Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued ... It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation ..." from a National Geographic article in October 2004, almost a year prior to Hurricane Katrina.

It is nice to think that there is some big wonderful organization there to protect you from harm, just as it is nice believe that 'snake oil' can cure all your ailments. Both are myths. Like snake oil salesmen, politicians have offered countless benefits to their constituents, and like snake oil salesmen, they know better than to offer a guarantee.

The above photograph (from Dept. of Commerce) is not a black and white photo of New Orleans today, but one from 1927, when flooding was throughout New Orleans, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois and affected other states to the north and east. Over 700,000 people were displaced from the flooding. But we didn't see widespread looting or people relying heavily on government to save them. They weren't handed $2000 debit cards to get food and clean water. People were somewhat self-sufficient in spite of their adverse circumstances. Yet the billions of dollars government has already spent have failed to make people significantly better off had they not relied on government in the first place.

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