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Hurricane Katrina
Jon Lebkowsky, 28 Aug 05

Last December and January, was one nexus of discussion of the devastating impact of the Southeast Asian tsunami. Tonight Louisianan and Mississippi are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Katrina, which, according to Ivor van Heerden, director of the Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in Baton Rouge, may be "our equivalent of the Asian tsunami, in terms of the damage and the numbers of people that can be killed." Katrina is heading toward New Orleans, which is six feet below sea level and extremely vulnerable to flooding.

Katrina is another in a series of intense, catastrophic tropical storms, and there is some evidence that increased intensity of hurricanes is related to global warming, which could mean more and more powerful storms. There are known mitigation strategies, but are these sufficient for repeated category 4 and 5 hurricanes? Katrina, like the Southeast Asian tsunami, will test our ability to cope, but the tsunami was hopefully a one-time event, whereas there may be more like Katrina. We should factor potential intense weather into scenarios and expectations for the global future.

Update, 8/30/2005, 8:45am PDT: New Orleans escaped a direct hit, but 80 percent of the city is under water, according to Mayor Ray Nagin, who expects a significant death toll. (There are 68 reported deaths so far, 55 of those in Mississippi). After thoughtful feedback from others within the WorldChanging community, I removed the reference to the Southeast Asian tsunami from the title of this post. I believe van Heerden's comparison was meant to dramatize the danger to citizens of New Orleans and hasten evacuation. However an attempt to compare any two tragedies is insensitive to the very real sense of loss associated with all such events.

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My prayers are with the folks going through this ordeal. Today I stumbled across a website at which supports the brave people facing Hurricane Katrina. Others have posted letters of support on the site as well.

Posted by: george on 28 Aug 05

Good post, Jon.

Folks might want to check out, where there's a really gob-smacking animated map of Katrina hitting the coast (BIG storm), a good CNN-produced video piece on the "worst case scenario" for New Orleans. CNN's actively asking for citizen video, photo, and story submissions, too.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 28 Aug 05

Word is that Katarina gained her strenght because of unusually warm water in the gulf - driven by climate change? Who's to say...

My thoughts are with all affected - good luck!

Posted by: Rod Edwards on 29 Aug 05

A friend points to discussion at The Oil Drum forum of Katrina's potential impact on oil and gas supplies, including a map of affected facilities.

Re potential accentuating impact of climate change, the BBC says: "If Katrina strengthens again, it could be only the fourth category five storm to hit the US since record-keeping began." (The first three were in 1935, 1969, and 1992, according to the NOAA.)

Thinking long-term, what kind of building standards for "storm-resistant architecture" might mitigate damage in the future, which would also be energy-efficient and not prohibitively expensive?

Posted by: Hassan Masum on 29 Aug 05

Ivor van Heerden, director of the Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in Baton Rouge, may be "our equivalent of the Asian tsunami, in terms of the damage and the numbers of people that can be killed."

Puh-lease. Maybe in that warped universe that exists on television news where 2 Americans count more than the 200 non-Americans killed in some disaster, but don't think for a moment you can compare the death and destruction from the Boxing Day tsunami to a category 4 hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast.

New Orleans and Louisiana and the federal government have know for decades that a big storm would swamp the city, so while I hope the loss of life is minimal - except for the idiots who hold hurricane parties - and I am truly sorry for the people who will suffer personal losses from this storm, I could care less if the French Quarter is no more. Let it return to the mud from which it came.

Posted by: Richard Albury on 29 Aug 05

HARDLY COMPARABLE! With this hurricane, the people affected have been given ample warning and time to escape. The tsunami was instantaneous and ... I do not know what else to say, there is NO COMPARISON.

p.s. People that live on a flood plane or below sea level and contine to rebuild after each disaster deserve their fate.

Posted by: Mark Sherban on 29 Aug 05

To quote my friend Howard:

What a stupid race we are, to build cities on a planet with such environmental disasters. We totally deserve it.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 29 Aug 05

Perhaps Jon should have said, "Our Version of the Asian Tsunami" instead of "Our Equivalent." Because they're not equal in their destruction and mortality. They might be equal in their potential for learning. And in the long run, that's all we can salvage from disasters.

One thing we can learn is that anyone in danger deserves compassion and help, whether we think them "innocent" or "guilty", "ignorant" or "learned", "stupid, fat, greedy American" or "innocent third world bystander" - or whatever description one invents.

For some reason, I sometimes find myself "first on the scene" after some bad accident. I've made splints, braced broken necks, administered CPR, stanched bleeding wounds, etc. At that moment, the person's biography is not important. Maybe later, understanding why the accident happened is important.

Posted by: David Foley on 29 Aug 05

If the hurricane had stayed at full strength every city in its path would have been ripped apart and quite a few skyscrappers would have fallen and yes the death toll would have been massive as people id not in fact have much warning as they thought it was gona just hit florida. Remember it hit florida as a level 1 hurricane and then exploded into a level 5. Some 100k people in new orleans alone couldnt get out in time as many people dont have cars... Oh by the way for people who dont like cars.. this is why anyone on the coast should have thier own car.

Also before you feel the worst is over we dont know how many people couldng get far enough away its still a cat 2 hurricane and it will kill alot of people deep inland.

Posted by: wintermane on 29 Aug 05

Perhaps Jon should have said, "Our Version of the Asian Tsunami" instead of "Our Equivalent."

I was quoting Ivor van Heerden... and I agree that there are important differences between this storm and the tsunami, especially seeing that it wasn't quite as powerful at landfall and didn't strike New Orleans head on.

I disagree with Mark Sherban's contention that the tsunami was instantaneous. In fact there would have been sufficient time to post a warning with a different communications environment, a clearer sense how to get the word out.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 29 Aug 05

Ivor van Heerden made other equally inane remarks which caught the attention of the CJR Daily:

Fire Ants Eat Citizens, Just Before Toxic Soup Burns City to Ground!

I'm surprised Fox hasn't signed him up to do political commentary; he seems to have all the necessary attributes.

Posted by: Richard Albury on 29 Aug 05

The CJR article was by Gal Beckerman, who oddly enough seems to have no relevant expertise? I thought you were referring to a refutation by one of van Heerden's peers.

If you poke around, you'll find that van Heerden isn't the only one predicting problems with toxic chemicals and fire ants (plus alligators, poisonous snakes, mosquitos, rats, etc.)

I think the inanity here is on Gal Beckerman's side of the fence.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 29 Aug 05

I was born in Florida and was unable to
(A)obtain enough education before my mid-twenties to
(B)find employment that paid enough for me to do more than barely live from paycheck to paycheck; much less,
(C)save enough money to move away from a state that is perpetually bombarded by hurricanes.

Finally, at age 30, I was at last able to break out of the economic black hole that exists in the costal regions where economies rely heavily on tourism.

Thousands of others are not so fortunate. Caught in an economic Chinese finger trap, they find themselves being "stupid" and having to ride out these storms because they CANNOT AFFORD TO FLEE. No money=No petrol (and often no car or TV),No way to pay for a hotel room = No option = Possibly dying in a hurricane.

My sister, a single parent living on minimum wage was forced to ride out Andrew with her little girl cowering in a bathtub because she didn't have a car, or money to flee. She too was "stupid" and "deserving" of her fate. The last we heard from her during Andrew were her screams as her roof caved in.

Most of my family is too poor to leave Florida (where they were born through no fault of their own)though they desperately want to move elsewhere. I was fortunate. I moved up far enough up the economic food chain to stop being (to closely paraphrase)"Stupid and deserving of their fate".

I spit on all of you who are, like Mr. "p.s. People that live on a flood plane or below sea level and contine to rebuild after each disaster deserve their fate." for being such pompous, myopic, misanthropists as to casually dismiss the suffering of your fellow human beings. (For the record Sir Know-it-all, it is a floodPLAIN--one word--not a flood PLANE.)

Have you not seen the news? Have you not seen the faces of those who stayed behind? Granted there are a handful of persons of questionable sanity who had the means to leave and did not. However, the majority of faces I have been seeing appear to be the elderly, and--judging by their dress--the poor.

Another guilty party in this is the media. Rather than have a dull news day, they habitually hype any and all hurricanes as being "The Storm to End All Storms". This hype has lead to a disbelief amongst coastal residents when they hear the doom sayers start to sing their same old one-size-fits-all, end-of-the-world doom song.

All too often, the "Storm of the Century" turns out to be little more than a tropical storm with minimal damage and could have been ridden out just fine--no loss of time from work,and no wasting money on hotel rooms, eating out, petrol and all the other incidental costs incurred in fleeing a storm.

It costs a several hundred dollars to flee a minor storm and well over a thousand dollars to flee a storm like Katrina. How many of you could afford the luxury of running everytime the media blow a storm out of portion?

Louisianna, Mississippi, and Alabama are three of the poorest states in this country--in case you hadn't noticed. They were trapped and sentenced to death by poverty. But I guess misanthropists like Mr. "deserve their fate" just see it as an efficient way of getting a bunch of stupid southerners off the welfare teat, and eliminating the working poor in those states too.

We'll send billions overseas to give away to others and abandon our own in this despicable manner. Constituent responsibility does not end when you finish casting your ballot. All must take an active part in running their government, not just expecting Bob the used car salesman you elected to the position of Senator to know more than you about running the country.
These people could have been evacuated, the expense of search and rescue negated if we constituents demanded FORCED and FACILITATED evacuations, and legislation preventing the construction of ANY building below a scientifically established safe zone of "X"ft above sea level. No grandfathering in and what have you. We can demand those billions of dollars we send overseas annually be used to revamp our own infrastructure to accomodate these environmental threats caused by climactic changes, rather than suffer the tremendous economic impact caused repeatedly by turning a blind eye to changes in our weather patterns. This applies to the economic impact of hurricanes, drought, wildfire, and (while not weather patterns)earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanic activity etc.

In the meantime, why not volunteer to help those suffering? America is expected to rush to the aid of others world wide when a catastrophe hits. Who will come to our aid when we are suffering and in need? I say we should watch and see, then take our observations to heart and into consideration the next time we are criticized for giving less money than the world thinks we should. That is of course IF, should we see our international friends are merely fair-weather, we decide to give of ourselves at all instead of saving it for our own needs against the day we must again face catastrophe alone.

The international community thus far seems to be eerily void of so much as a word of comfort during our suffering... It gives one pause.

Posted by: Sarah Lang on 31 Aug 05

Wow, what force the storm came in (thankfully it was not a category 5 afterall). Funny how everyone was told to goto the Dome, it looks like the first place I would visit if i was a huricane! Thankfully everyone had suffient notice to leave the area (if they had an alternative).

A website on (poverty portal and homless search engine) may be able to help find homeless resources in near by counties and states down south (near New Orleans) like Florida and Louisiana...

BTW, stop looting Walmart and hope everyone is well, my heart goes out to you and your families!

Posted by: New Search Engine on 31 Aug 05

So where'e the Giuliani for Katrina? Is the perceptual acuity of this administration so dim? Is everyone on vacation? Do we even have a Vice President? Where's the breakout thinking? Where's the armada to get people out of New Orleans? Where are the fly-in communications centers? Where are the portable cell towers and free cell phones? How can wifi help? Where are the refugee shelters? What the plan for putting millions to work in new jobs? How's got the guts to declare the Gulf Coast a forbidden zone? Where are the water purification systems? Where is Bush?

Posted by: Will on 31 Aug 05

Already over $25,000,000,000 (25 billion dollars, this figure could double with insurance claims) in damages, food/water shortages, looting/crime (price gauging) running rampant (military law to take affect?), it is hurendous! Got as high as a cat5 tropical storm (the warm gulf coast waters increased the high winds greatly), a rarity for United States! This was expected to be a bad year for rare weather patterns (maybe due to global warming?).

My heart goes out to people living in Mississippi, New Orleans, southern Alabama, Gulf Coast, etc... I encourage everyone to volunteer (search & rescue workers, fire fighters, debris clearing, medical staff, engineers, etc) for or donate to a hurricane relief fund (the damage is tremendous and many homeless or missing) like UNICEF, United Way, American Red Cross (many wounded need blood donations, even volunteer nurses and doctors are needed) or the Salvation Army (find links on for homeless/poverty organizations near disaster areas), (make sure it is reputable organization)!

Posted by: New Search Engine on 31 Aug 05

America: The Good Neighbor.

Widespread but only partial news coverage was given to a remarkable editorial broadcast from Toronto by Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian television commentator. Though the editorial was given during the Vietnam war it is as relevant today as it was then. What follows is the full text of his trenchant remarks as printed in the Congressional Record. As it is in the Congressional Record it is open for public use:

"This Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the earth. Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of these countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States. When France was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it. When earthquakes hit distant cities, it is the United States that hurries in to help. This spring, 59 American communities were flattened by tornadoes. Nobody helped. The Marshall Plan and the Truman Policy pumped billions of dollars into discouraged countries. Now newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, warmongering Americans. I'd like to see just one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplane. Does any other country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tri-Star, or the Douglas DC10? If so, why don't they fly them? Why do all the International lines except Russia fly American Planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or woman on the moon? You talk about Japanese technocracy, and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy, and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy, and you find men on the moon -! not once, but several times - and safely home again. You talk about scandals, and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everybody to look at. Even their draft dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They are here on our streets, and most of them, unless they are breaking Canadian laws, are getting American dollars from ma and pa at home to spend here. When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. I can name you 5000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don't think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake. Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I'm one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them get kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of those." Stand proud, America!

Posted by: lovetogarden on 1 Sep 05

Gone With the Wind - Scarlet: "As God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to LIE, STEAL, CHEAT or KILL. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

Can anyone really be shocked at the behavior of those thirsty, starving and swimming in feces in New Orleans? Regardless of their ability or choice to leave. They are humans. We have put people on the moon. After 4 days, why can't we get these people food and water? As a freshman in college ten years ago I studied the fact that New Orleans was morbidly threatened. I watched the TV Sunday night and told my friend whose parents fled the fish-bowl city, "I'm sorry." I lived in Houston in 1983 through Alicia, a category 3, and I knew what was about to happen. I wish people didn't have such short term memories. I also wish that those who are intelligent and have the wherewithal to make changes would step up and demand that precautions are taken. Maybe I feel a little guilty myself.

Why are we letting our own people suffer? On many levels, I am intensely concerned about the future of our country. There is nothing "super" about the reality of today. It costs $65 to fill my tank. How will this affect airfare? Shipping costs? Electricity bills? This will push up companies' costs and thus prices of everything (everything except salaries). The real estate bubble is about to burst. What the hell is going on?

It doesn't matter who is at fault - we must be forward thinking. What matters is what we (as a country) need to do, right now, to turn this boat around. Left or right, rich or poor. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly. I think it is atrocious that people are still suffering after 4 days along the Gulf. Make no mistake about it, things can and quite possibly could get shockingly worse - and I'm not the only one of this mindset.

Posted by: Claire on 2 Sep 05


Posted by: cathy on 2 Sep 05

I hope you all realize how right Professor van Heerden was. This will be as bad as, if not worse, than any tsunami. Tens of thousands are dead, not from the hurricane, but from the lack of any response from the Federal government. People died in hospitals because there was no way to maintain power, while generators sat in Federal warehouses. Bush is now sending troops to secure New Orleans from the thousands of dying citizens trying to survive. But they are poor and lacked the means to get out so they mean nothing to "our" government. FEMA was told not to respond untill days after the hurricane ended, saving their funds for clean up instead of rescue. Relief organizations have been great but the only one that has the equipment and infrastructure for mass rescue is the Federal government, and they have done nothing. I am ashamed to be an American.

Posted by: HMD on 3 Sep 05

This is from two and a half years ago.

Posted by: HMD on 3 Sep 05

If you are ashamed to be an American, why don't you move. I'm sure you'll find a more responsive government to take care of you somewhere else.

Posted by: CC on 3 Sep 05

man is depleating his own envioment,striping it just look around you,the poor are awalways last. you witness this just this week, no cars, no gas ,no money,no help.willliving day to day,no one helping ,will we learn from this God i hope so..

Posted by: Joe on 4 Sep 05

man is depleating his own envioment,striping it just look around you,the poor are awalways last. you witness this just this week, no cars, no gas ,no money,no day to day,no one helping ,will we learn from this God i hope so..

Posted by: Joe on 4 Sep 05

Hello All,
I made a 4 minute film on local reactions to Hurricane Katrina, and people's experiences in North Carolina with previous hurricanes such as Floyd. I am trying to get this to air on Current TV. If you like my film, please give it a GREENLIGHT. With enough greenlights, my piece will air and I will donate all the money I make to the Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund.

Copy and Paste this link into your browser to watch the video:

Copy and Paste this link into your browser to donate to the red cross:


Check out my blog:

Posted by: Allison on 6 Sep 05

My thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of the survivors. God Bless your dear hearts. HE is in control and YOU WILL get through this, just PLEASE have faith. Thank you and God Bless to everyone who has helped in whatever way they possibly could.

Posted by: Michelle Vanous on 9 Sep 05



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