Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: When the Rain Stopped Falling

The city of New Orleans without a doubt had it's back up against the wall when it came down to the fight against Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, Katrina hit land on August 29th and brought total destruction in tow. Being that New Orleans is a city situated several feet below sea level, had a very old, and weak draining system and was practically surrounded by multiple bodies of water, the flooding that quickly ensued was inevitable. The damage to the city was bound to happen with such a forceful NATURAL disaster on it's way. The shock that is associated with Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans wasn't the hurricane itself but rather the aftermath and clean up or lack thereof when the rain stopped falling. In the words of Dan Rather in the foreword to City Adrift: New Orleans Before and After Katrina, the aftermath " challenged directly some of our country's most cherished notions about itself: about our readiness and ingenuity in the face of trouble, about the quality of our leaders, and about the equality of our society".

"Everything that happened in Katrina was preventable, and everything that happened was predictable" stated George Haddow, former FEMA deputy chief of staff. These are my sentiments exactly. The lack of preparation for this disaster is what put the aftermath in a class all its own. The absence of emergency preparedness did the honors of tipping over the clean-up, into uncharted waters, which could have been an easier repair. In 2004 a disaster drill dubbed Hurricane Pam took place for the city to prepare for such a disaster. The lessons were not heeded. Warnings from the NHC were overlooked by the government and FEMA and FEMA's infrastructure was crumbling and led to terrible correspondence after the hurricane. There was too many people who could have helped that didn't. They were in perfect positions to put their hand out and offer assistance but that was not the case. All the leaders on all the levels of the government failed the city of New Orleans. Too much time was wasted on trying to figure out who was at fault than trying to fix the situation as quickly as possible. FEMA dropped the ball drastically when it came to aide after the disaster. Individuals did not get their relief trailers until eight months after the landfall of Katrina. The "wait and see" position that FEMA decided to take was beyond disappointing. You can't just let the people take care of themselves. It is not a plan of action but one of disregard. "The damaging aftermath can be substantially reduced by better planning, hard work, and most of all, a mind open to the nature of risk" was brought out by Marc Gerstein in Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental.

"You can throw all the money in the world at preparedness, but you still have to be ready to go the minute the balloon goes up". Everyone involved could have done a better job at making sure the relief after Hurricane Katrina came quickly and efficiently. Instead persons waited around for days on end for aide to come their way and help them out of a terrible, disheartening situation. The sad thing is that many people knew what was likely to happen. Leo Bosner who was responsible for "national situation reports" commented that the city could wind up being submerged under several feet of water, and that it was a situation that worried him immensely. When they realized that a major evacuation wasn't in the works, they were stunned at the inaction of the government. When buses were sent out two days later for evacuations they were stalled due to "bureaucratic bullshit". All the deficiencies that came up during the drill of 2004 resurfaced their ugly heads during Katrina- they were never addressed. The conclusion of a U.S. Senate committee that investigated Katrina and its aftermath was that "Before the storm, government planning was incomplete and preparation was often ineffective, inadequate, or both. Afterward, government responses were often tentative, bureaucratic, or inert. These failures resulted in unnecessary suffering" as noted in City Adrift: New Orleans Before and After Katrina.

Many things went wrong concerning Hurricane Katrina, before, during and after. Blame was in a surplus and there was plenty to go around and plenty shoulders for it to fall on. Respectively everyone involved played a part in making this natural disaster a human disaster. But maybe if the preparation for the disaster was effective and panned out the way it was suppose to then many other points when the ball was dropped afterwards, could have been prevented.

1 comment:

doctorj2u said...

It was not a natural disaster. It was a manmade engineering disaster.