Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

The devastation that has hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is mind-numbing. Having experienced a Category 4 Hurricane (Alicia in 1982) and the damage it caused in Houston, even more personal damage by Hurricane Jerry in Galveston in 1989 and most recently the flooding that resulted from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, my heart goes out to those who have suffered personal loss as a result of Katrina.

As always, questions need to be asked but the answers are hard to come by. Just like San Francisco and the San Andreas Fault, New Orleans has been a disaster waiting to happen. Because humans have this strange collective belief that we are bigger than Mother Nature, we continue to flout common sense and put down roots in places that we shouldn't. The experience of Galveston in 1900 should have been taken on board by federal, state and city planners all around the Gulf of Mexico (as well as the Atlantic seaboard). 105 years later, along comes Katrina to remind us just how fallible we humans are.

This is bad enough until you realize that the areas most prone to disaster always seem to be the areas where the poorest citizens live. This was certainly the case with the flooding by Allison and I would guess that the same applies with New Orleans today. It is a sad fact that so many people could not leave New Orleans as they either had no transport or there was none available. Conditions at the Superdome sounded absolutely horrendous - and remember many of those inside were elderly and infirm.

Will New Orleans survive? Perhaps it shouldn't, but try telling that to the people who live there. Will the federal aid go to making the city a safer place? Probably not. Will the planners and developers remember the terrible truth when they next sit down to carve up a new development out of swamp land? I doubt it.