Thoughts on Katrina
Like so many Americans I have been watching the unfolding catastrophe in
Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with growing concern and horror.
It's fair to say that this is by far the worst natural disaster to befall this country in its entire history. As I'm watching the refugees, for that's what they are, a number of thoughts go through my mind.
First -- we are witnessing the equivalent of a nuclear device going off in one of our cities. Think about it. If you had even imagined last week that a major American metropolis would have to be completely evacuated for untold months, that thousands of citizens were trapped and helpless to evacuate without aid, that untold numbers of dead lay buried in destroyed buildings, and that the city would be uninhabitable for months and would have to be completely rebuilt before life could return to normal, would you have believed it could happen? That's what we are
facing. The questions are enormous. And what is instructive is to look at how the government and the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA are responding to this crisis, because this is the sort of scenario they have supposedly been preparing for. So far I'm a little nervous about our preparedness, despite all the talk and billions spend on creating new bureaucracies.
Yesterday morning it became clear that the levees had failed and that the worst case scenario of an almostly completely flooded New Orleans was coming true, after it had seemed as though the city had escaped the worst of the damage. The governor ordered the city to be completely evacuated. Fine -- how exactly did she expect that to happen without boats or helicopters or other aid?
Good grief!! Lord save us from women executives -- the Louisiana Governor Blanco unfortunatelyresembles her name -- Blanco -- she looks like a deer caught in the headlines -- oops -- I was going to type headlights -- but that was an apt slip of the fingers.
Even before this happened anyone with an ounce of common sense would have realized that the Superdome was going to be uninhabitable once the power failed, and that they needed to make plans to evacuate those people after the hurricane if the worst case scenario of flooding came to pass. The Superdome, which would have been a fine shelter for a few hours to weather the storm, is not inhabitable once the power fails.It's obvious that the water and sewage is going to fail once the city is flooded. Was any thought given as to how they were going to evacuate people once they became surrounded by water?
As we watch what is unfolding it is becoming clear that we are
witnessing the death of an American city. Clogged with silt, water, sewage, bodies, devoid of business and commerce -- it is completely uninhabitable for the forseeable future. The question must be asked -- is it worth rebuilding this city? Or should it be abandoned like ancient Pompeii and its half-million residents will have to be housed as refugees and eventually resettled in other towns and cities.
Have we ever tried to rebuild a city that has been completely underwater for weeks and weeks? I would imagine all the buildings will be
completely uninhabitable -- imagine the cost to repair and dry out those buildings -- and clean them of all that sewage and fuel and contaminants? And they will have to build seawalls capable of withstanding a category 5 hurricane -- which could happen this year still -- much less next year. Another Cat 4 or 5 storm could hit a week
after they open the city for business. Where are the businesses going to go in the meantime? So many questions, and so few answers. Is it sensible to continue rebuilding cities which are so vulnerable to yearly hurricanes. Can the country afford it?
Today there were people lining the ramps leading to the Superdome and no one was even dropping water or food to them while they lay there exposed to the sun and elements, most of them already exhausted and injured. I'd say that we are witnessing the unfortunate result of poor planning. They
still didn't know today what to do with all those people in the dome -- and they knew yesterday morning that they would have to be moved somewhere. Eventually they came up with the idea of moving them to the Houston Astrodome -- but with no coherent plan of how to accomplish this. Close to half a million people are refugees -- literally -- just like in wartime. Temporary housing is going to have to be found for all those people for a long time to come -- and they are going to have to be relocated and resettled somewhere, somehow -- it's not just a matter of
a few days and then everyone can go home and start rebuilding.
The first priority must be rescuing people and providing them with elementary food, water and sanitation and health care. This is beyond the capacity of these people to accomplish themselves -- if your house is gone and your car is gone and you can't access your money and you have no transport -- you are a refugee -- they are going to have to set up refugee centers like they did in the wartime to deal with this.
The President finally got engaged and flew back to Washington, passing over the devastated area on his way back. Now is no time for him to be seen as being on vacation, even though he can do what he has to do from Texas as well. Still, symbolism is important. It's important that the military is getting involved, for only they have the resources to provide shelter, food, water and medical care on short notice and on a mobile basis. This is a crisis even larger, in human and economic dimensions, than 9/11. And we must respond accordingly. And we must think creatively. Perhaps it's time to abandon New Orleans and build a new city on higher ground.
And we haven't even talked about the destruction of Biloxi and other Mississippi towns. Or the price of gas and what that will do to supply and prices of fuel in the coming weeks and months. Let's just hope the terrorists don't decide to strike now.