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September 2, 2005

The Houston Chronicle has reprinted an article from 2001 that's a bit, how do you say, chilling.

New Orleans is sinking.

And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.

So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.

The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.

In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

Economically, the toll would be shattering.

Southern Louisiana produces one-third of the country's seafood, one-fifth of its oil and one-quarter of its natural gas. The city's tourism, lifeblood of the French Quarter, would cease to exist. The Big Easy might never recover.

And, given New Orleans' precarious perch, some academics wonder if it should be rebuilt at all.

Houston Chronicle

And there you have it.

Of course, all of this is in hindsight. While I am as disgusted as anyone that funding was diverted from the worthy goal of protecting one of our oldest and most interesting cities to the goal of destroying one of the world's oldest cities halfway around the world and giving rich people some of their tax money back, it probably still wouldn't have been enough. Sometimes disasters will happen, no matter what we do to prepare. We can't prevent everything we can anticipate, but it seems reasonable to put some priority on the top three. Of course, when you spend billions on something that might happen one day, people will complain that you're not spending it on current, actual problems.

What's really shameful is not that this wasn't prevented, but that it was handled so insanely badly in the days after. It was clear to me on Monday that this was an unmitigated disaster, but the government didn't seem to come to that realization until today, 4 days later. We may not be able to prevent these kinds of disasters every time, but we can be prepared for the aftermath. Seems to me like that's what our government should have been doing since 9/11, preparing for the next time. Wasn't that the whole point of Homeland Security and all that crap? They didn't really think they were going to be able to prevent all future catastrophes, did they?

Maybe they did. Their capacity to make me readjust my understanding of the limits of human ineptitude and selfishness truly knows no bounds.

And for you defensive partisans out there, by 'they' I generally mean almost all politicians, blue or red, but the group we have in charge right now are surely the gold standard for assheadedness.


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