CommunityPam's House Blend

New Orleans dangerously unprepared for hurricane season

Is there any surprise about this? It’s sickening that the Bush admin, state, and local officials have failed to adequately prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, and thousands of residents are at risk once again.

The non-profit Institute for Southern Studies has prepared a new report, “Storm Cloud over New Orleans,” as part of its Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch project. It documents the negligence that leaves the city’s storm defenses in critical condition. Some of the sorry stats:

* Due to delays in funding and construction, nearly 20% of New Orleans levees and floodwalls destroyed by Katrina have not been repaired. What’s more, the Army Corps of Engineers has no mandate to protect the city from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, even though climate trends show storms are growing in intensity.

* The city’s pump system, designed to prevent flooding in low-lying areas, has not been tested and repaired after being corroded after Katrina. Three pumps failed during a light rain in April, and doubts about oversight and evacuation plans have added to the chaos.

* Federal leaders have done little to restore Louisiana’s fast-disappearing coastal wetlands. Despite being an excellent natural “buffer” against storm surges, Congress rejected a $2 billion proposal to restore the wetlands this spring.

* Over the concerns of community leaders, officials have failed to take action to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet — 40-year-old relic which during Katrina breached its levees in 20 places, and is responsible for destroying over 20,000 acres of key wetlands.

Add to that the tactic by all Gulf states this year to alert residents that they are basically “on their own” in terms of preparing for a storm aftermath, combined with a difficult to understand, head-in-the-sand attitude by locals about the dangers posed by the upcoming hurricane season, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Emergency management officials groaned this month at a poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which found that of 1,100 adults along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, 83 percent had taken no steps to fortify their homes this year, 68 percent had no hurricane survival kits and 60 percent had no family disaster plan.

“I can’t rightfully say I see any increased sense of people getting ready,” said Larry Gispert, emergency management director in Hillsborough County, Fla., home to Tampa. “It’s like a psychological issue — ‘If I don’t think about bad things, bad things won’t happen.’ “

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding