New Orleans

It’s hard to find a category for this; hard to know what to say. Given the situation in NO following Katrina, I felt the need to say something. I even toyed with the idea of going down there to help them out, but figured I might just become part of the problem. Some thoughts.

How do you build a city of 1-2 million people below sea level and not protect it with better dikes? Why do you design the dikes for a category 3 hurricane knowing there are category fives out there?

I can understand taking water and perishable food from the stores; maybe even some clothing if you’ve lost everything in the flood. I don’t think I’d ever cross the line and start stealing TVs, computers, guns, and jewelry.

What kind of people shoot at rescue helicopters and boats? What kind of government fails to set up adequate emergency services during the lead up to a major storm event and then loses control of its population in the days after the disaster? And then they blame the federal government.

How does the U.S. allow a major city, port, oil supply and transfer point to be utterly destroyed by a natural disaster that is clearly statistically predictable? How many other cities are in the same position? Why do we keep rebuilding these places, only to watch them get destroyed again in a decade or two? How stupid do you have to be to live there?

DadObservations09/01/05 4 comments


David • 09/02/05 1:55 PM:

Listen to this powerful interview (from CNN) with New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.

Patrick • 09/02/05 2:16 PM:

My first reponse to your post is knee-jerk: many of your questions imply a stupidity that, if we looked, we’d find nearly everywhere, not only in New Orleans, or in places where there are dangers of natural disasters (Why do people continue to live in trailer parks in Hurricane Alley? Why do contractors continue to build homes and buildings that can withstand a level-7 earthquake in California when we’ve seen more potent ones and our scientists warn that it’s only a matter of time before “the Big One” hits? Why do tribal peoples in Africa choose to live where disease, drought, and famine are regular occurences? etc.) We often live where we can, not necessarily where it’s safest. We live where there’s water, even if it floods now and then. We live where there are ports for commerce, even if storms blow in from the sea. I think it’s easy to criticize, but we probably all have our inertias, our “it won’t happen to me”s. Don’t we?

Dad • 09/02/05 10:32 PM:

After 9/11, New York had Giuliani. New Orleans, unfortunately, has Ray Nagin, and he’s no Rudy. All I hear is him indicting everybody else, the president, the governor, FEMA, for not getting down to his city and straightening it out. He’s wondering who the president is going to put in charge of the operation to rescue HIS city! That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice. And incompetance.

Dad • 09/02/05 11:09 PM:

OK, I take back my “stupidity” comment. There are better words. Uninformed comes to mind. Poor people uninformed by their leaders about the true nature of the situation. Forgotten people. People who don’t matter to the rich folks who control the money and the city and the pathways to power. Greedy people, who funnel state and federal largesse to their pet projects while leaving critical infrastructure inadequate and unrepaired.

Yeats presaged this event in The Second Coming.

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I grew up on solid, mid-western ground. I choose not to live on oceanfront stilts or above the San Andreas fault. Yes, not everyone has these choices, or cares about the long-term probability of a disaster, but that’s whata government is for. Yes, Katrina was an unprecedented event, but one for which New Orleans could have been better prepared. I’m talking not only about the money to built better dikes (instead of countless billions spent on pork belly projects like Bush’s recent highway bill), but also about short-term planning in the days before the hurricane hit. As Katrina grew to a category 5 monster in the Gulf, resources could have been mustered near the coast so they would have been more available after the storm. I know this is armchair quarterbacking after the fact, but this is not a third world country.

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