We’ve spent a lot of time on Katrina this weekend. I appreciate your indulgence. Usually, the media hype associated with one of these kinds of anniversaries is more than I can stomach. But in this instance, unfortunately, the attention is deserved, not merely because of the initial severity of the disaster but because each day the disaster along the Gulf Coast continues to unfold.
Two additional points:
(1) The people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have suffered greatly, too. I will always remember the chill that ran down my spine late in the day the storm hit when I heard a local describe the storm surge as “worse than Camille.” For those who had lived for a generation with Camille as the benchmark against which all hurricanes would forever be measured, the notion of a hurricane worse than Camille was as surreal as watching the Twin Towers collapse.
(2) Had Hurricane Rita hit a more densely populated region, we would speak her name with the same reverence as Katrina’s. She was an awesome storm and wiped the landscape clean in Southwest Louisiana at least as thoroughly as Katrina did in the southeast part of the state. The impact on individual lives was no less disastrous for those in Rita’s path; the only difference is that there were fewer lives affected.
People often ask why New Orleans has benefitted from so much of the attention given to the Gulf Coast. The cavalier answer is, what benefit exactly? Whether the complaint is New Orleans getting more network TV anchor visits than Mississippi or the Ninth Ward getting more coverage than Lakeview, I have not seen any evidence that this allegedly undue media coverage has made a real difference on the ground. New Orleans has half of its pre-storm population. The Ninth Ward is merely uninhabitable. I wish the problem was as simple as an inequitable allocation of resources.
The real answer to why New Orleans is the focus is twofold.
First and most obvious, significantly more people lived in and around New Orleans than anywhere else affected by the hurricanes of the past two seasons. Naturally that makes New Orleans more newsworthy.
Second, nothing could have been done to prevent the impact of Katrina on Mississippi or of Rita on the Louisiana/Texas border region. But were it not for the failure of the levee system, New Orleans would have survived with a few bumps and bruises. Hundreds of lives, a culture, and a way of life would have been spared. It was preventable. Not only that, decades of toil and treasure had been expended specifically to prevent this precise disaster. American taxpayers were sold on the Cadillac of flood control systems but were delivered a Yugo.
Disasters happen. But what happened to New Orleans is different.
A reminder that TPM continues to provide first-hand accounts from New Orleans at its Katrina blog, After the Levees.