I’ve never been to New Orleans, LA. I’ve had a lot of friends who love it, but the truth is: it’s never much appealed to me. Ten years ago, though, New Orleans was on everyone’s mind.
I honestly don’t remember much of the news coverage of Katrina. I was new to Cincinnati, in the midst of acclimating to a brand new life, and didn’t have a television or internet access at home. My first memories of Hurricane Katrina were the pictures from newspapers I read while tending bar at work and the stories of a customer at the bar, a refugee from New Orleans.
This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the hurricane and there’s still a lot I don’t really understand about what happened and why the destruction was so severe. And then, of course, why the fallout was so bad. I’m not going to pretend to know where to point the blame or to posit what could have been done differently. The news stories I saw and heard this week prove that there are still a lot of unanswered questions on all sides.
Disasters happen. Is this really a surprise? Yet, more often than not, we are simply not prepared for them–individually or corporately.
A few quick thoughts:
1. How seriously would you have taken the warnings?
Personally, I don’t take most warnings very seriously at all. Not even from “reliable sources.” Yet, when I read this warning, issued ten years ago by the National Weather Service about the impending storm, it was hard to believe that more New Orleans residents didn’t heed the warning. Or that the City of New Orleans didn’t work harder to evacuate and warn low-income residents, the ones in the most vulnerable areas, the ones least likely to evacuate on their own. Or that so few of us outside of the region knew what was happening.
I know that evacuation is complicated and would have been very difficult for people who had nowhere to go (no family or friends outside the area) or no way to get there (literally had no transportation or no money to use it). And I’m sure that many long-term coastal residents had seen storms come and go. They thought: why should I believe this will be any different? (Or maybe some never heard the warnings? That’s possible, I guess?)
Among other foreboding statements, the warning said that “most of the area would be uninhabitable for weeks… perhaps longer.” If you saw a warning flash across your tv screen that said your city was going to be decimated by a storm within 12-24 hours, would you run for the hills? Or would you hunker down and wait for the storm to pass? I would like to think that I’d react quickly, but I honestly don’t know that I’d take the warning seriously.
2. Are you prepared?
I’ve talked briefly about this before. (I wrote a post about it two years ago.) And I hope that many of my friends and family don’t let events like Hurricane Katrina pass by them without asking important questions about their own preparation for emergencies.
A couple months back, there was a heavy snow storm in our city. Many suburban areas were hit hard and some lost power for days. A new neighbor texted me and asked if our neighborhood had ever lost power and admitted that her family wasn’t quite prepared if that happened. I was able to assure here that, in the time I’ve lived here, we’ve been pretty insulated from the weather and that our power grid has always stayed in-tact. But, there is never a guarantee.
There is no way to know what lies around the bend. And there is no way to guarantee that you’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” in your preparation. History proves that even the most prepared people can be caught by surprise by things they never saw coming. All you can do is be ready for what you can reasonable anticipate.
Living in an urban area, our preparations for severe weather or other emergency situations may look different than yours. The threats are different here. But I think it’s important to assess the threats and do at least a reasonable amount of preparation for what is most likely to happen where you live. And, no matter where you live, you should make preparations for evacuating. I came across this video a few years ago and it was really convicting and, frankly, a little scary. My area might not be experiencing wildfires at the moment, but there may sometime be another reason to evacuate downtown, either by suggestion or by choice. Since I saw that video, I made it a point to be reasonably ready. Ready without obsessing about the unknown.
If you’ve been listening to talk radio or checking the news this week, you’ve likely had Hurricane Katrina on your mind, too. According to the reports I’ve seen, much of the Gulf Coast is coming back to life. I saw this movie a few months ago and it was filled with love and hope for New Orleans. My parents are headed down to the Alabama coast in about a month and I’m curious what their experience will be (we’ve been there twice before–years before Katrina).
Do you know anyone who was displaced by Hurricane Katrina?
Have you been to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast since?
Can I encourage you to think a little more this weekend about how you’d react to a similar scenario and whether or not you be ready?
On my mind especially this week was that old customer of mine. The refugee from New Orleans. His life had been completely dismantled by the hurricane and he was laying low in Cincinnati, alone, until the smoke cleared. I wonder if he’s still around or if he managed to, eventually, find his way back home again.