Gustav, ultimately a minor storm despite early predictions otherwise, demonstrated that while improvements have been made, New Orleans remains ill-prepared for another major hurricane. Both empirical (“the facts”) and anecdotal (“the stories”) evidence demonstrates the long way NOLA and other coastal communities have to go before they say they are truly prepared for a major hurricane.
1) The repairs to the levy system that is designed to protect New Orleans is yet to be completed. Estimates are that those repairs would not be finished until 2011. That date will surely be extended thanks to damage caused by Gustav.
Images are already coming in showing how even the “repaired” levies were overtopped by Gustav’s storm surge. Of course, Gustav was a level 2 (quickly downgraded to a level 1 after it hit the coast), not a level 5 like Katrina. Clearly New Orleans has a long way to go to sure up its levies before it can be said to be “prepared” for another major hurricane.
2) Moreover, New Orleans has not been able to create methods for transporting the most vulnerable citizens out of harm’s way. Hundreds of patients and their families were left behind as Gustav approached because there was neither time nor ability to move them without risking further harm. For coastal communities to be truly prepared, they must create procedures to ensure that such people remain safe when left behind (e.g. “hurricane proof” medical facilities or mobile units capable a transporting such critically ill patients).
3) Very little has been accomplished towards repairing the wetlands that once buffered, if not shielded, the Louisiana coast from hurricanes and their storm surges. These areas were drained, filled, and cleared for development and shipping, eliminating their natural protection. These areas must be restored in order for people to successfully live in the area.
4) Now that the hurricane has passed, it’s clear that returning the two million evacuees is stretching NOLA’s logistical capabilities. While it demonstrates unpreparedness, NOLA can hardly be faulted for getting residents out of the city. Only experience will generate the skills to manage a major hurricane on both the front and back end. However, it demonstrates the complexities that a major hurricane presents and the myriad ares that local government need to prepare for in order to handle such storms properly.
1) The news over the past few days has included many stories of the “holdouts” that choose to remain behind despite the threats. Over 1500 New Orleanians died when Katrina hit their part of the coast. Many, if not most, of them died in their homes. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of preparedness and appreciation for the power of a hurricane to choose to remain behind despite such facts.
2) The news and internet forums are also alive with the reports of emptied store shelves and gasoline stations out of fuel across the coast and hundreds of miles inland. Such last minute hording is a classic indicator that residents were ill-prepared for another major storm and the possibility of evacuation.
3) Despite local governments’ best efforts confusion still dominated the evacuation efforts. In addition, the evacuation routes were overcrowded for the last minute inundation. Clearly, there has to be more advanced action and more detailed planning in order to adequately evacuate such a large population.
These facts and stories illustrate that, while improvements have been made, New Orleans still remains unprepared for a major hurricane. Fortunately, there is still time. Gustav, the seventh named storm of the season, served as a warning. Hopefully, additional lessons will be learned from it and improvements made. After all, it is just a matter of time before another major hurricane strikes.