The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its consequences for New Orleans

The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

In the TV and newspaper media, the management of the various authorities during Hurricane Katrina, and the complete disaster that followed, is sharply criticized by just about everyone. With a rather unusual frankness, rather bizarre facts are being brought to light.

Not unusual was the traditional race to find apt scapegoats to sacrifice on the bloody altar of public opinion, so that the guilty and incompetent could go on with their usual business...

A first remarkable if somewhat cynical observation is that, even after fierce disasters, there is always money to be made... For instance, the stock of insurance companies shot up like a rocket ! This is not as unlogical as it might seem at first sight. A very provisional estimate of the damage quickly rose to 25 billion dollars, and the insurance companies would have to shell out a tremendous amount.

But apparently, in the long run this is a good thing, because the following year the insurance premiums would likely be increased with 15 to 20%, which will bring in a huge, and more important, a lasting stream of revenue ! The aftermath of the four Florida hurricanes cost about 22 billion dollars, but the subsequent 15% premium increase brought forth a real financial Bonanza...

New Orleans

The city of New Orleans was near death. It would take six to ten weeks to repair the levees, and at least that long again to pump all the water from the city. Add three more months to dry out everything.

The final number of victims reached 1.836, at least according to official sources, with 1,577 in Louisiana and 238 in Mississippi. In most cases, the exact cause of death could not be established.

With typical American diligence, plans were being made to raise enormous sums of money to rebuild the entire city of New Orleans, bigger and of course better than before. Remember that the port is one of the largest ports in the world, and that it is of enormous economic importance to the state of Louisiana and even to the entire national economy !

But just a few timid voices arose to wonder if it wouldn't be better NOT to do this, and simply rebuild the city elsewhere. In the powerful wave of unity and solidarity, these individuals were immediately branded as heretics. However, these considerations might perhaps not be that stupid. The location of the old part of New Orleans is extremely precarious, being lower than the water level of both the ocean and Lake Pontchartrain.

Over the last 300 years, the city was gradually developed in the delta of the Mississippi river, next to the great harbor that shipped the proceeds of the original plantations and received foreign trade goods. Normally this area is continuously pushed upwards by the river's silt, but in this case dikes were built to protect the city. These led the water of the river directly into the Gulf of Mexico, and prevented any further sand deposit. The result is that the downtown area actually sinks continuously !

The area may to some extent be "protected" from hurricanes, through the extensive swamps to the south, but these are so heavily eroded by the Gulf of Mexico, that every year another 25 miles of them disappear under water. Furthermore, every year the autumn storms intensify and the seawater level increases. Geologists have calculated that within 100 years, all of New Orleans will disappear under the waves !

The Levees

Since many years there had been warnings about the danger from the collapsed levees, and that they no longer could resist a category three storm. The situation had gotten so bad, that even in dry weather several large pumping stations had to be used to keep the city dry !

Even more to the point, in 2004 FEMA worked out a simulation code named PAM, whereby a category five storm would hit New Orleans. This simulation predicted fairly accurately that several pumping stations would shut down, and that at least a few levees would break. The magical (read political) solution was to simply evacuate the city ! It was conveniently overlooked that more than one hundred thousand people would get stuck...

The famed Corps of Engineers asked for years to receive hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the ancient dikes, but the politicians coldly counted on the fact that no heavy hurricane would hit the area. For 99.5% everything was safe, and the probability that there would be a disaster was small. So they preferred not to release any money to raise the levees...

There was an endless discussion between the White House and Congress, in a continuous power struggle. Every year, the White House would only make available a minimal amount, because politicians are elected for just a short term, and they have a limited budget. They therefore only consider those particular priorities that will procure them short-term political gain and so secure their reelection...

Congress played exactly the same game, and for year after year approved billions of dollars for local roadworks and bridges, simply because these would bring political (or financial...) gain to a few selected individual members... On the other hand it is also true that every year, practically every governmental or local department heavily inflates its budget, either in the hope to salvage most of it in case of a budget decrease, or else to accentuate their own importance and reason for being...

Obviously, the other politicians know the same techniques, and therefore they take them with a hefty grain of salt. But even in the midst of this catastrophe, the political machinations continued unabated. In no time at all, the company Halliburton raked in an expensive contract for restoring all military installations in the Gulf...

FEMA

High trees catch a lot of wind. Michael Chertoff, the director of the brand-new Department of Homeland Security, got charged with all the sins of Gomorrah, and his poor reaction was described in less than laudatory terms. These ranged from "no idea" (dixit the mayor of New Orleans) to "not acceptable" (dixit President Bush). This lawyer was however merely a political creature, who got the job more because of services rendered than for his organizational skills...

Another department under crossfire was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was established in 1979 to deal with extraordinary disasters. But after the terrorist attack on 09/11, in 2003 older departments were banded together under the management of the new and highly praised Homeland Security. No power of any decision-making was left, and everything came under the thumb of the White House and Chertoff.

Michael Brown, director of FEMA since 2003, was being sent into the desert by the White House, for being generally responsible (read that as a lightning rod...), and in 2005 he was discarded as the political scapegoat.

During a rather candid TV broadcast, Brown made some interesting remarks, that probably didn't further his career (if any...). Only on Thursday, or three days after the facts, was he informed that 35,000 people were stranded in the New Orleans Superdome, without food, water or any form of assistance ! His next remark was even more startling, namely that even the federal government was at that time unaware of any harm !

FEMA has been downgraded from a well-intended aid organization to a classic political barrel, to provide cushy jobs for friends, in exchange for services rendered. That the efficiency of a department can be completely destroyed through the bungling of well-connected but incompetent souls, is long since known in Belgium...

Media Stunts...

Television heavily covered the flood and the chaos in New Orleans. The media obviously loved the thrill and the sensation, and they very "professionally" shot everything even distantly resembling raw emotions and tears, rather than bare facts...

A spicy anecdote. During a local TV broadcast, a couple of artists were interviewed for their considerations about the disaster. The African American singer, quite unexpectedly, boldly stated that President Bush didn't care at all for the lives of black people, and that he had given the order to shoot them...

After this sudden "revelation", he immediately disappeared from view and was hastily replaced by some footage. The station promptly apologized to their viewers, and the reporter naively explained that the singer had deviated from the predetermined script. Even more innocently, he added that their censors hadn't been able to react more quickly, because they were rather paying attention to swear words and dirty talk ! The incident got a big laugh on CNN...

Long live the Media !...

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Comments 2 comments

ChristinCordle12 profile image

ChristinCordle12 5 years ago

Interesting and well-written hub!


slusterbubble profile image

slusterbubble 5 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you dear !

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