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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina vs. The Ice Storm 

I'm not usually one for blame and recriminations, especially when a city is as beaten down as New Orleans today. But perhaps a few well-timed kicks on the city while it's down might illuminate some social and public policy issues. Maybe not, but I haven't posted anything for a while, and this is what's on my mind.

First of all, how do you help a city when, come the emergency, two thirds of the cops aren't showing up? I'm not making that up. That's the rough estimate of the Department of Defense. Morale is suicidally low. That was not the experience in, for example, New York City during 9/11.

Then there's the small matter of not using available buses to get people out of the city. And the ongoing question of why in the world the response of the citizens who remained behind has, in a dreadfully decisive way, consisted of shooting at rescure helicopters, and crime ranging from looting to murder. Looting, okay, but rape and murder?

It's easy to compare all of this to the 9/11 experience, as I did above, but in fairness to New Orleans, the effects were rather more widespread. For all the terror and tragedy of 9/11, the destruction in New York was confined to several square blocks. In the case of New Orleans, large portions of the city are underwater, and the rest is only slightly less screwed. The mess will take months, if not years to clean up, and by mess I mean most of the city.

This reminds me a lot of...Canada's 1998 Ice Storm. Except that event killed only 28 people, and despite the fact that Montreal was basically frozen solid, and 700,000 people had no electricity for three weeks.

So, what was the difference? I think, to a first order, you can make the case that the difference was that Ontarians and Quebecois acted like people: no shooting at your rescuers, no raping your fellow refugees from natural disaster, no looting no really half-assed disaster plans that essentially abandoned tens of thousands of people; and that left the professionals free to find and rescue people in danger instead of shooting people shooting at levee repair crews.

Come on, New Orleans, rejoin the First World, eh?

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