupid.


  • josh

    Being prepared in case of an emergency is only smart practice. Even though chances are good that nothing is ever going to happen to you or your family, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. People who have survived natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, as well as those who have been through manmade catastrophes, like the recent California gas main explosion, know how quickly lives can change. When these situations occur, one of the things people need almost immediately are safe sources of clean water. Emergency water filters can provide you with this most necessary of resources no matter what may happen.

  • steve

    If a disaster effects your community local, state and federal agencies will help, but help takes time for them to arrive and these agencies will be overwhelmed in the beginning. You need to be ready to help yourself and your family. Not all local agencies are as prepared as they should be. Don’t rely on someone coming to help you quickly in the event of a major event. Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family.

  • pat

    an emergency only truly becomes a disaster when you haven’t in some way predicted it and taken effective action to prepare for it.As grown ups, we have to be able to expand the to-do list. It’s like saying to a busy executive, “You have to change your lifestyle or you’re going to have a heart attack,” and the executive saying, “I don’t have time.” You can’t get away with that. You need to be able to accommodate what’s needed to survive. I think that’s what adults are supposed to do.