Monday, September 01, 2008

The Storm That Almost Was: Reflections on Katrina as Gustav Passes By

So, given our ties to the Southeaster Louisiana area, I've been watching the Hurricane Gustav news with bated breath. Some of you may remember, we moved here roughly 6 months after Katrina. We had been living in Baton Rouge, a town roughly an hour away from New Orleans. In Baton Rouge, we fared well having only to deal with extended power outages (ours was out only 4 days), astonishing amounts of traffic, overcrowded schools, and constant low-flying helicopters and airplanes accessing the Red Cross staging area next to our house. Baton Rouge is away from the coast and, although it suffers from water challenges (too much, rather the opposite of where we live now), remains fairly consistently unflooded.

We still have many beloved friends in Louisiana and I was quite concerned watching Gustav barrel on towards the region. After all, surely New Orleans doesn't need more heartache. So, I've been watching the Internet avidly, checking in with MimiBean to see if she's heard or seen anything on the US national news and such. Today, it seems clear that Gustav came ashore with less wind and in a better location than Katrina. Thank You, Lord. And, so I begin to reflect on the interesting nature of living in hurricane prone New Orleans and thinking about all that anyone who views the issue from a distance misses.

After Katrina, everyone was so pleased to share their thoughts on what could have been done better. Clearly, everyone should have been evacuated before the storm. Really, the city government should have gotten everyone out of there. And, there is some truth to the idea that no one took Katrina as seriously as they should have (and I do mean NO one). But, Gustav provides a nice example of what truly typically happens in New Orleans (and has for many, many, many years). Big, nasty looking storms rage and head for New Orleans, then they turn aside, slow down, and otherwise become much less threatening. And, in the comfort of homes far from the coast after Katrina, people said yes but everyone should have left. I'd estimate while we lived in Louisiana, we typically saw 2 storms per SEASON that caused voluntary evacuations because they were headed towards New Orleans. Can you imagine the uproar over money that would be going on if this kind of widespread evacuation had happened twice every season for 20 years (40 years) without a Katrina? How many times do you think people would continue to rush out only to have a near miss? How many people would decide to just stay home and hope that this one will be no worse than the 30 others they've ridden out? And, do you blame them?

You know how they say hindsight is always 20/20. Well, that's how I feel about Katrina. We were terribly fortunate. Baton Rouge is typically the place they evacuate to. We were in no particular danger and life went on, if a bit more crowded, as usual. And yet, I didn't blame people who stayed. I got caught in the evacuation 2 storms before Katrina trying to get one of the kids to the Doctor. A 10 minute drive took 30 minutes, and that's only because I knew all of the back roads. Front roads would have taken 3 hours. And that storm, like Gustav, dropped a little rain and then went along its way. It's enough to make anyone dismiss concerns until the time has come and gone to leave. So, for those of us who lived in the storm zone, how it was handled afterward was a much greater issue than the before. Because over the years there have been many, many might-be-bads and expecting everyone to leave is unrealistic. This first big near-miss after Katrina everyone left (2 million people, that's really an evacuation folks). But, come a few more years down the line with 3 or 4 more storms that head for the Big Easy and then veer off and people will again grow complacent. They will again assume, oh this one will turn too.

I'm thankful to see that Gustav landed in a place with less population, although my heart goes out to those who lived along the coast. In this storm, too, we will see people who have lost everything. To those in Port Fouchon and surrounding areas, I pray that your homes and lives are intact and you will able to move on as before. Although I sit half a world away, I still think of the beauty of Louisiana (and miss the water!) and keep you in my thoughts and prayers during Hurricane Season.

Happy Near-Misses!


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