HURRICANE KATRINA

The Aftermath

This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: South West
cover new england

In the travel series View America, South West covers Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.

The Aftermath

In the TV and newspaper media, the management of the various authorities during the hurricane and the complete chaos that followed were sharply criticized by just about everyone. With a noticeably unusual frankness, rather bizarre facts were brought to light.

Not in the least unusual was the traditional political race to locate convenient scapegoats to be sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, so that the guilty and incompetent but well-connected could simply go on with their business.

A first remarkable if somewhat cynical observation was 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 provisional damage estimate 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 for investors, because the following years the insurance premiums would likely be increased with 15 to 20%, which would bring in a huge, and more important, a lasting stream of revenue! As an example, the aftermath of the four Florida hurricanes cost about 22 billion dollars in damages, but the subsequent 15% premium increase brought forth a real financial Bonanza...

New Orleans

The city of New Orleans itself was dying. It would take six to ten weeks to repair the levees, at least that long again to pump all the water from the city, and 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 was not established.

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.

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

New Orleans in 1800 map of New Orleans

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 lightning rod...), and in 2005 he was discarded as the political scapegoat.

George W Bush over New Orleans

Nevertheless, during a rather candid TV broadcast, Brown made some interesting remarks, that probably didn't further his career. Only on Thursday, or fully 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.

Media stunts...

Obviously, Television heavily covered the flood and the chaos in New Orleans. The media simply loved the thrill and the sensation, and as usual they professionally shot every image that even distantly resembled raw emotions and tears, rather than the bare facts.

Furthermore, even during this sensational story particular effort was brought to bear to "sanitize" unwanted remarks. During a local TV broadcast a couple of artists were interviewed for their considerations about the disaster. But 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 his 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...