Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Day After Tomorrow

I, and I expect many others, was taken by surprise by the scope of Hurricane Katrina's destruction. This morning, here in Los Angeles, it seemed as if the damage was less than had been feared. By this afternoon, the extent of the devastation was becoming clear. Small towns along the Gulf Coast are literally gone, swept away down to cement slabs. No one knows how many have died in places like Biloxi and Gulfport. As for New Orleans, the situation there grows more dire by the hour, as levees fail and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain flood the bowl-shaped city.

Some of the footage coming out of the region looks as bad as anything one saw from last December's horrific tsunami. We can assume that the loss of life won't be remotely on that scale, but undoubtedly hundreds are dead at least, and hundreds of thousands have lost everything.

This was an act of nature made worse by the hand of man - read this report for the details. Let's hope that we learn from this and come to understand that "Homeland Security" also means a country where we invest in our infrastructure, where we protect the environment, and where we devote whatever resources are necessary to assist people and communities struck by such unimaginable disasters.

In the meantime, a lot of folks are going to need a lot of help. Here is a great post at the Booman Tribune, listing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief organizations and links. Booman is a progressive blog, but you'll find charities of every kind on this round-up. I urge anyone who is able to pitch in. Every dollar/yuan/euro helps...

UPDATE - Gordon of the Horse's Mouth has sent along an Editor & Publisher piece. The title is "Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? 'Times-Picayune' Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues." I don't have time to blog about it now, but here's a relevant excerpt:
New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming. ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

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