Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina landed in southeastern Louisiana, devastating New Orleans and other parts of the state. The damage rolled over $100 billion, and the area is still trying to rebuild itself. The floods that have ravaged southeastern Louisiana and are crippling and have left tens of thousands without a place to call home. These natural disasters have left entire communities broken, lost, and ultimately, neglected. What have we learned from the Louisiana floods?
The floods battered the area much like Katrina did. According to a report by the Washington Post, “This unnamed storm produced three times as much rain in Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina.” The report further noted that “Some areas of Louisiana saw more rain from this event in three days than Los Angeles has in the last several years.” This isn’t just another flood. This is a historic disaster.
With Hurricane Katrina and now this, Louisiana has had to cope more with natural disasters than any other part of the United States. At what point does the community start questioning its resiliency decide that enough is enough? Surely, they shouldn’t be doing this alone.
Unfortunately, significant help doesn’t seem to be coming. Not yet.
When Katrina hit, it was the second time it made landfall. After coming out of the Atlantic, passing over Florida before regenerating to a Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, its one-two punch left New Orleans ringing. The Bush Administration tried to answer the call with Road Home, but the call might have been too little too late.
In the first two years of its initiation, the Road Home program raised $7 billion dollars. After experiencing long delays as the state sought for the federal government to match its funds for the program, Road Home stumbled with poor execution. Many homeowners saw calculations that were far below what they would need to recover or repair their homes. Others dealt with ineligibility, loopholes, and delayed disbursement. For some, the experience was smooth and the reward was much more than they could ask for. Road Home wasn’t perfect, but it was farther away from perfect than it was closer.
What will the United States government learn from its experiences? With programs like Road Home and others like New Jersey’s RREM program that began once Hurricane Sandy made impact Fall 2012, there were plenty of mistakes, disappointments, and mishaps. But they weren’t total failures, and that’s at least somewhat promising.
In order for Louisiana to recover from this disaster, the U.S. needs to act promptly. FEMA has already approved over $200 million in aid. Louisiana Rep Garrett Graves is reportedly meeting with lawmakers to prepare for meeting with Congress in September to discuss aid packages. But he, too, has been critical of disaster response in America. In an interview with MSNBC, despite praising the community for coming together, Graves called the process “unforgivable:”
“This is something that we have seen over and over and over again…we have a backwards approach to disasters in this country, where we spend exponentially more dollars coming in and cleaning up the disaster than if we had just made the communities resilient on the front end.”
The full interview is available on MSNBC’s website.
The unfortunate reality is that disasters can’t be prepared for. They happen unexpectedly and cannot be stopped. But with proper preparation, could disasters not have as much significant impact on communities in Louisiana?
Disaster response begins at a local level. Once the local level fails, then the state is called in for assistance. The state has to fail before the national government comes in. This slows the process of acquiring recovery aid, hiring volunteers, and setting up a hospice for those who have no other choice but to leave.
Disasters can’t be avoided, but the response needs to be much more predictable and streamlined. The response is as troubling and exhausting as the disasters themselves. Recovering from disasters will never be easy. Lives are lost and homes are destroyed. According to a 2013 report by Environment America Research and Policy Center, 80% of American lives have been affected by a natural disaster.
The devastation that has befallen Louisiana is heartbreaking. The recovery will take years and billions of dollars. It is important that the United States’ government responds promptly and properly. If not, it will be sustaining a historic pattern of failing its citizens. The gravity of what has been lost by these communities should not be taken lightly. This is an opportunity for a nation to prove that it knows how to care for its dwellers. The U.S. cannot afford to make the same mistakes it did with Louisiana after Katrina and with other disasters like Hurricanes Sandy, Rita, and Wilma in 2005. If the nation trips over its feet again, then there’s only a few things left to assume about its agenda and its priorities.