Coming to Grips With Katrina's Devastation

September 1, 2005

I am sure that I am not alone in having taken a few days to fully grok the long-term affects of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. There were two things yesterday that made it sink in for me: 1) seeing that 25,000 people were heading to the Astrodome in Houston as refugees, expecting to be there for several months, and 2) hearing about displaced Tulane students who are taking classes at the University of Texas (and elsewhere).


The first of these two is of course the most eye-catching (and add another 25,000 heading to San Antonio). How awful, to think of joining thousands of others in sleeping on cots in the Astrodome for months, with nothing to do, no job, no privacy. That is truly horrible.

The second issue is far more mundane, but equally powerful in my mind: it highlights the extent of the disruption. This hurricane has driven people from their homes and from being able to carry out the daily functions of life. Obviously college students are not alone; I've also read about Texas taking in primary and secondary school students from the affected areas (in a state with seriously-messed up education financing). I was not a fan of the government in Texas when I left, but I have to say I'm proud of my fellow Texans for the depth and genuineness of their response.

I remember reading a few years back about the effects predicted for a category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans. Seems the doomsayers got it right. And New Orleans got lucky, with the hurricane having hit to the east (thus putting the apparently-weaker western eye-wall over the area).

As I imagined the destruction it would cause, the impact on so many individual human lives never truly entered my consciousness. Even as I saw and was awed by Katrina as she hit the coast, as I heard about the evacuations, the impact still didn't hit home. I was in Houston during a flood a few years ago (Tropical Storm Allison I think); it was terrible in its own way, but did not have the serious long-lasting effects of this new thing. Maybe I was picturing things on that level. But yesterday the enormity of this tragedy hit home; my consciousness was truly awakened to the harsh reality of displaced bodies, lives, culture, and economy.

And what next? To get a glimpse at why New Orleans was there, and why it was so poorly protected, read After Centuries of 'Controlling' Land, Gulf Learns Who's the Boss. Personally, though I know it will be painful, I think we should simply leave most of it — let New Orleans become the next Alexandria, sunken beneath the waves at the mouth of a mighty river. It will be far better for us in the long, long term. Unfortunately we humans are pretty bad at planning for the long term, much less the long, long term.

1 Comment

I stumbled upon a SciAm article from October 2001 detailing the effects of such a storm on New Orleans. Disturbingly prophetic...