Top Eleven Katrina Myths

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Here is BSA's top 11 Katrina Myths - issues relating to the destruction of New Orleans: fact and fiction.

1. Katrina was an incredibly huge, powerful storm...basically the worst thing that could possibly have happened to New Orleans, hurricane-wise.
(False. Though Katrina was extremely powerful in the runup to landfall, when Katrina made landfall, it was "only" a Category 3 storm, with 125 mph winds and fairly light rain, for a hurricane. By comparison, Hurricane Andrew had sustained winds of 142mph when it struck Florida in 1992. New Orleans didn't even receive a direct hit...and it was in the northwest quadrant of the storm, the weakest part. A direct hit--or a hit slightly to the west--from a Category 4 or 5 storm, with sustained winds of over 155 mph, would have made Katrina look like a Sunday picnic.) Katrina did produce higher storm surge than usual, up to 19 feet just east of New Orleans, and up to 27 feet in Mississippi.)

2. One of the main reasons Katrina was such a disaster was that not enough people evacuated.

"The failure to evacuate was the tipping point for all the other things that ... went wrong."--Michael Brown, former FEMA director, Sept. 27, 2005


(False. Katrina was THE single most successful evacuation in the history of the U.S. Over 90% of the inhabitants evacuated, which has never before been achieved for a city of this size, especially one with extremely limited transportation options. Pretty much all roads out of New Orleans pass over lakes and swamps, so there are only so many roads available. There are only 3 main roads out, and these roads are also the only evacuation route for everyone living in the surrounding area, especially the more vulnerable areas to the south. Evidence after the storm found that many of the people who died had access to transportation, but simply chose not to evacuate. Many of these people were elderly and in poor health, making evacuation difficult. Evacuation could certainly have been improved, especially for the poor and infirm, but it was still the best ever accomplished in real life in the U.S.)

3. Katrina destroyed New Orleans.
(False. The hurricane itself caused a lot of damage, but the vast majority of damage in New Orleans was due to the levee breaches and subsequent flooding. Katrina did cause the levees to breach...but they were supposed to be built to withstand a hurricane of that strength, and they didn't. By comparison, Katrina was directly responsible for the destruction of the Mississippi coastal region.)

4. The vast majority of people devastated by Katrina were poor black people.
(False. Blacks and whites of all income levels were affected pretty much equally. For example, the number of deaths due to the storm were split almost evenly between blacks and whites. Largely black areas like the Lower Ninth Ward were hit extremely hard, but so were mostly white areas like the well-off Lakeview and the working-class St. Bernard Parish, as were upper- and middle-class black areas like New Orleans East and Mid-City. However, it is certainly true that poor black families suffered more from the destruction...they had fewer resources with which to rebuild, were less able to evacuate, had fewer relatives living outside the city to use as resources, etc.)

5. The aid efforts immediately following Katrina were hampered by extraordinary violence...murders, rapes, people shooting at rescue helicopters from rooftops.
(False. Astonishingly, the vast majority of these stories have proven to be simple rumor gone wild. While violent crimes did occur, they were largely isolated incidents. The real tragedy is that these rumors did greatly restrict aid efforts, as cautious officials held back waiting for security that wasn't really needed....)

6. The federal government has already spent $100 billion to rebuild New Orleans.
(False. Although the government claims to have spent $100 billion to rebuild New Orleans, "the $100 billion figure is misleading because it does not reflect how much money went specifically to Louisiana, and it also includes payments on flood insurance claims -- on policies bought by Louisianians -- and massive payments for emergency cleanup.

State officials have pointed to independent reports that far fewer dollars have gone toward permanent rebuilding. The Government Accounting Office in Washington estimates only $35 billion in aid has gone to the region for long-term recovery, and Louisiana officials estimate less than $30 billion will support rebuilding projects in their state." (Times-Picayune) Much of what has been spent has gone to reimburse various groups for the costs of the immediate rescue efforts. Although some money has gone to homeowners to rebuild, much of those funds are still tied up by intricate regulations. Here's a question for you: if your house was destroyed tomorrow, could you afford to rebuild if the government gave you a large part of the money...but only after the work was completed?)

7. As the president said, "we had no idea it would be this bad...."
(False. There had been loud warnings for years that a direct hurricane strike on New Orleans would be catastrophic, and broad agreement that this was true. Such an event was the Number One possible natural disaster on FEMA's radar. The predictions were dire. FEMA's own planning workshop estimated that a Category 3 slow-moving hurricane hitting New Orleans could result in over 60,000 deaths and flood waters over 25 feet deep. By that measure, New Orleans got off easy.)

8. The Government was going door-to-door confiscating peoples' guns.
(False. There was great concern due to the rumors of violence in New Orleans, and the authorities were confiscating guns if they saw citizens carrying them openly--after all, there was a mandatory evacuation in place, martial law, and a curfew! But there was no systematic effort to confiscate weapons, and many individuals relied on their guns for self-protection in the face of rampant rumors and basically no real news sources within the city itself.

9. Locals got a lot of the contracting work to rebuild New Orleans.
(False. Almost all of the rebuilding work went to contractors from outside Louisiana, who generally brought in workers from outside to do the work...including large numbers of illegal aliens. Local laborers were generally not sought out, and not hired when they inquired about work.)

10. Local governments should rebuild themselves--the feds don't need to be involved at all. Self-reliance, that's the key!

(False. How does a local city rebuild its infrastructure when the entire tax base is lost? How can an area like St. Bernard Parish rebuild if they don't have trash and sewerage service and there aren't enough people living there to provide tax revenue to fix the sewer and trash systems?)

11. The people of New Orleans are idiots for living below sea level in a place prone to hurricanes. They deserve what they get. They should live somewhere safe, like I do.
(False. New Orleans has always lived on the edge of disaster, it's true, but where exactly are these "safe" places? Every location on earth is subject to possible disaster...many with far less advance warning than a hurricane. Earthquakes, tornadoes, landslides, volcanoes--pyroclastic flow, anyone? Seattle and Portland should know--blizzards, wildfires, ice storms, avalanches, tsunamis, drought, asteroid strike...every place has an associated risk, usually several. The Netherlands is a whole country living below sea level and subject to Atlantic storms...but their government was willing to do what it took to protect it. If you think where you live is "safe"...you're not living in the real world.)


 

Posted by Tony R on 2010-09-01 11:53:34
I get so sick of how people just totally blow things way out of proportion. Some of it is our fault and some things like the weather channel. Those weather guys get just a little to excited when there is a good juicy piece of sever weather popping up. I think when people see a flatten neighborhood in Florida from a hurricane they think this the case across the state, and I am not exaggerating. When tropical storm Bonnie came through, I recently moved to fort myers beach Florida from missouri with a friend, my friend got calls from people at home that a monster was coming and totally freaked him out. Of course I got on line and Bonnie was a TS and not expected to get any worse. I've seen worst weather in Missouri when a red storm cell comes through. Again I blame this mostly on things like the weather channel and the news. Again, they only show pictures of the worst damage. Then when the BP oil spill happened Fort Myers Beach was going to get screwed. I just couldn't believe the things I heard here and there form people. Don't people realize how huge the Gulf is. Of course no oil was ever sited in fort myers. If it was it was one oil ball the size of a soft ball. In Missouri when we had a bad drought one year, on the local news they left you with the impression that dried up creeks in the area would never be back to normal because of global warming. Of course in the last 2 years rain levels totally shot that down.

I guess it is human nature though. When we get together with friends we like conversation to get to where our hearts race a little and so we tend to spice things up a little. Same goes with the news, it is more interesting if we can go "Man this has gotten so out of control." No one wants to hear how average everything actually is. Maybe as a whole we want to believe we have the Gold Card on disasters compared to other centuries of the past. I think that sometimes we need to realize that in reality maybe we don't so much.
Posted by db on 2010-12-14 13:25:18
Love your list but found one error in #8 - martial law was never declared in New Orleans...
 

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