Monday, August 28, 2017

Making Disasters Worse—Gulf Hurricane Redux

Hurricane Harvey damage on Saturday in Galveston, Texas, a city that knows about Big Blows.

Two days short of the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming into New Orleans and other Gulf Coast Communities another catastrophic storm has his the Texas coast.  Hurricane Harvey came ashore near Corpus Christy as category 4 storm with 130 mile per hour winds and a dangerous storm surge.  Two days later it has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm but is stalled over the region and continues to dump torrential rains over a wide area.  Up to three feet of rain is expected before it finally dissipates toward the end of the week.
No one really knows the extent of the damage but tens of thousands have been displaced and many are still stranded and in imminent danger.  Few cities effectively evacuated despite pleas by officials for residents to relocate.  Few options were available for those without cars, roads were jammed, and many are now flooded or cut off.

Flooding in Houston this morning.
This hammers one of the most populous regions in the South including the city of Houston the fifth largest city in the U.S. which is now mostly flooded with water continuing to rise. 
A lot of this seems like a replay of the chaos following Katrina and other recent Texas hurricane disasters despite days of notice that the storm was coming.
Hopefully the outcome will be better than after Katrina, but don’t bet on it.  Texas has somethings going for itmore and richer Whites who vote reliably Republican.  The large and poor Black population New Orleans made the depopulation of the city a political bonanza for the Republican Party.  The city and poorer suburbs lost so many residents that Louisiana went from being the last Deep South state that trended Democratic to another bright red blotch on the map.
Ironically, Houston is the home of the largest concentration of the New Orleans Diaspora in the nation.  Many are still struggling financially and have never recovered from the losses of homes they owned, vehicles, possessions, tools, and livelihoods.  Although reports today from Houston say that residents of every income level are still trapped in flooded homes and apartments, the poor, as always, will endure more lasting personal devastation.
It is worth noting that both United States Senators from Texas, Assistant Republican Leader John Cornyn, and borderline psychotic Tea Party and Religious Right darling Ted Cruz, were proud to vote against disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey apparently because too many of them were Black, Latino, emigrants, Jews, and, of course, Democrats.  It was the fiscally responsible thing to do they told anyone who would listen.  They now have both announced support for major funding for post-Harvey reconstruction.  Fortunately for the people of Texas, Senate Democrats are unlikely to play tit-for-tat.
Speaking of reconstruction—that promises to be severely hampered by a construction labor shortage created by Trumps anti-immigrant crusade.  Mexican and other Latin American immigrants have made up a huge percentage of both skilled workers, especially carpenters and masons, and laborers in recent years.  Many have already fled the region for fear of immigration raids on job sites.  Wide-spread labor shortages were reported before the disaster and there is likely no way there will be enough workers for all of the clean-up, repair, and reconstruction ahead.  Just in case there is any doubt, Immigration authorities have assured the public that they will “continue to vigorously enforce the law” even through the present emergency.  Even evacuees will be subject to arrest, detention, and deportation.
Good luck Texas.
Days later this abandoned Hurricane Katrina victim was found.  Not only was he dead, but the media blamed him for it.
In the meantime here is a look back at Katrina and its aftermath from a 10th anniversary post two years ago.
Some anniversaries are just too painful.  This is one of them.  On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast with the eye just east of New Orleans.  Winds had diminished and the storm had been downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 3 and there was some hope that the city and surrounding Parishes might be spared the destruction predicted earlier in the week.  Although wind damage was severe, a lot of folks breathed deeply after the brunt of the storm moved passed.
But the storm surge sent as much as 15 feet of water inland flooding the low lying coast from the Texas border to nearly Pensacola.  It pushed up the Mississippi and into Lake Pontchartrain.  Within a few hours the levy system protecting the city broke in several places and water inundated most of the city.  Especially hard hit were the low lying neighborhoods along the canals and directly under the levies, including the largely Black and impoverished 8th and 9th Wards.  By 11 p.m. Mayor Ray Nagin described the loss of life as significant with reports of bodies floating on the water throughout the city.
As horrible as the situation was, it was only the beginning.  Evacuation orders had encouraged many of those with vehicles to flee north.  But the highways were soon clogged and those late to leave were trapped.  No plans had been made for the hundreds of thousands of city residents without transportation, or the aged and ill.  The poor were essentially trapped in the city.  And as they drowned talking heads on television scolded them for not heeding the evacuation orders. 
The story of the immediate misery of the next few days has been told and retold, and is far too vast to be recounted here.  Suffice it to say the disaster unmasked incompetence at every level of government compounded by a blasé racism eager to blame the victims.  The response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), headed by political toadies and lickspittles, became a national scandal.  But it was the inevitable result of George W. Bush’s administration which had as its highest goal to prove that government is inherently incapable of managing things efficiently. 
The disaster created a diaspora.  Eighty percent of the New Orleans population fled.  Five years later less than half had returned.  And much of the city, particularly the Black Wards away from the restored tourist areas, remains a waste land.
The Black and poor Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans months after the storm.  Amazingly little has been restored to this day.
The youth group of my church, then known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock spent a week there in July 2010, nearly five years after the storm, doing service projects.  They brought back video and photographic evidence of the distressing situation.  There will be work rebuilding and restoring homes in those districts for hundreds of youth groups for years to come.
When historians look back on the disaster and its long aftermath years from now, they may well conclude that this was the moment when the traditional cocky confidence of American exceptionalism bit the dust and the Empire began it precipitous decline.

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