Or are we still ignorning all the warnings?...
By Desi Doyen on 8/29/2010, 6:05am PT  

Guest blogged by Desi Doyen

Today marks the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming into the Gulf Coast at New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29th, 2005. What the Category 3 hurricane did not destroy, the man-made disaster finished off, drowning much of the beloved city, killing over 1800 people, and displacing over a million more, many permanently.

There are many ways to look at what happened five years ago today and in the horrifying days and weeks that followed. There are successes and plenty of failures to document for history. There are surely lessons to be learned, but have we even come close to learning the most important one?...

The national corporate media have been airing special coverage of the anniversary to varying degrees --- with the notable exception of Fox "News" --- offering a number of ultimately-optimistic packages on what happened then, and what has happened since, attempting to make sense of it all, grounded in the inspirational resilience of Gulf Coast residents.

Some are telling the story of the appalling lack of progress in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Mac McClelland of Mother Jones --- who has ferociously covered the BP oil disaster from on the ground in the Gulf --- offers a sobering and eloquent view of the current state of the rest of post-Katrina New Orleans and describes what she sees as the media "Sticking a Happy Face on Katrina" [emphasis added]...

The most upsetting statement that I'd seen in the news since I'd come back to the Gulf Coast ... was last weekend, when a Washington Post article announced that, five years after Hurricane Katrina, a visitor to New Orleans "had to go looking for traces of its destruction."
...
[A] couple of months ago, I brought one of my friends from San Francisco here to visit me-a gal who ingests a lot of news-and she could not believe the extent of the destruction she saw. It's awfully irresponsible to say all that stuff about recovery without also mentioning that you can't even count the blocks that are still half-full of empty, broke-down houses, or that [Brad] Pitt's 50 new houses dot an area that lost 4,000-an area people sometimes compare to Hiroshima because its torn-up roads, total lack of streetlights, and abundance of overgrown lots contribute to a vast and penetrating emptiness...

(Mac's Twitter feed is also a must-follow, along with all of Mother Jones' stable of crack environmental writers.)

The BRAD BLOG was in Crawford, Texas, in the days before, while, and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, broadcasting live from on the ground at "Camp Casey", Cindy Sheehan's Iraq War protest outside George W. Bush's "ranch," where we caught Karl Rove posing for photos with fans on Sept. 1, as New Orleans was drowning.

As Brad described during last Thursday's Green News Report, when the bulletin from the National Weather Service came over the wire while we were on the air, the warning was so unusually vivid and specific, that at first it seemed a hoax, or at least an exaggeration. He wouldn't read it on air until he had verified that it was for real. Sadly, it was...

000 WWUS74 KLIX 281550 NPWLIX

URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...

.HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.

AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.

ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE!

A young mom from Metairie (next to New Orleans), stopped by the table where we broadcasting late on that long summer night in Central Texas, where the weather had finally begun to cool, thanks to the very winds which would devastate the Gulf. She was still dazed from her long drive and the terrifying foreknowledge of the city's vulnerability. She knew it might be days before getting word from her mother, a hospital nurse, who had stayed behind at her post to protect critical care patients.

"I didn't know where else to go. So I came to see Cindy... to be around the people," she told us, her voice trailing off, as her two little boys played in the prairie grass nearby.

Contrary to the Bush Administration's excuse for the federal government's epic failure in responding to the disaster --- claiming "no one could have predicted" how devastating a direct hit would be --- scientists had indeed predicted exactly that, years earlier...

Drowning New Orleans, Scientific American, October 2001

A major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city...

But the hurricane itself hadn't devastated New Orleans. In the 12 hours or so after the storm had moved on, we falsely believed we had dodged a bullet.

And then the levees failed. It was the one factor the scientists missed in their calculations: the man-made tipping point. The storm hadn't breached the levees. The levees simply began to fail.

Hurricane Katrina's destruction would be followed within weeks by two more named hurricanes, Wilma and Rita, pushing 2005 into the top spot as the year with the highest number of named hurricanes. NASA data would ultimately show 2005 as the warmest year on record.

As we take a moment to reflect on this anniversary, and ponder the good, the bad, and the unfinished business, we would do well to take heed of what we hadn't by the Summer of 2005: warnings from scientists today.

Science was right about the long-term consequences of human activities altering the processes of the Mississippi Delta --- that dredging, development, and levees were killing the marshes and wetlands that once buffered New Orleans from hurricane storm surge.

Now the scientific community is warning us again --- and has been for some time --- that rising global temperatures due to the rapid release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities are altering our climate.

Among many negative consequences, they predict this rapid warming will lead to more extreme and intense weather events, and 2010 --- already the hottest January-July on record to date --- has more than delivered. So far, 2010 is in second place for the most number of countries that have set extreme heat records, and it's only August.

Scientists have been right in specific predictions of many of the extreme weather events of this year of extremes: the record heat wave and forest fires in Russia; record flooding in Pakistan, China, Nashville, the UK; record-breaking snowstorms and heat waves across the United States and Europe; the loss of sea ice in a warming Arctic...

As we've seen in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, and as we're seeing now, this year, around the world and in our own backyard, these extreme weather events also hold a warning: to prepare our emergency response, recovery and infrastructure for these impacts.

The question now is: is anyone listening?

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Desi Doyen is the Co-host & Managing Editor of The BRAD BLOG's Green News Report.