Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later

It was five years ago today that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

While Katrina is most remembered for the devastation it wrought in New Orleans it did damage throughout Louisiana as well as in Alabama, Mississippi and parts of northwestern Florida.

Katrina resulted in the deaths of over 1,800 people, destroyed billions of dollars worth of residential and commercial property and caused one of the largest migrations in this country's history. The situation was further excaberated by Hurricane Rita less than a month later and Hurricane Wilma a month after that. Aside from the War in Iraq, no other single event did so much damage to the presidency of George W. Bush.

As someone who works in the insurance industry I can tell you that in the days following Hurricane Katrina that everyone was flying by the seat of their pants and that things were being improvised on a whim and quite frankly, there was no other way it could have been done. All the emergency planning in the world could not have prepared anyone in government, the private sector or the non-profit sector for a Katrina like event. Most of my activities at work for the next year were devoted to Hurricane Katrina. It was both the best and worst of times. It was the best of times in that I had the opportunity to show my employer that I could work well under pressure and adapt to whatever the situation demanded. It was the worst of times in that these skills would not have been tested without so many people being left without homes and living hand to mouth.

With that in mind as devastating as the BP oil spill has been in the Gulf I don't think it was ultimately as disastrous as Katrina. Yes, it took more than three months to stop the spill, the economy in the Gulf has been hit hard and there may be long term environmental impacts that are not yet observable. But Katrina caused far more loss of life and of property and the psychological damage from that will be felt for years to come. While New Orleans has experienced recovery there is still much rebuilding to be done there and throughout the Gulf. It will be interesting to what progress has been made in the Gulf in five years time.

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