Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: A disaster waiting to happen, happened .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A disaster waiting to happen, happened

If it seemed like I was minimizing the effects of Katrina by saying it was not our tsunami in my previous post, I apologize for the misunderstanding. That was not my intent. I was responding to the flurry of media hype that jumped on the concept bandwagon. And, to paraphrase the Bush administration’s tired excuse, “we acted on the information we had available at the time”. At the time, it seemed there were a hundred deaths. Now the death toll appears to have increased exponentially, and the economic, social and psychological impact is becoming apparent, and indeed it seems that this will go down in history as one of America’s most severe natural disasters.

It’s also becoming apparent that much of the devastation could have been prevented. The Bush administration is responsible for selling off wetlands, which form a natural buffer against hurricanes, to real estate developers. Bush reversed restrictions on wetlands put in place by the Clinton Administration and ordered federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (2002) — The Bush administration announced today that it would ease some Clinton administration regulations covering wetlands and streams, saying the changes would reduce unnecessary paperwork.

John Studt, chief of the regulatory branch of the Army Corps of Engineers, said the revisions "will do a better job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying some administrative burdens for the regulated public."

The steps outlined today by the Army Corps angered environmental advocates, who accused the administration of capitulating to the interests of developers and miners and jeopardizing ecologically sensitive areas.

In addition to reducing natural protection, the administration slashed the budget of the New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers by $71.2 million, a 44.2% reduction, eliminating many hurricane and flood prevention projects and causing the branch to institute a hiring freeze. Funding for this branch has been on a downward trend for the past several years.

And of course the traditional first responder in any disaster is the state National Guard. Unfortunately, available Louisiana National Guard units are at a minimum, seeing as how a good third of them are currently deployed in Iraq, along with their support and ground equipment, including generators. Maybe this disaster will allow dubya to withdraw a good portion of our troops from Iraq without losing face. After all, we’re not backing off, we just need them at home. With better National Guard representation in New Orleans, the chaotic pandemonium that occurred yesterday during evacuation could have been eliminated, or at least minimized.

In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as "among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

We knew it was possible – even probable. But in order to fund the war on terra and give tax breaks to the wealthy, budget cuts had to be made somewhere. There was also money to be made by selling off wetlands to developers. It was a win-win situation, right? Well, they made their decisions based on the information they had at the time, and they took a risk that since the first most likely disaster occurred, then the odds were down for the second and third. They gambled and lost, and now it’s going to cost us much more to recover, and some of us will never recover the human losses.

Incidentally, the third most likely and catastrophic disaster? An earthquake in San Francisco. Let’s hope disasters, like bad luck, don’t come in threes.


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