Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mother Nature's Wrath

This week may turn out to be one of the worst on record relative to natural disasters in the United States. Government officials in Louisiana are not even hazarding guesses at the death toll in New Orleans resulting from Hurricane Katrina except to say that there are probably thousands dead. Not since the Hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas in 1900 has so much loss of life been expected.

CNN and MSNBC have excellent coverage of the ongoing tragedy along the mid gulf coast states. Mississippi's coastal towns such as Gulfport, Biloxi and Pass Christian have sustained severe damage.

I've got no particular comment on the situation except to say that we now have a disaster on our hands that will be signficantly larger than the tragedy of 9/11. I hope we pay as much attention to dealing with the causes and potential preventions of further tragedies such as this as we have with the war on terror. Natural disasters occur every year and there's really not much one can do about most of them. Earthquakes happen, tornados happen, terrible lightening and thunderstorms and flooding occur. Hurricanes however are a different story. Yes, they happen, and seemingly with more frequency than before. However, we can spot them well before they arrive and we can at least take action to insure the loss of life is minimal.

One has to commend the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana. Long before Katrina's landfall, they both recommended unprecedented levels of evacuation of the city and surrounding areas. Had they not acted so strongly, the loss of life may have been worse.

However, New Orleans is now one of the largest toxic waste dumps in the United States. The reason is that the flooding has breached refineries where chemicals, oil and refined gasoline are stored and is leaking into the water. This will likely cause severe pollution of soils, water tables and cause health hazards for years to come. The current situation will yield typical water borne diseases such as cholera, dissentary and perhaps even malaria.

We have to think about our planning of locations of cities, manufacturing and chemical plants, refineries, etc. etc. Building these close to ports and water ways is very convenient. Cities can make significant revenues from transportation and shipping industries. Fishing industries thrive. However, when the cities are constructed as New Orleans was in 1718 several feet below sea level, it must be understood that it is not a matter of if there will be a disaster, it is a matter of when.

It will likely take billions of dollars to rebuild and clean up New Orleans and the other cities along the gulf coast. Let's not just rebuild them as they were, let's think about the next time a hurricane decides to make landfall and if we want to see the same response. The president of the United States has an opportunity to increase the security of hundres of thousands of American Citizens without firing a missile or a bullet at anyone. Let's get FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers and other agencies and rebuild New Orleans in a fashion that will keep tragedies like this from occurring again. In 1900, the Army Corp of Engineers raised the level of Galveston Island by some 25 feet and built a sea wall to help stave off another disaster. That lesson from over 100 years ago needs to be seriously looked at and followed with New Orleans.

Tell me what you think,

Best regards and prayers for our friends and neighbors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and Florida.


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