New Orleans: After the Storm
On the 29th of August, 2005, a Category 3 Hurricane swept across the state of Louisiana and dealt major damages to the City of New Orleans, a tragedy never to be forgotten by the American Nation. Though the hurricane never hit the city itself, through its huge rainfall content, it has caused levee breaches which had dealt the most damage as flood devastated the city, and was thus dubbed as the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States (Kilpatrick & Dermisi, 2007). Lost of lives and property were dealt during the incident, as the crime rates hiked up due to the disorder caused by the hurricane, and images of criminals engaging grand theft auto were seen live on television, as buildings were burning or being wrecked by the flood.
Critics continue to blame various groups, individuals and factors for the terrible incident which has scarred the people’s hearts and minds, and has terrorized and affected both individuals and their pets who were residents of the city, still learning who to blame, and being tight in releasing funds for insurance claims, and learning whether the state should pay for the damages or not. Yet, whether damages were paid or remain unpaid, and whether individuals who should be blamed were blamed or left unquestioned, it must be realized that beyond restoring the finances of the people and giving due justice, healing the wounds of each and every resident of New Orleans who currently suffer from the emotional, and psychological baggage which burden each and every one of them must be realized and given due priority.
Faulty Urban Planning. The development of cities and industries has caused the increase of population in areas near industrial zones in consideration to the convenience brought about by being near to the jobs present in the area. The continuing increase in the population and demand for cheap homes have been the critical factors in pursuing the building of homes in marshlands, swamps, reclamation areas, and other low ground areas by the Government led United States Army Corps of Engineers, in the City of New Orleans. After the construction of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal in 1940, the state closed the commercial waterways which were used before for waterborne commerce, leading to the drastic lowering of the city’s water table.
The US Army Corps of Volunteers then built a levee system around the area covering much of the city’s marshlands and swamps, without consideration to the possible subsidence brought about by the compression of underlying soils. These brought about land subsidence of up to 8 feet or 2 meters in some areas which were reclaimed by the US government. A recent study of the Tulane University notes that 49% of New Orleans is below sea level, with the majority of the population on the higher ground. However, the mean elevation of the city has become between 1 and 2 feet below the sea level, with some parts as high as 16 feet and some parts as deep as 10 feet. The city is also bordered by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, and is marbled with canals and bayous (Galle, 2007) which maybe considered geologically hazardous.
Moving on. Two years after the incident, the residents of New Orleans are still trying to cope up with the emotions, and the losses which they have incurred during Hurricane Katrina. For some individuals, moving on might be a very easy thing to do, especially if they have some other place to move on to. Yet for some, the typhoon was just the beginning, especially if they’re homes have been washed out or burned by some thug or all their assets and even their pets are gone. A year after the typhoon businesses in the high ground started to bloom again, as most of the restaurants are open, the Convention Center began to have bookings, and almost all of the premium office space in the business district is occupied, and the Port of New Orleans is nearly back to normal.
Tourists have also started to come back, and almost half of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina population is back mostly crowded into the high ground along the river (Ydstie, 2006). For some individuals, the damage dealt by Hurricane Katrina was something that has made them further down, as insurance companies refused to pay some victims due to some loopholes within the insurance policies such as the wind vis-à-vis flood, and the flood vis-à-vis hurricane policies. Some insurance companies claim that individuals could not be compensated for their wrecked homes if their insurance policy says that their houses are insured for hurricane since it was the flooding that has caused the house to be destroyed, a heartless argument that gives no consideration to the logic that there would be no flood if there was no hurricane at all. Worse are the insurance companies who argue that wind was the cause for the houses’ roofs to come off and the flooding did not cause it, thus they would only pay partially for the damages.
These defenses and loopholes of insurance companies made things worst for Katrina Victims, and should be condemned. While most of the individuals suffer from more stressful damages brought about by such insurance companies, what should be stressed for them is the fact that, the first rule of insurance policy construction is that ambiguous policy language is interpreted against the drafter (“contra proferentem”) which in most cases are the insurance companies, and also that, insurance agents, must also then be sued for their negligence towards their jobs of making such loophole-full policies (Abraham, 2007). Also individuals who lost their houses are troubled by some policies such as the high ground policy which forces them to make their houses higher, individuals who have problems with stairs such as those suffering from arthritis are troubled by this.
Pets after Katrina. During the Hurricane, the residents of New Orleans initially saving their lives left their pets behind. Cats and dogs of different breeds and species were lost, and were forced to roam a world which was unknown to them, while being thirsty and unfed, and while some residents were trying to find back their pets some individuals were arrogant about them such as the cop who threw out a dog named snowball out of a bus (“Snowball! Snowball!”, 2005). A year after the incident, organizations such as the North Shore Animal League of America, helped retrieved pets of New Orleans’ residents. Initiatives to house some of the pets which no one claimed, however there has been a lack of credible population to adopt such pets.
Lessons learned. Some individuals say that the impact Hurricane Katrina has dealt is comparable to the impact of the Oakland Firestorm which hit Oakland California in 1991, which then, was a large urban fire which occurred in the northern Oakland, California, and which has killed 25 people and injured 150 others. While some issues of Hurricane Katrina are comparable, such as the amount of damage dealt, and the fact that most of the victims of the Oakland Firestorm were somewhat unaware of their insurance policies just like the victims of Katrina, the issues of complacency and uncompetitive planning are the factors which make the circumstances of the two incidents different. While the damages dealt by Hurricane Katrina were due to the lack of mitigation, and the lack of competitive advantage in terms of planning, the damages brought about by the fire in Oakland California were mainly due to the complacency of the residents and the local municipality in terms of controlling the fire.
Reflections. While it holds true that acts of God could never be controlled by man, it must always be taken into consideration, that God has given us our brains for us to analyze and think about what we can do just in case. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the damage could have been avoided if there were only enough mitigation done, such as holding studies about the geography and the soil composition of the area, and taking a close monitor over the movements of the soil and the water levels, and making detailed and well thought off engineering measures to prevent such incident from happening again. It must also be taken into account that there have been not enough measures to provide emotional support for the victims of the typhoon, and such emotional stress and tension must be given consideration and priority by the government and other support groups.
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