Thursday, September 15, 2005

katrina rough draft

Hurricane Katrina’s impact is dwarfed in comparison to the social and economic reprecussions brought about by ill preparation for such a disaster. While the immiediate effects of the storm on the coast may seem severe, nature is a resilient force and will spring back relatively quickly. Unfortunately this is not the case for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes in late August.
Now-ex-residents of New Orleans recieved the brunt of the hurricane. This alone could be weathered out by most people, but the destruction was greatly magnified by insufficient levees and the subsequent flooding of the city. Even this calamity could have been minimized by a well organized evacuation. Instead, the poor, elderly and sick were left to die, a strategy reminiscent of last ditch battlefield plans, not the protective laws of a civilized society. Alongside the tremendous loss of life and home, comes a loss of trust; particularly by those people herded into staging areas for buses that never came. Another form of disillusionment came to those in charge at various levels of government when seemingly everyone thought someone else was on the case.
Here starts the blame game, which will continue long after the fallen trees have been regrown and the disrupted ports put back together again. Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco had asked the federal government to help, but not thoroughly enough. Michael Brown, former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), missed the cue that this was an emergency and then was exposed as a fraud, at least according to everyone but the white house. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagan called the evacuation, but failed to get enough busses until after the hurricane hit. Still others say that this was punishment from god, or that mother earth is rising up against her only adversary, mankind. Fingers point and accusations fly, but the facts still remain the same: people have died unnecessarily, and there’s many thousands of people that still need assistance.
Fortunately, help has arrived, and still is arriving in many different ways. The Red Cross is setting up medical facilities, assisting with relocating people and getting separated families back together. FEMA, reguardless it’s initial reaction, has disbursed $669 million to hurricane victims. Countless churches and privet organizations have made contributions, many of their members opening their homes to complete strangers who had lost theirs’. Worldwide, over a hundred countries have pledged aid, sending tents, cots, medical supplies and more. New York Fire and Police Departments have arrived to assist with security and help those who stayed behind. Iran has offered 20 million barrels of crude oil, but the U.S. did not accept, or reply for that matter.
Oil is a hot issue, and any effects on its supply are felt by everyone down the line. The Gulf of Mexico is home to over 180 refineries, supplying 11% of the oil to the United States. After the hurricane, 120 refineries were damaged beyond operation, and 60 more were unmanned due to emergency evacuations. Gas prices started soaring immediately, sparking a chorus of complaints across America. Gasoline marketing strategies are based off win-win price changes: the price goes up, people flock to the pumps before it goes higher, the price goes down, people do the same, thinking they are getting a better deal before it climbs again. Unfortunately for the general public, the general memory does not reach more than a month or two into the past, quelling any organized complaints before they begin. Many have said this is the highest they have seen gas prices and shouted “price gouging” and other frustrations. However, gas has been higher in the past: in 1981fuel was priced at $1.38 for a gallon of 87 octane. Adjusted for inflation this turns into $3.03 a gallon, still a record high.
Fuel however, has affected more than just the wallets of the consumer. When it is leaked into our environment alongside many other toxic chemicals, as is the case in New Orleans, the potentials for long term damages soar. Flooding has churned up a “toxic soup” of chemicals such as lead, gas, oil, sewage and many more, says Thomas La Point , director of the Institute of Applied Sciences of northern Texas. This in turn can lead to bacteria blooms of E. Coli, Cholera and Salmonella. All of this is being pumped into lake Ponchrtrain which undoubtedly will not be good for the lake and surrounding ecosystem. The cleanup will be a long and arduous on, to be sure.
Unfocused organization during the hurricane Katrina crisis has given rise to many avoidable problems much greater in magnitude than the damages wrought by the storm itself. Since hurricanes and other natural disasters happen without prejudice, they are essentially uncontrollable phenomena. Our best hope to deal with situations of this nature is to have a good plan of reaction and clearly communicate this plan to all those potentially affected. Unfortunately for many of the residents of New Orleans, this was not the case.


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