The Day After Tomorrow

From Other Lisa…cross-posted at the paper tiger

I, and I expect many others, was taken by surprise by the scope of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. This morning, here in Los Angeles, it seemed as if the damage was less than had been feared. By this afternoon, the extent of the devastation was becoming clear. Small towns along the Gulf Coast are literally gone, swept away down to cement slabs. No one knows how many have died in places like Biloxi and Gulfport. As for New Orleans, the situation there grows more dire by the hour, as levees fail and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain flood the bowl-shaped city.

Some of the footage coming out of the region looks as bad as anything one saw from last December’s horrific tsunami. We can assume that the loss of life won’t be remotely on that scale, but undoubtedly hundreds are dead at least, and hundreds of thousands have lost everything.

This was an act of nature made worse by the hand of man – read this report for the details. Let’s hope that we learn from this and come to understand that “Homeland Security” also means a country where we invest in our infrastructure, where we protect the environment, and where we devote whatever resources are necessary to assist people and communities struck by such unimaginable disasters.

In the meantime, a lot of folks are going to need a lot of help. Here is a great post at the Booman Tribune, listing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief organizations and links. Booman is a progressive blog, but you’ll find charities of every kind on this round-up. I urge anyone who is able to pitch in. Every dollar/yuan/euro helps…

UPDATE – Gordon of the Horse’s Mouth has sent along an Editor & Publisher piece. The title is “Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? ‘Times-Picayune’ Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues.” I don’t have time to blog about it now, but here’s a relevant excerpt:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: “No one can say they didn’t see it coming. … Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.”

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

It’s George Bush’s fault…Global Warming! Global Warming! …blah. blah. blah…

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m still stunned by the magnatude of destruction left behind by this hurricane.

I wish I were going to be home a little sooner because I’d certainly volunteer to head down and help with the relief efforts.

August 30, 2005 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

actually, the bad negligence part is about what happened to the federal budget for levee and dike repair (cut by 44% in 2001), also disaster planning for a level 5 hurricane, etc. Sen. Landrieu objected heavily at the time and got nowhere. Plus all of these LA and MS National Guardsmen and their heavy equipment are…well…guess where? Global warming, still speculation. Environmental degradation though plays a similar role to the disappearance of the mangroves in SE Asia and the tsunami – those were natural flood breaks, and they’re gone now. I hear the Thailand gov is going to plant new ones.

but it really is a natural disaster, and if all of these things had been attended to, it would still be a disaster.

Those people are going to be needing a lot of help for a long time, you’ll still be needed when you get home. I heard that New Orleans residents are being told to expect that they won’t be able to return for a month, at least. Can you imagine? How are all these people going to be housed, fed, clothed? This is going to make Hurricane Andrew look like a picnic, and god knows that was bad enough.

I am staggered by some of the images I’ve seen.

August 31, 2005 @ 12:11 am | Comment

I would not want to live anywhere in those areas right now. Not only because of the destruction, but also because of the chaos and the lawlessness.

I saw one photo of a policeman at a ph@rmacy trying to keep looters at bay with a shotgun. One policeman has already been shot in the head by looters.

Unbelievable. Makes movies like Waterworld seem all that more believable.

August 31, 2005 @ 12:55 am | Comment

add the lack of electricity, clean water, food & shelter…yes, it’s pretty miserable and desperate. I’ve heard some other scary stories about attempted car-jackings and robbery at, of all places, a children’s hospital.

I try to focus on the vast majority of folks who aren’t out shooting cops and looting ph@rmacies but who are just trying to survive in very difficult circumstances.

August 31, 2005 @ 1:04 am | Comment

Check out Gordon’s superb link to a Yahoo photo gallery of Katrina towards the end of the Worker’s Stadium thread.

I knew Katrina was a powerful hurricane but those photos that I’ve just seen were shocking. It just shows that you can only prepare so much. Now, the populace must also deal with the aftermath.

August 31, 2005 @ 2:59 am | Comment

Martyn,

As this seems to apply to your area of expertise,..computer models were estimating the damage from this storm to be in the range of 25billion.

I’m guessing at least 40b. What do you think?

August 31, 2005 @ 3:03 am | Comment

I’ve seen those reports too. It’s probably too early to get any accurate figures at this point but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the final figure exceed US$30 billion.

The subsequent water damage adds considerably to insured losses. One thing’s for sure however, Katrina will definitely surpass Andrew’s (1992) insured losses of about US$15 billion–about US$20 billion in today’s dollars.

People don’t realise that it’s usually the driving rain and subsequent flooding that cause most of the insured damage in a hurricane. For your average house, the storm force winds might batter the building and take out parts of the roof structure but it’s the water that ingresses the premises that costs insurers the $$$.

August 31, 2005 @ 3:19 am | Comment

I think the estimates are low. Given that 100% of New Orleans is likely to be flooded, for many weeks/months, it would mean nearly all housing would have to be bulldozed and rebuilt. The clean-up of sewage, water systems, repairing the roads, is going to be a nightmare.

It might just be better to abandon the City and start anew in an area where the river flowing through the city is not higher than the City itself.

I reckon $80-$100B total costs.

August 31, 2005 @ 10:24 am | Comment

Is there anything which could be done to make Americans less safe which Homeland Security and Preemptive Defense haven’t done? What next, a major influenza outbreak and we’ll learn the CDC has been tasked exclusively with immunization against anthrax?

August 31, 2005 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

English guy, I think you’re confusing insured costs with the more nebulous “total costs.” 80-100bn in insured costs would be some multiples of the Kobe earthquake, I believe.

August 31, 2005 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

The New York Times has a piece today describing the ordeal of those trapped in the Superdome. D@mn!

I have a one-on-one class with a savvy young lawyer, last Monday we chatted about my experiences during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake when I lived in San Francisco. He was incredulous over my recounting of how quickly law and order dissolved into gunfire, looting, and chaos once electricity and cops were removed from the situation. He couldn’t believe that could happen in the US.

At last night’s class, he was no longer incredulous.

September 1, 2005 @ 2:01 am | Comment

IMO It’s only a matter of time before we see massive relocation out of hurricane areas. Many people evacuated for Katrina are not going to return to the immediate New Orleans or coastal area. Many others, residents of Florida for example, will only take so much and leave that State rather sooner than later.

It was bearable up to now but with a much higher storm frequency and intensity now, the population in those areas is simply gonna drain.

If New Orleans wasn’t so crucial for the Gulf oil industry and transport, you would definitely hear more calls for abandonment, because the city is gonna have to be entirely rebuilt from scratch.

September 1, 2005 @ 2:37 am | Comment

I know it is a bit early to try to look at this in the longer context of Bush’s presidency but I can’t help thinking that people are going to wonder how on earth they elected a guy who presided over the following sequence of events:

- Downgrades Al Qaeda threat in favour of Saddam obsession in his national security policy.
- 9/11 – goes missing in the immediate aftermath.
- Invades Afghanistan. Can’t find Osama.
- Al Qaeda grows hugely in influence and thanks Allah that everything it might have hoped for from the 9/11 attack has come to pass.
- Starts Iraq war on the basis of democratisation and weapons of mass destruction. Can’t find either. US’s long established international reputation takes a disastrous dive. Can’t get out. Tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Iraqis, Americans and others continue to be killed.
- Katrina. Despite having the misplaced arrogance to try to remould another nation through military force, US can’t even organise a decent relief operation in its own backyard. World looks on aghast.

September 1, 2005 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

My Friends lived right there, no word in or out, I’m in Washington State feeling helpless,
My God, all of those are our fellow Brothers and Sisters down there, screw our incompentent Government, they should all be tossed out on their ears for not going into action the first day,
Screw Iraq too, get our people home where they belong, not dying for the oil dollar you political crooks…
kim

September 2, 2005 @ 10:06 am | Comment

I feel your sorrow, Kim. And your anger. I’m right with you.

September 2, 2005 @ 10:17 am | Comment

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