Radix - Hurricane Katrina

This page has information and links related specifically to Hurricane Katrina which hit the US Gulf Coast in August 2005.

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Amazing Grace by Anne Lowe (the story of a volunteer for Common Ground in New Orleans in January 2006) (pdf)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Isolated Native American Communities Struggle in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Isolated and marginalized in normal times, the plight of Native Americans in the deep bayous of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is extreme. Click here to stream a video documentary by Mexico based community video maker, Greg Berger and to read a transcript of an interview with him: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/24/0740237

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Findings from the School of American Research Advanced Seminar on Rethinking Frameworks, Methodologies, and the Role of Anthropology in Development Induced Displacement and Resettlement. (Oct 1, 2005) (download Word file 32.5kb)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) TED STEINBERG "Opinion: A Natural Disaster, a Man-Made Catastrophe, and a Human Tragedy" Friday, September 9, 2005. The Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/free/2005/09/2005090906n.htm

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "Noticing gender (or not) in disasters" by Joni Seager (A version of this essay is forthcoming in Geoforum and appeared on September 14 2005 in the Chicago Tribune.)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for:"Katrina Rebuilding -- Hire locally & Pay living wage" submitted by Kris Petersen to the Gender and Disaster Network (Download Word file here 48kb)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: New Orleans and Looting. Some thoughts from Terry Cannon (download Word file 36.5 kb)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "Power to the victims of New Orleans. With the poor gone, developers are planning to gentrify the city" by Naomi Klein. Friday September 9, 2005, The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/0,16441,1566200,00.html

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "Displaced New Orleans Community Demands Action, Accountability and Initiates A Peoples Hurricane Fund" Community Labor United, September 6th, 2005. U.S. Labor Against the War http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=9094

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: Special Report from the The Times-Picayune
"It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day."
Five part series published June 23-27, 2002, You can see the complete report at:
http://www.nola.com/hurricane/?/washingaway/  forwarded by Alberto Delgado

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "Left to sink or swim" by Gary Younge. Monday September 5, 2005, The Guardian

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "What if Hurricane Ivan Had Not Missed New Orleans?" by Shirley Laska
Natural Hazards Observer
Vol. XXIX No. 2 November 2004
Disasters Waiting to Happen . . . Sixth in a Series

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, author Shirley Laska can be reached at 2005RSS@louisiana.edu

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: Kevin Murray UUSC weblog 05 September 2005
"NOLA's Free Market Evacuation"

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: The People's Hurricane Fund

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: NEW ORLEANS'S HURRICANE EVACUATION PLAN: "YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN" By Bruce Nolan, Staff writer New Orleans Times-Picayne, July 24, 2005 http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/09/new_orleanss_hu.html

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "Intelligence Failure" by Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 04, 2005

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: "In the News: Katrina and People with Disabilities" Compiled by ADA Watch/NCDR http://www.adawatch.org/
Thanks to Todd Reynolds for sending this compilation to RADIX (download Word file 37kb)

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for "A Hurricane of Consequences" by Stephen Zunes [from Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/story/25041/4 September 2005

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for ReliefWeb's Hurricane Katrina page: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/dbc.nsf/doc108?OpenForm&emid=TC-2005-000144-USA&rc=2

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: Destroying FEMA by Eric Holdeman (25kb), Tuesday, August 30, 2005. washingtonpost.com

bd14519_1.gif (968 bytes) Go here for: Selected comments on Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) from email lists
Compiled and  updated by Ilan Kelman (dated 7 September 2005) Download Word file !!Very large file - 898kb

Hurricane Katrina: Winds of Change? (download Word file 46 kb)

“The U.S. does not need higher levees; it needs another civil rights movement.”

Dr. Ben Wisner, Oberlin College, Ohio

Revised & expanded 5 September 2005

What are the lessons we can draw from the human catastrophe taking place in New Orleans and small towns to the East along the Gulf Coast into the state of Mississippi into Alabama?

Scale and International Solidarity

The scale of the disaster and its knock on effects is enormous. However, we should not forget that at this precise time 1.6 million people have been displaced in China by a typhoon and flooding, while only a short while ago the megacity of Mumbai was engulfed by monsoon rains that its drainage system could not handle. Global sympathy for the U.S. following the Trade Tower disaster turned to ill ease and puzzlement when after one, two, even three years the U.S. government projected the image of a uniquely wounded polity, and it was this very monomania concerning terrorism that so weakened the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that preparedness for and response to hurricane Katrina was weakened.

That said, now refugees from Katrina’s impacts are spread over 20 U.S. states, where emergency declarations allow flow of special funds to the host communities from the federal government. Texas alone has received over 200,000.

60 countries have offered the U.S. assistance. It took 5 days for U.S. leaders even to acknowledge this outpouring of compassion. Even then the offers of 1,100 doctors from Cuba and a million of barrels of oil from Venezuela were arrogantly spurned. Bangladesh offered $1 million in assistance and Afghanistan $100,000. (See “Disaster Diplomacy” http://www.disasterdiplomacy.org/index.html).

Cause and Effect

Along the Gulf of Mexico people have been put at risk because of economic disparities and the priority given to the petro-chemical and gambling/ casino development as well as the retirement home industry. Destruction of the wetlands, greed driven land use and location decisions in a laissez faire environment, disregard for the poor all are evident as Katrina made land fall.

The human tragedy taking place in New Orleans and in many other, less known and unknown communities along the Gulf Coast has deep roots in neo-liberal ideology that favors lax regulations and return to investment with little concern for the social and environmental consequences. Some 1,500 square miles (3,885 km sq) of wetland has been lost over the past few decades that would have reduced the height of the storm surge affecting New Orleans. Contamination from the petro-chemical complexes and transfer points concentrated on shore and off shore has contributed to the death of wetlands. Meanwhile, low income, Black families have been trapped in poverty by the “downsizing” of the federal state. That has meant less money for education, for small businesses, and for decent, low cost housing. 37 million people live in poverty in the U.S. – up for the four year in a row. Many of these live in the U.S. South, where the anti-union environment and less stringent environmental and land use regulation have attracted chemical industries. The myth of idyllic seaside retirement has been sold to the elderly in the U.S., and retirement homes have sprouted where more of the Black working poor serve as low wage care givers. Casino gambling has also added non-union, low wage employment – a desperate last resort for communities that are losing their traditional fishing based economies due to over fishing and gross pollution of the Gulf of Mexico.

The root causes of the catastrophe triggered by Katrina are deep. An excellent history of Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America was published by Case Western Reserve historian, Ted Steinberg in 2000. In Latin America disasters such as hurricane Mitch in 1998 are seen as the result of the accumulation over years of failed development and mal-development. The same must be said of Katrina’s effects.

Race and Class in America

People have discussed the effects of a direct hit by a large hurricane on New Orleans since hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969. In the aftermath of Camille, during which 256 people died in Mississippi, documentation of racial discrimination in the allocation of recovery resources was first documented, leading to a U.S. Congressional investigation.

Has the social, political, and economic situation changed since then?

There was no plan to use the trains or some other form of mass transport to evacuate the indigent and those without private cars or money. The most recent census showed that in a city 87% Black and 30% poor, there were 112,000 households without private vehicles. This was known, but no provision was made for transport for them out of the city to smaller, well run shelters such as those in Baton Rouge. They were herded like displaced persons (which they were) into the Superdome, whose roof was then ripped open in several place by the wind. I saw images of these refugees, mostly black, being herded by armed national guardsmen who barked and yelled at them. The scene was very humiliating, not at all shelter with dignity and respect as the Red Cross tries to provide. As the days wore on the air conditioning failed, bathroom facilities became filthy, water and food ran short. By the time the decision was made to move these people to the Astrodome and other shelters in Texas and other states, conditions failed to meet international standards for shelter (SPHERE standards: www.sphereproject.org). There were also very limited facilities for people in wheel chairs.

All of this would have been avoided if at least a year ago, after the experience with hurricane Ivan, authorities had taken the needs of the poor and indigent in New Orleans seriously.

(See http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/K/KATRINA_SUPERDOME?SITE=KING&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&SECTION=HOME on conditions in the Superdome and also http://www.polythane.com/library/superd.htm on the history of problems with the Superdome roof -- something else that officials in New Orleans seem to have overlooked).

Preparedness and Prevention

Professor Kent Mathewson, a geographer based at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge has tried over the past year since hurricane Ivan to get officials to develop a contingency plan to evacuate the indigent and those without private vehicles on the trains that run through New Orleans. His suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. A church based pilot project also began after Ivan in 2004 that partnered church members without access to vehicles with those that do. This, however, was an independent effort to fill the vacuum in policy at City, State, and Federal level.

Hurricane Ivan last year should have caused a re-doubling of precautionary planning. The night Ivan approached, 20,000 low-income people without private vehicles sheltered in their homes below sea level. A direct hit would have drowned them. A US Army Corps of Engineers computer simulation has calculated that 65,000 could die in the city, in the event of a direct hit by a slow-moving category 3 hurricane. Fortunately, Ivan veered away from the city at the last moment, but still killed 25 people elsewhere in the US south. At present there is no plan for the public evacuation of low-income residents who do not own cars other than the questionable shelter and assured stress and humiliation provided by the “shelter of last resort,” the Superdome.

This time, too, things were not as bad as they could have been because of a small westward turn that placed the dangerous Northeast edge of the storm over Mississippi. Will authorities finally get the message and do serious planning for the needs of the poor? Could Katrina be the beginning of demands from below for social justice in the face of the present social and spatial distribution of risk?

Time will tell, but with so much of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agencies resources devoted to planning for terrorism and with cities like New Orleans struggling with financial burdens that neo-liberal ideology leaves them to sort out on their own, I am not optimistic. (On the destruction of FEMA by terrorism monomania of the Bush administration see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/29/AR2005082901445.html).

FEMA and other federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers as well as academics and professionals have for a long time considered a direct hit on New Orleans by a slow moving category 3 hurricane or stronger hurricane to be a worst case scenario (see, among other sources, Ben Wisner et al., At Risk. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, p. 248 and the World Disaster Report 2005 to be launched in October, 2005 by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies).

Nevertheless, planning for such an event was insufficient, and money for study, maintenance, and upgrading of New Orleans’ levee system was cut in the years leading up to this disasters. Similarly, National Guard troops in Mississippi and Louisiana and their heavy vehicles that could have helped with immediate search and rescue and relief were deployed in Iraq.

What is to be Done?

This is in no way an “act of God.” In order to learn from this event and prevent even worse ones in a future likely to have even more frequent and more intense hurricanes (due to global warming), policy makers must admit the dead end laissez faire capitalism has let us all into. Non-governmental organizations, faith communities, and activist groups need to mobilize the mass of the population in the affected area to see themselves not as victims of Nature, but victims of a late phase of globalizing capitalism. The affected people will then be in a position to see themselves as agents of their own well being and history and victims no longer as they demand social change.

In concrete terms, there is one project that seems to me a priority.

Many researchers and practitioners all over the world have experience efforts to get recovery planning to occur in a participatory and inclusive manner. Women and people
of color and people living with disabilities need to be part of the process in the post-Katrina situation. There was a civil society led struggle over recovery planning in Nicaragua following Mitch. Famously the people in the Peruvian town where anthropologist Tony Oliver-Smith lived refused to move after the 1970s catastrophe there (see his book, The Martyred City). Betty Morrow and Walt Peacock know about the struggle by women to get a place at the planning table in Miami in 1992 (described in their book, Hurricane Andrew). In May 2005, an International Recovery Platform was created in Kobe, Japan, with the purpose of pooling and making available the best of the world’s recovery experience.

We need to tap this rich global and U.S. and make a digest of this experience available in a useful form for NGOs, faith groups like the Louisiana Interfaith Council, advocates like Robert Bullard's network to expose and fight environmental racism (http://www.ejrc.cau.edu/ ).

The U.S. does not need higher levees; it needs another civil rights movement.

*** END ***

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