Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Like many people, I was caught off guard by the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf coast. The situation was clearly getting progressively worse, but what really made things sink in was this catch by Josh Marshall. Assuming something similar holds for New Orleans, gradually sinking under a toxic lake, we will be looking at the evacuation of a major American city for one month. This means we will likely have cramped refugee camps for Americans on American soil. While the quality of our infrastructure and early warning systems saved countless lives and insurance will mitigate the damage for many people, this ranks with the types of devastating tragedies we often see in the developing world. We still don't know how many have already died, as I gather no one really understands the scale of the human situation in New Orleans itself, where even among the living the awesome power of nature has transformed one of the most famous outposts of our civilization into a post-apocalyptic Hobbesian urban jungle.

In the wake of this tragedy, some people are suggesting the media is at fault for crying wolf about possible disasters in the past. Daniel Drezner seems fated to become the blogosphere's poster boy for people who fell into this trap initially, but I freely admit I didn't really expect to see what we're seeing today, despite having read articles like this one. Perhaps, however, we would do well to take this as an example of why we should warn of and prepare for worst-case scenarios. They don't occur often, but when they do, the resulting catastrophe can be mitigated only by what we do in advance.


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