Democrats & Liberals Archives

Katrina One Year On

As we approach the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we should remember the lessons. Fortunately, this season looks a lot more benign. (Some people said global warming was to blame for last year; they saying less now.) Katrina represented a failure at all levels of government or maybe we should reassess what we ask of government.

Spike Lee recently completed a documentary where he indulges racist conspiracy theories, but the truth is this disaster tested the limits (maybe showed us the limits) of what society can rightly expect from government.

Some people clearly have become too dependent on big brother. What did they expect? If the government had possessed perfect prescience about the storm a week before, what could they have done differently? Not much. The only thing that should have been different is that people should have left New Orleans, which is something all those people stuck at the Superdome could have done anyway.

Otherwise, we have essentially the same result. It is a terrible thing that homes were washed into the sea. It is horrible that whole communities are now gone. But even if this had been perfectly foreseen, it could not have been prevented. In the case of nature's savage fury, our only option is to get out of the way. Smart people know that.

Some things could have been done years before. We can now see in retrospect what we should have done and we should do them now to prepare for next time - because there will be a next time.

If you go to the Gulf Coast, you find an interesting variation about what survived and what didn't. It is the new construction, those houses built in the last 50 years were wiped out. Some of the older houses survived. Why? In the past, people knew they could not beat the storms, so they built stronger houses and they built on higher ground. Sometimes we are not talking big differences. A gentle rise of 20 feet might make all the difference.

It is clear that some places are not suitable for building. We have lots of space in America. We need not build on land that will wash away or be under water when the weather turns foul. Often this poor building land is cheap or has good views. It is still wrong. We should have no sympathy for those who are fooled again and maybe we should not approve the building permits or allow payments to rebuild on low areas best left to the trees and turtles. The smart move is not to solve problems; it is to avoid them in the first place.

We need not rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as it was. We can do better. By the time the storm is on the horizon, it is too late.

Finally, let's ask what we want of the Gulf Coast. There are people who have been living there for generations who are leaving never to return. Their places will be taken by well off individuals, maybe retirees who have a shorter time frame. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to think about it. I think it is probably inevitable that the change will come. The Gulf Coast is very beautiful and pleasant. It is no surprise that the first things rebuilt are hotels and casinos. These things represent very large investments, but if they are washed into the sea in 20 years, owners are faced with an expense, not a human tragedy. Maybe that is the way to go.

And next time the hurricane comes, people shoud get out of the way.

Posted by Jack at August 23, 2006 11:31 PM
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