Thursday, November 09, 2006

Walls, Shelters and Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

I am reposting a piece written March 28, 2006. I have been trying for weeks to write a post about how our perceptions of having a social contract with our government were thrashed along with the storm. It's a topic I've been mulling over literally for months. I've been trying to define exactly what I think the social contract is, what others think it is, and whether it exists at all. For whatever reason I just couldn't put a coherent piece together on this topic.

Then earlier this week I was searching through my email for a particular piece of mail, unrelated to Katrina, New Orleans, or politics, and came across some email sent to me after I originally posted this piece. For whatever reason, and I'm actually still baffled, this piece really upset some folks, viscerally. Go figure.

After locating the mail I was looking for, I started perusing the news as I do every day. I read the stories of the Pineapple Express and the flooding in Washington state. One fatality so far and a huge nightmare for those living there.

Today in a T-P article about the upcoming National Association of Realtors convention here this weekend, the President of the above-mentioned association, Thomas Stevens, said:

The NAR show features dozens of seminars for agents and brokers. Among the biggest highlights of the show is a Saturday afternoon speech by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Though NAR hopes its presence helps the city, it also is coming with a national political agenda.

"We're pushing for a national disaster insurance (plan) once we have this (midterm) election behind us. There are a lot more (potential) New Orleans-like disasters out there, more areas prone to disaster than others, and it's a national issue," not just one for the Gulf Coast, Stevens said.

"Disaster can strike anywhere in this country," he said. Therefore, legislation to create a public-private national disaster insurance plan is critical, he said, as is the need to prevent insurance carriers from "bolting" from disaster-struck markets.


This article prompted my thinking about social contracts again (it's really a vicious cycle!) but showed me that there are other people out there who think it exists as well.

All this followed on the heels of my reading the Richman Gentleman's Quarterly hatchet-job article bashing New Orleans, our food, our culture, and claiming that we are stupid to live here, stupid to rebuild here, and we're also evidently all staggering out of bars every morning. (YOU CAN FIND THE LINK TO THE COMPLETE ARTICLE ON ASHLEY MORRIS' BLOG. GQ HAD TAKEN IT DOWN BUT PUT IT UP AGAIN YESTERDAY I GUESS. ASHLEY'S BLOG IS LINKED TO THE RIGHT ON THE BLOGROLL--TIME'S RUNNING OUT BEFORE I HAVE TO RUN ERRANDS, ER, STRIKE THAT, BEFORE I HAVE TO GO FIGURE OUT WHAT BAR TO STAGGER OUT OF TOMORROW MORNING, SO YOU'LL HAVE TO CLICK ON IT YOURSELF!)

So all of those things came together at once prompting me to re-post this piece. Circuitous or synchronous, I'm not sure, but there you are. You've gotten an inside view of how my mind works, oh you lucky you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Structures, structures, rules, and locations. The news lately has been full of stories about these things, which has led to some interesting conversations around here."Why rebuild New Orleans? It's below sea level." My god, we've heard that so many times since Katrina hit us. After we get over the anger we sputter our various personal reasons, emotional reasons and cultural reasons, and then, if we're really on a roll, we start in on the economic reasons. Then depending on how much time and energy we have, we try to rationally explain to whatever idiot just made the statement, that New Orleans, and the entire Gulf Coast region, are important to America, and oh yeah, in case they forgot, we are still a part of America. "And by the way, buster, do ya like your SUV? We don't just have rum down here ya know! You can't run that Escalade on rum."

After our road trip, we got to thinking about the weird logic that causes someone to make a statement like that. If we follow that logic then Americans just about everywhere are going to have to rethink they way they build their houses and where they choose to live. Clearly most of them will have to move.

Texas, on fire. California, Arizona, New Mexico, all prone to wildfires, and given what we saw as we drove, it's a real tinderbox in the Southwest right now. In northwestern Texas last week, a wildfire had killed over 10,000 cattle and the locals were talking to the authorities about where on earth (no pun intended) they were going to dispose of the carcasses. Ten thousand cattle. That's daunting. There were many homes destroyed, many people left homeless. That was just in Texas. Is there a FEMA "wildfire plain" map being developed? "Okay, we're not sure you can rebuild here, but if you do, you'll have to build your house out of asbestos and put a helicopter pad on the roof so you can get out if a wildfire is heading your way. We'll give you $2000 dollars toward the helicopter purchase if you qualify, but you probably won't. Besides you won't be able to prove your losses since all your records were burned up, so you're on your own with this. Also we have no idea how much your homeowners is going to increase. It'll probably double. Before you can rebuild we're going to get the EPA out here to see if the cattle carcasses were within 7 miles of your burned out home as they might be an environmental hazard. Why 7 miles? Ah, we just threw a dart. Don't buy the asbestos quite yet though. We're not sure that this will, in the end, be the official plan.

"Okay, let's move everyone out of those wildfire prone states, immediately. Do NOT let them rebuild their homes there. After all, everyone KNOWS wildfires happen in those areas, so anyone who rebuilds there has to be stupid in the first place."

Springfield, Missouri, devastated by a tornado a few weeks ago. Everyone knows the term Tornado Alley. The warning times are a little better than they were years ago, but not by much. And the darn things just love to hit in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. FEMA's tornado plan would probably require everyone in the Midwest to build their houses underground. "No more above ground structures. You guys in the Midwest are going to have to start building underground cities immediately and at your own expense. Our tornado plain map has shown that the footprint of the Midwest will have to shrink considerably, and no we don't know how you're going to grow corn underground."

"Now we gotta move everyone out of those tornado prone states. Do NOT let the people of Springfield, Missouri rebuild their homes there. After all, everyone KNOWS tornadoes happen in those areas and anyone who rebuilds there has to be stupid in the first place."

The Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay area is "locked and loaded" according to an AP article this week. The article continues:


It slices the earth's crust along a 50-mile swath of suburbia east of San Francisco, from exclusive hilltop manors overlooking the bay to Hayward's humble flatlands. It snakes beneath highway bridges, strip malls, nursing facilities and retirement centers, and it splits the uprights of the football stadium at the University of California, Berkeley.

"A lot of these structures are going to come down," said David P. Schwartz, chief of the USGS's Bay Area Earthquake Hazards Project. He spoke with one foot on either side of the fault, marked by a crack that snaked through a parking lot in Hayward's business district.

The anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Quake is coming up in April. Then there was the quake in 1989 that caused a lot of damage and heartbreak. Is FEMA going to require that all homes damaged by an earthquake must be built on rollers like the Transamerica Pyramid?

Nope, what we need to do is move them out, not let them rebuild there. After all, everyone KNOWS earthquakes happen. . . . . . . . . . . . rebuild. . . . . . . . must be stupid anyway.

This year the hurricane predicters are saying that there will probably be 17 named storms and that many of them will probably hit the Atlantic Coast. We better move those people too. Anyone who might possibly be in the storm path will have to relocate.

Where should all these people build their homes. Not in hurricane, wildfire, tornado or earthquake areas. Not below sea level and not in a dangerous fire zone. Hmm, maybe Minnesota? Everyone should move to Minnesota. That's it! Wait, they have some pretty good blizzards there, so does Chicago. When you think about it, so does New York City. Okay, blizzards, known to happen in certain places. Let's not build there.

. . . . . . .stupid anyway.

I'm curious what the "footprint" of the United States would look like if FEMA eliminated home building in any area prone to a natural disaster. Little islands of habitation, like a hopscotch board drawn on the sidewalk in chalk.

Perhaps we should all move to Canada or Mexico, then FEMA wouldn't have the bother of a population, the inconvenience of citizens. But if we choose Mexico, we better hurry up and evacuate there before they build the proposed 300 mile long wall along the border. Berlin in the Southwest. (As soon as it's built maybe we should put a giant puppet of Ronald Reagan up there saying, "Mr. President, tear down this wall!") We can build a wall on our border to keep illegal immigrants out and protect our "national security," but we can't build levees to keep flood waters out and protect this region? Maybe we need to redefine "national security." Many New Orleanians no longer feel very secure in having a place in this nation.

Get out your maps, folks. You better start thinking about where you're going to move if the "why rebuild" idiots start looking at the disaster possibilities in your city or town. Don't get too comfortable. It might just be too expensive or too difficult to rebuild your home or your city if something catastrophic happens there. These people might try to apply their "logic" to your area, and I guarantee you won't like it.

Maybe we should move to Iraq. I hear they're building new schools there. Lots of infrastructure.

One last FEMA story for today. Young man, 22, resident of Chalmette, enlists in the Navy. Gets sent to Iraq as a corpsman. Nice kid. Hated Iraq. Can't wait for his tour to be over. His home was in Chalmette. It's gone. Katrina ate it along with all his uniforms and everything else he owned. FEMA denied his claim because he was "in Iraq, not Chalmette, Louisiana when the storm hit." He wasn't qualified to receive any assistance and had to pay to replace his uniforms out of his own pocket. I've heard a lot of disqualification stories, but that one takes the cake.

2 comments:

Sophmom said...

We mustn't forget the New Madrid Fault system snaking through the midwest. And what of all those dams holding back lakes? The ones I'm most familiar with in GA, TN and AL are huge. Oh, but, of course, they were built by the U.S. Army CoE, so they'll be fine.

As I've said many times before, we should all be afraid, very afraid, because when it comes our time, we now know that the calvary will not come in to help us, not immediately or in the long run. The Emporer has no clothes.

Great post, Slate.

judyb said...

I missed the initial post in March and am glad you've reposted it. Thanks.