Sunday, August 28, 2005

Too Little, Too Late in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Evacuation back log at the New Orleans Superdome
Mario Tama/Getty Images

I flunked meteorology in college, but I am fascinated by weather phenomenon nonetheless. I have been glued to the tube all weekend watching the progress of hurricane Katrina.

Apparently I am on the same wave length with Jim Cantore, a Weather Channel meteorologist. Cantore expressed concern that evacuation in Mississippi was moving so slowly.

On Friday I was alarmed when tropical storm Katrina became a hurricane. I was even more alarmed when Floridians, who should be experienced in these matters, were blase because it was just a Category 1 storm.

Newsflash. There are no minor hurricanes. Tropical storms kill people, itty bitty Category 1 hurricanes kill too. Katrina killed 7 in Florida.

To get to my point quickly, I think it is going to prove catastrophic that the city of New Orleans didn't issue an evacuation order until today. The storm track all weekend pointed to a Gulf Coast land fall. If the Mayor was squeamish about evacuating before today he should have warned his city yesterday that there might be an evacuation order issued today.
The announcement didn't take place until 11 a.m. central time today. This time lag is unconscionable. I hope it doesn't prove tragic as well.

As the photo above shows, there are thousands of New Orleans residents who were unable to leave town. Most of them are poor people lugging bedding, pampers and non-perishable food only to find a human traffic jam when they arrive at the Superdome to access shelter. I can only imagine taking my septugenarian parents, neither of whom walks very well, into a crowd of humanity where they have to stand for hours.

I live in New York and I knew that New Orleans lies beneath sea level. What have they been doing? How could they have been so unprepared?

Those who have cars are stuck in traffic jams along the coast. What happens when they run out of gas? There is already no gasoline to be had. At what point should motorists look for an elevated building if they can't find elevated ground?

I hope that they are doing a better job of answering these questions in Louisiana and Mississippi. After all the post 9/11 talk about disaster planning I expected better from public officials.