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Joys of Geography [Sep. 2nd, 2005|02:53 pm]
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I live in the USA and I rather like it here. The USA is a country of natrual disasters. The cold truth is they happen all the time in this country. There are big ones like what we are currently seeing and there are little ones that never make the international news like the wildfires out west. I've mostly lived in the east and south of the country with a nice stint of a decade or so in the Southwest which I have learned to love. I've seen my share of natural disasters. Ask anyone from the US and they can tell you a story or two about Mother Nature showing some muscle.

I was talking to kotszok on msn the other day about the situation down in New Orleans and since she lives in Northern Europe and she brought home to me how little we think of the usual dangers of living here. Europe has the blessings of an extremely fortunate location on the planet's surface. The region is stable, there is very little geologic activity, and there are relatively few harsh weather phenomina that they have to worry about. It is no wonder the region has had human habitation for several million years.

To explain the US as a whole would be extremely difficult, but for some perspective I'm going to give it a shot. It will help explain my and several other American's views on the situation in New Orleans a little better. We think it is a national disgrace for a large number of reasons.

Out west we have wildfires whenever the dry season hits and the scrub and dead wood in the vast wilderness dries out. All it takes is a bit of lightning or a careless human and the fires are started again. We have a dedicated force of fire fighters that goes to work controling these blazes so that people are not hurt by them. Now, they can't always control the fires no matter their efforts and people do occasionally die in them, usually starting with the firefighters, and property is frequently lost. Some would say, well you shouldn't go live on the mountains in the forest so it is your own fault you lost your house. Well, that is what we have insurance for, the house can always be rebuilt. The fires are nature's way of cleaning up after herself. The scrub can prevent wildlife from flourishing just as well as it can protect it. For all that we fault people from living a bit far away from town, we also crave it. It is a fault many of us our jealous of others for having. Most of the time, for up to a couple centuries at a time it is very much a Western Ideal of where to live and how.

On the west coast, we have mountain ranges. Those mountain ranges dwarf those found in the eastern part of the country. These mountain ranges are a bit of a sign post about seismic activity. They aren't there for no reason. California has earthquakes. Do we know that, are we well aware of it? Yes, and it is also one of the highly fertile growing regions for farm produce in this country. We get the products of California farms all the way over here where I live on the east coast. (I'm not talking about canned and dried stuff either, I'm talking about fresh produce.) Californians, both native and not, learn to take the small earthquakes in stride. They design their homes and offices to withstand some pretty hefty forces. Much like Japan, California puts a great deal of thought, effort and money into making their buildings a safe place to be in a fierce earthquake. The people who live there know exactly what to do and where to go should an earthquake hit. It is one of the big reasons why we have relatively few deaths from earthquakes in the region. Washington and Oregon get the occasional quake too as well as the wildfires.

The southwest contends with droughts. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado are all arid regions. The deserts are pretty vast and not the easiest places to eek out a living. Now, I've learned to love New Mexico and I would happily move back, but you notice something when you live there. People live near water, always. The water is not necessarily to be found on the surface of the ground, however. In fact, much of the water that is used comes from underground sources.
As a high school student in Albuquerque in the late 90s when the city was facing huge growth, I remember the arguements about wether or not people should be allowed to have grass lawns. It took a bit of debate, but it was decided that no, people should not be permitted to have more then a small patch of grass because of water conservation issues. Fines were instituted for watering out of turn and durring the heat of the day. Yes, people complained about grandfathering, with reason, but even those who were grandfathered away from the xeroscaping (rock and stone gardening with native drought resistant plants) restrictions often went ahead and did a xeroscape anyway because of the cost issues with watering and in support of the law. It has helped with the growth in the region. There are still droughts, but people adapt to the environment.
They also learn to deal with flash floods. Flash floods kill far more people then droughts do. Many of those people are fooling around in the arroyos, drainage ditches on steroids, and didn't expect the water. The floods occur because the ground is often too dry to absorb as much water as has come with the rains or run off from the mountains.

The midwest is the breadbasket of the US. We raise a lot of grain there. One reason for that is, you don't really have to irrigate over much of it. Another reason is the soil is remarkably fertile. Some of that fertility in the soil comes from the fact that large areas are really a flood plain. Just like the Nile could flood Egypt and deposit nice silt from which they could grow their crops the midwest has the same sort of situation. Now, the Nile has been dammed and now provides power for much of Egypt at the Aswan Dam. It can't really flood cities the way it used to and deposit the silt everywhere. The rough equivalent to the Nile in the US is the Mississippi river. Flooding along the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers isn't that common, but it is a fully known hazard of living there. Not that long ago, we did have a large portion of the midwest underwater. My uncle's farm was just high enough not to be completely trashed along with the town they lived in. Any area prone to flooding, the locals do know where the high ground is, you also won't find anyone but the less able bodied and the children with their minders there in a flood. Everyone who can lift a shovel and a sandbag does what they can to build up the levees so the water stays in the banks and goes down stream from them. No one particularly worries about hiring some one else to do it, you just go do it yourself because you are an able body. The entire community contributes to getting through the disaster so they can get on with their daily lives. No, most people in the area don't think that is a bad way to live. If the levees break, everyone tries to get everyone to saftey as quickly as possible, wether it be with a rowboat or a rescue helicopter. We clean up the mess when the water lowers, but getting out alive has always been more important.

Tornado alley is less of a regional designation in the sense of the others, but it is something to bare thinking about on its own. It would be neglectful to leave it out of a discussion of US natural disasters. Tornado alley is a lovely area where tornados are a relatively commonplace and well known hazard. North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska make up "Tornado Alley", but they aren't the only places tornados happen. We had them right here in Virginia last year, one took out bits of the next town over from me, Chantilly. Tornados are very simillar to hurricanes based on appearences. They are high winds moving in a circular patern that form a cone. Hurricanes are generally much stronger and form out over water. Tornados form when hot and cold air meet and don't mix well and are most dangerous when they grow down to the ground. You can look up and see them forming. Our meterologists can often tell when conditions are right for them.
Unless the storms are really bad or in a strange place, they don't make the international news. If you live in tornado alley, you know to what to do when you hear the sirens or the storm. It sounds a bit like a train really. You go into the most interior room in your home, usually a bathroom, and hang out until it passes. if you are outside and have the time to get somewhere safe you do. Cars are not safe, nor are mobile homes, ever, in a tornado. You learn this stuff as a kid in the area and they repeat the saftey stuff on the news for all the people who aren't native, including every radio station in the area.

The north, both the Northwest and the Northeast have to contend with blizzards. Being snowed in is far from an unknown phenomina. It doesn't happen every year, and you can bet it will always be inconvient, but it does happen. If you live in the north of the country, you are one of the best people to ride in the car with when it snows. People who are used to the snow know to bundle up and make do. Sure, you stock a few extra canned goods in the pantry just in case. You may never need them, but they are canned goods, they won't go bad. Gas is also a popular heating choice because the gas lines won't go out as easily as the electricity. They also know when to close the roads and how to drive on slippery surfaces.
Of special note, the Great Lakes have extra lake effect snow from the preciptation off of the Great Lakes. That area gets even more snow then the rest of the northern US. (The Great Lakes and Salt Lake in Utah are really inland seas like the Black Sea in Eastern Europe.) I'm told I was born the same year as a lovely blizzard. I made a point having once lived in the North to learn how to drive in bad weather including snow as a teen. Believe me, that has paid off dividends.

The Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast both have to contend with hurricanes. I'm sure everyone has heard more then enough about hurricanes recently, but there are some basic things to remember about them. Hurricanes cause damage because of the high winds, storm surge and the rainfall. The storm surge is enough to back up rivers which is a major flooding hazard. The winds are at least 74 mph for a weak hurricane. Hurricanes, like tornados, are catagorised by their wind speeds. Unlike tornados, we know when one is in the works and going to hit somewhere. The only question is where will it land.
We never know for certain where the eye will pass until it gets there. Our evacuation warnings only really come about two days before landfall. Depending on where you are and the level of local, city, or state planning, this can be enough warning to get to saftey. So long as traffic is moving on the roads everyone will get out just fine. You may lose everything, but so long as you have your life its all just stuff that can be replaced. The infrastructure is key to effective evacuations. The local building codes also make an extreme amount of difference in the level of damage sustained. On the coast, nearly everywhere actively discourages people from building wooden homes. Concrete, cinderblock and other materials that can withstand both the heavy winds and the storm surge.

Now, in New Orleans there are several factors at work that made things far far worse. Any one of these things would complicate the situation. Since all of these are present the city was a systems engineering nightmare when it comes to a disaster like this.

One of those factors is the fact that the coasts in the South have had quite a lot of explosive growth in population. It has been happening all over the country in part because the population is getting older and wants to retire to the beaches where it is warm and they can enjoy the water. The cold in the north is hard on people as they get older, it makes their joints ache worse among other things. The growth has outstripped the infrastructure in several areas. It is a known problem and the cities and towns are floating bonds to expand the sewers, schools, and other resources. Roads are build not by the cities, but by the states and the state level is slower to respond to things like that. Road building and maintence is a constant task that the states work on. It is never done because there is always something that needs doing. New Orleans didn't really have enough roads to easily evacuate the entire city to safer ground. It wasn't really a surprise, but most people were able to get out and for that we should be grateful.

A second factor is that the city itself lies at the mouth of a huge river delta. The mighty Mississippi flows into the sea right there. It is actually why the city was built there in the first place. Historically, the river allowed the transport of goods from the middle of the country out to the rest of the world via the sea trade. Then and now, the city is an exemely important port. Yet it is a river delta, it floods when the river gets to full. The French Quarter is one of the oldest parts of New Orleans and it is notable that it is on some of the highest ground in the area which explains why it has faired so well. With greater technology, we have been able to control most of the flooding that you would ordinarily be expected. In this case, we have more then just rainfall up river and on the city itself to account for the flooding. We have storm surge to account for. As I mentioned above, storm surge is powerful enough to make rivers flow backward.
The city has a series of levees to help keep the river in its banks and away from homes. A river delta is effectively a swamp. All things built on swamps wind up sinking to some degree with time because of the water content of the soil. It is a completely known phenomina. New Orleans has had to build up the levees over time to make up for the sinkage. Federal funds have gone to help pay for this, although usually it would be considered a local problem and left to the municiple authorities to raise. I guess the port is so strategically important to us that they decided it was worth spending the federal monies on. Unfortnately, it appears that quite a bit of the federal funds in the last couple years were diverted. Pumping stations also have been built to pump any water that makes it to the wrong side of the levee back to where it belongs.

A third major factor is simply poor planning. Every city has emergency plans worked out in the US. Some are better done then others. This one was pretty poor. They did not make appropriate plans to get the poor and the ill out of the city. Most of the people who are there right now did not stay out of arrogance or ignorance, although ignorance could be a factor for many. They stayed because there wasn't any real way for them to get out. Tourists were stuck there and that should say something. Usually tourists can pay well enough to git while the gittin's good. Where were the free busses to take people out of the inner city, or the trains? Of course not everyone is going to be able to afford a lift, it is something that should have been planned for in the emergency plans.
Emergency shelters would still be necessary because even with free evacuation buses there is no way they would have gotten everyone out, but the sheer number of people could have been drastically reduced. Potable water suplies should have been planned for as well. Sure, if gallon jugs had been stored somewhere they would likely need to be rationed, but that could have been done. The same can be said of canned foods. So they would need a small staff to handle the rationing and the cooking. The point is, it could be done and it was not.
Stupid as this one may sound, no one planned for what to do if their emergency management center was under water when they knew full well it was located in the flood zone. They screwed up. A secondary base of operations was necessary should the city ever flood and they never made one. They need a base of operations to coordinate the relief efforts from so that they would know where to direct both local and outside help.
Again on the suply end, they forgot to stock enough batteries for when the power would go out. (Pardon me while I cringe at that notion.) It is pretty basic that the power goes out when there is a bad storm of any type let alone a hurricane. Communications systems of course, run on electricity. With the power out and the batteries running out of juice most of the communications systems in the city are down, not only for the unfortunate residents left there, but for the emergency crews. It is extremely hard to tell what is going on where and who needs what if you don't have some means of communicating it.

The last big factor is the one much of my friends list is complaining about, the piss poor federal response. First thing to remember there is that the state is in charge of telling the federal authorites where to apply the resources because frankly they are the ones who know where and how to use things better. Exactly who has dropped the ball in this mess, I really can't say for sure. The National Guard is always called out to help keep order when something like this happens and they should have been there within hours of the eye of the hurricane passing. The Army Corps of Engineers should have been working fixing the levee breach from the minute it happened using any and all resources availible to them. The delay on that is purely unacceptable, I don't give a damn if they were being shot at, they could have taken other routes to get there away from the shooters. Hazmat teams from everywhere should have been on site to deal with potential chemical spills. Hospitals and emergency medical helicopters should have been prepped and ready to go with an organized response for all of the hospitals to evacuate their most critically ill patients. Boats of all types should be in the hands of emergency crews to get people to saftey with first aid kits on them.

We Americans have lots of natural disasters. We give a lot of money, goods, and time to charities too. One reason why we are so generous is because it really isn't hard for us to see how one day we may be the one in need. We expect people to be at their best in a disaster because that is what we hope we would be in their place. Outside of New Orleans, we are completely outraged that anyone would fire upon relief efforts. To most of us that is shocking and completely mind boggling. nepenthene actually put a fairly insightful perspective on it in her post that actually explains quite a bit. It doesn't make the behaviour any better, but any insight is helpful for figuring out how to calm things.

We know that that could have been us. We are by and large more then happy to help out in this kind of situation, we just need to know when, where and how. There has been an outflow of public support from all over from people opening up their homes to school districts reopening closed schools to stream lined college admissions to people simply carting hot meals to refugee centers. With something as huge as this, private effort alone won't do enough. The governmental authorities need to take charge and do what needs to be done without further snipping at each other.

This is a national disgrace because it is simply such a mess and it should not be. We know how to organize a rescue, relief and rebuilding effort. I have no idea why we are doing such a poor job of it, but like everyone else, I'm not happy about it.

[User Picture]From: lisaroquin
2005-09-02 07:36 pm (UTC)
I'm out here on the central plains and we've got everything but the hurricanes.

We've been known to get the exceedingly rare and usually "Huh really? There was an earthquake" tremor (very, very low on the rictor scale but there is a *major* if largely inactive fault line right through the midsection of the US. About once a year, maybe twice we'll have a report that there was a 2.1 or something really puny, tremor) A noticable quake, let alone a *major* quake has never happened in recorded history, but the possibility is there.

Boy do we have tornados. The most "recent" major tornados disasters of scale in my memory was Grand Island NE sometime in the mid 80's got hit with 8-10 tornados in one night. Cousin lost their home then. And Hallum NE last year, which was literally leveled. Those stand out in my mind but tornados are very common occurences out here. Storm starts brewing you turn on the news and start watching the sky. And our storm chasers here are *volenteer* other than county PDs, as are our rural fire depts, majority of emts sandbaggers etc. We've got floods and the occasional ice jam trouble. Platte, Loup, Republican, Niobrara, Missouri they're all good for that. Deadly flash flooding several "creeks" which often are nothing more than muddy ditches until a storm hits. The Blue River. which in places is an utterly dry ditch about a foot or so wide, it mostly runs under ground. WHen it floods badly every 30-50 years it is absolutely deadly. My mom's cousin was caught and killed in the Blue flash flooding in 63. We get our occasional massive blizzard, even more commonly in recent years ice storms that take out power, phones and heat.

My biggest beefs start with the local levels...because for petes sake you *know* you're going to get at least a minor hurricane *every year* there should be high-ground at least somewhat stocked shelters all around the area and every time a storm comes near the Gulf they should take a minute of every dang local news cast to *remind* people of this.

Before the levee broke they were out partying "See we're fine" some reports are saying that LA's gov turned down help, didn't allow help in place before hand as a "just in case measure" and reports that the initial after Katrina hit, before the levees, that Lousianna turned down help *again* then so what (seems to be little) was set to go initially I'm assuming went to Mississippi and Alabama where you don't here quite the nightmare of New Orleans, though Gulfport got hammered horribly as did Biloxi and through there.

FEMA has truly dropped the ball. Our National Village Idjit seems to be trying in his ineffective and bass-ackwards way to get things going. But he's him, and no one else seems any more together. *shakes head*

The original organization and preparedness in New Orleans is just continuing right up the ladder and even what's coming in FEMA, Nat. Gaurds etc all defer to the local and state govs as to "where do you want us" "What should we do first" "Where are your most desperate folks likely to be" (certainly that's the way every disaster in this area has ever gone)

Here--if we had flood or tornado. Any one that could volenteer, had any sort of useful skill--would be. And not just the adults, the older kids that are big enough to have some muscle to haul a sandbag say 13-14 on up.

the ones that are trying, the agencies that are trying or waiting on "Where the hell do we go with what we got" *shakes head*

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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 09:36 pm (UTC)
*nod* Ah the most recent batch of really horrible tornados recently in my memory is Oklahoma just a couple years ago. We sent a fair amount of stuff up for that one. I was living in North Dallas. Damn near took at the air force back in OKC where some friends of mine were stationed at the time. We had a few smaller tornados down in Texas that were more or less a part of the same system that went through. I believe my brother in law was called into the hospital to do a fair smattering of emergency blood donation too since he is O neg. He and my sister in law went to college at ACU.

Flash flooding is pretty scary. I've seen it happen a fair bit both in New Mexico and Texas. It is stunning to watch those normally dry structures turn into very effective means of water containment with no warning. The arroyo system in Albuquerque is so effective you just don't think about it other then to tell your kids not to play over there cause a flash flood could take them away.

I worked relief tables as a kid for Hurricane Andrew and a few other hurricanes when I lived in Florida. (I slept through Hurricane Bob (?) when it hit Hanscom AFB as my introduction to hurricanes as a natural weather disaster. I was little, the basement couch was comfortable, what can I say.) You can't always do much, but a little bit from a lot of people helps a lot. It is like sandbagging. One individual is pretty ineffective, a whole crew on the other hand can really get some work done. You just don't think about it, you go where they need you and do what needs to be done. It doesn't matter if you are just a kid if you can hold the bag open and tie it closed, that is enough to help get the job done.

I'm with you on the disgust with everyone from local officials on up. The screw ups start at the state level and just get compounded by the federal level as they get there. As for our village idiot, I'm starting to think Elgoose and Laughingrat are right, he is a narcassist. I didn't vote for him either time. I've met the man and I'm not impressed. I could scream for the things he has done to my party.

I don't think the media is really helping anything though. They are getting the stories out and making people aware of the situation, but there is something to be said for stepping back a bit and letting people regroup. I'm a doozer, I want to do things and raising awareness isn't my idea of doing something.
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[User Picture]From: elaina
2005-09-02 10:45 pm (UTC)
Part of the problem there is a failure of leadership. There isn't anyone who's stepped up to the plate and ordered things get done. FEMA sure as hell dragged their feet. It's Friday, and they finally got supplies in.

The Mayor, Ray Nagin, he did a lot of flailing about. We haven't heard from Aaron Broussard or Harry Lee in days. The governor, Blanco, she hasn't done a damn thing. The head of Homeland Security didn't even know there were people in the Convention Center, dying or not. There has been no Guiliani for this.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 11:13 pm (UTC)
An unfortunate point. Those supplies should have been there sooner. It just makes me cringe to think about it all. Do you know if you still have a house?
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[User Picture]From: alchemia
2005-09-02 08:28 pm (UTC)

tornados, blizzards and volcanos!

Tornado alley also extends into part of Illinois, i'm on the cusp of it. a few tornados are year are not uncommon here, and we've had some bad ones. The interior of the house is used if you do not have a basement. if you have a house here yoou usually have a basement and thats the place to go.

Living here you can almost FEEL when conditions are right for a tornado. Also, yu don't always have much if anywarning- if the tornado forms over/near your town, boom, you're sort of the warning for the next town over. We sometimes get microbursts too that aren't tornados, they just come straight down of the air and latten things like the proverbial hand of g*d. We get it down to getting the family/pets into the basement as FAST as you can- becuase sometimes you literally have no time.

Blizzards aren't just difficult driving around in- an ill prepared city can be shut down for days, or a prepared one but faced with a very strong blizzard can be shut down for days. alot of people die,and it is often thepoor and disabled. if youre on medicaid for instance, your prescriptions wont be filled until 24 hrs before you run out. If that coincides with a blizzard, you get forced off your meds for days. If ambulances cant reach you because of the snow--- well you see the problem. And then there's heat or lack there of. Either b/c peopel can't afford it, or because theutils go out (or last major snowstorm in the 90's knocked out electric, gas and phone for over 3 days where we lived, and we were snowed in with no way to get t stores etc - it was worse elsewhere). you always hear cases on the news of ppl who die b/c of the cold or medical things, but its just mentioned in passing and people i think dont really think about it untilthey are in the situation where they realise how precarious things can be

One thing you didn't mention was Volcanos (northwest and hawaii). Look at Mt Ranier and the towns that have sprung up around that area. most peopple think volcano = lava and this is true andcan be a deadly horrible disaster (eg Mt St Helens). However, people don't often think of Lahars, which can move faster and flow more "liquidy". Ranier can easily produce another Lahar- its produced many and Pugent Sound area which has been built up very quickly, withhundreds of thousands of residents, is in fact on a lahar. They're also in a alley with limitted exit routes. they're 'plan' is to 'go to high ground'- butthat means going up the sides of valleys- finding a tall building will not work. That also means you need to have access to a car ASAP. and can you imagine the traffic- that won't be running from hurricane that you've daysnotice for, Thepeople of Orting will be lucky to have THIRTY MINUTES TO EVACUATE. Many towns are between orting and Pugent sound - if it reaches PS, they'll be luckyto have had 45-60 minutes to get out. Its not going to happen.

i cant imagine that. I can deal w. tornados and having a couple minutes noticeand hunkering down in the basement, becuase you still have a good chance to survive. There is NO hunkering down when a 30-ft wall of scalding hot mud is crashing toward you.

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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 09:20 pm (UTC)

Re: tornados, blizzards and volcanos!

Tornado alley is defined as just those four states, stupid as that sounds. I've actually seen more tornados elsewhere, mostly because I was inside when the sirens went off in Texas. In reality, I can't think of a single place here that doesn't get the occasional tornado.

Blizzards are dangerous for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I haven't lived in the north of the country since I was a young child so I have forgotten a number of things about them. Thanks for bringing those points up.

You are quite right, I forgot all about the volcanos which is very silly of me since I used to live right next to five dormant volcanos in Albuquerque. I knew I was forgetting something major that happens regularly. Pretty much with a volcano, if its going to go you are most likely screwed. I would not want to contend with a volcano, I'll take the rest of the country instead. *shudder*
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[User Picture]From: alchemia
2005-09-02 09:32 pm (UTC)

Re: tornados, blizzards and volcanos!

did they change it or something when i was in hs, in earth science class, i remember they had a map with a big red sort of a rectable across the middle, covering mainly those states but extending into a few others, andthat was what waslabelled as T.A. i they've changed it i didnt know. our teacher used to like to scare us w. things like our proximity to the new madrid fault line, microbursts that can just come out of nowhere and squish you and survivor tales of what its like to be struck by lightening, etc..

yeh, i figure, all things cnsidered, its not too bad here. i personalyl can deal with blizzards. im not afraid rely of tornados. (i do worry about Bugland and meds ia medicaid though). i wouldnt mind earthquakes, if i lived on a *farm* but i would never live in a city near a fault line.

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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 10:17 pm (UTC)

Re: tornados, blizzards and volcanos!

I think they did because I remember that big trapazoid thing too. I looked it up again just for this post and that is what I found. They called that small part tornado alley and the rest a regular tornado zone. My source could be wrong, the other still makes more sense to me.

I think you have a very legit worry about his meds. He needs them. Medicaid isn't that great a system at providing for its patrons. I've read a few of his rants on the subject.

I'll live wherever we need to to keep the family afloat. We have things worked out so that I don't have to work and can do all the things with the kiddo. Being aware of the hazards that come with living some place is only sensible.
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[User Picture]From: reanimated
2005-09-02 09:01 pm (UTC)
interesting, i've never given much thought to how relatively stable europe is in this regard, or more to the point, how UNSTABLE the US can be just due to natural disasters. and we really do deal with alot of it. so much so that only the biggest occurences really garner attention, because otherwise we'd be worrying about it all the time. you start to 'get used to' the smaller, less disastrous events.

another thing...you say we'd like to think we'd be 'better' in this situation...i think that's an arrogant way to think. it doesn't matter where in the world this happens. it would happen the same way in NYC or LA or houston or chicago. people would be panicking. many people try to handle it as best as possible, but right now survival instinct is taking over. don't doubt the same scene would play out anywhere in the world under these cirumstances. people are people are people. i think i'd probably be one of those people screaming at others, if not getting into fights, because i know i have a bad temper. >.>
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 09:09 pm (UTC)
When I say better, I mean purely as human beings without regard to race, ethnicity, country or creed, both in the US and abroad. I want to believe good things about people all over the world. I don't think it is arrogant so much as hopeful, but once order breaks down it takes a lot of work and cooperation to rebuild it. The people in New Orleans right now have been failed, badly, and they are reacting.

I know where I'd be, heads down somewhere with my kid doing whatever I could to shelter him and looting for food and drink. I think that is what most parents are trying to do really, keep their kids safe and hope help arrives soon or trying to help themselves. Read the articles I linked too as well in the second half. One is ranty yes, but it does have some excellent points. The second also has a few very valid points to consider about the situation as well.
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[User Picture]From: reanimated
2005-09-02 09:36 pm (UTC)
oh yeah, i know what you mean, but it becomes one of those 'lord of the flies,' 'heart of darkness' scenarios. i think we'd all like to assume that people are going to make the best of any situation, but i think everyone has a breaking point. it's a different level for everyone, and perhaps there are some true saints who would always turn the other cheek. but i think it's a matter of relative morals. how many people would choose 'not stealing' over 'we haven't eaten in almost a week, so it's every man for himself'? when people feel, whether correctly or not, that their survival is at stake, instincts take over. and when a large group of people goes into survival mode, it can get ugly. i guess my point is, it's a universal part of being human. civilization and rules and ethics keep us working together on a regular basis, but when the entire foundation of a community falls apart, the gut reaction is to go into survival mode. civilization and community are not the natural state of things. your social needs and respsonsibilites can easily go out the window when you've got basic survival and safety needs that are not being met.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-02 10:09 pm (UTC)
I would not wait a week. Three days without water is the longest you can live without dying of dehydration. In that heat, you won't last three days. There is a difference between taking the necessities because you honestly need them and taking fancy electronics because you can. I can see a case for taking radios and batteries of all sorts just so you know what is going on if you can get a signal from anywhere.

We can discuss states of nature for weeks on end, but we won't get anywhere. My ethics classes have proved that at least to me.
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[User Picture]From: reanimated
2005-09-02 10:11 pm (UTC)
true dat. there's a reason psychology and philosophy are such wide fields...no one really has all the answers.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2005-09-03 12:01 am (UTC)
Thanks for an excellent discussion -- don't have anything particular to add, but it's good.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-03 12:26 am (UTC)
Just trying to put some perspective on it for the people outside the US who don't have to deal with this sort of thing so often. Most of the rants and such from the US just don't make as much sense without the cultural perspective.

I just talked to a dear friend of mine who did the computer models for the Army Corps of Engineers in 2002. He says he is amazed the city faired so well. Thank God, he's safe with his girlfriend and her family. They went east and got hit anyway, but it was a cat 1 when it got to them.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2005-09-03 12:34 am (UTC)
I've been reading about the New Orleans disaster potential all my life, and here in Georgia, near Atlanta, we have tornadoes mostly, but many people have flooding problems, made much worse by over construction and paving everything in sight.
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[User Picture]From: loopyloonyluna
2005-09-03 04:26 am (UTC)
There were cerainly a multitude of things that were handled poorly or not at all in New Orleans, and I agree with your astute assessment. Perhaps the biggest shame of it all is the missed opportunities to take preventative measures before the storm hit (it seems that there were at least two days in ehich people were sure that New Orleans would be hit. That time could have been spent bussing people out to safety and provisioning the Superdome to handle last-minute refugees. People have been dying in that building because they have no access to medication which to me is heartbreaking. People dying in their homes waiting for someone to rescue them is also heartbreaking but not as unexpected because they are widely scatteres and nobody is sure who is still in those houses. From the news reports many survivors are on the brink of a full scale riot due to the horrendous conditions.

It's so very frustrating because there seems to be so little to do about it now. The relief efforts are hampered by the fact that the city has been made inaccessible due to the flooding. IMHO the first refugees to the Superdome should have been the first bussed out, along with the sick and elderly, but it looks as if that did not happen. There really doesn't seem to be any choice but to evacute almost all of the city's citizens until the flooding is controlled and the infrastructure restored but where on earth do you house that many people in any amount of comfort for what might be a month (or more)?
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-03 04:31 pm (UTC)
Food and water have finally made it to the evacuation centers. The fact is they should have gotten the flooding taken care of sooner rather then later because that would have prevented so much of this. There was time, there were opportunities, and they weren't taken.

How bad do you think the final investigations into what went wrong will be? If he could be reelected, I'm sure this mess would have prevented W from reelection. I somehow don't think the gov of LA will be reelected either. The mayor might, but he's the only one.
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[User Picture]From: loopyloonyluna
2005-09-04 03:39 am (UTC)
I highly doubt that the governor of LA has a snowballs chance of getting re-elected. This would also have hamper Bush's bid had he been eligible for it (the republicans' chances in 2008 may suffer still, though a lot can happen in that amount of time). The mayor of New Orleans has probably gained a lot of support from his impassioned pleas for immediate and drastic action. The investigations are going to be awful but ultimately will probably yeild little resolution. To me it seems that the situation was mis-handled from the beginning- decades before Katrina to be honest. New Orleans was betting a lot that no hurricanes worse than a level three would hit and the city and its people lost the bet in as bad a way as possible. It's gut-wrenching in the extreme to see people suffer and die when things could have been done to prevent at least some of the damage and death.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-03 04:26 pm (UTC)
I'm more trying to give perspective than opinion. My friends list has a lot of Americans who are mad as hell at the so called people in charge in LA many of whom I agree whole heartedly with and just as many who I disagree with. I also have several people on my list who have never once even visited the US and they don't quite understand why we are so mad about this. It would be extremely hard for you to picture London under water, but the area has a simillar population size to London propper, plus a few suburbs. There were 1.3 million people in the greater New Orleans area. London propper had 768k in the 2001 census. The people who could not get out, mostly because it was get out on your own dime and pay for everything yourself, number somewhere just over 100k. Over all, that is a lot fewer then 10% of the population stayed behind. It would have been preventable with better evacuation procedures.

Suffice to say, this one will have a full investigation into why things went so poorly and it won't be a pretty one. The head of FEMA who was shooting his mouth off, the governer of LA, and the pres as well as anyone else who drug their feet on accepting help and organizing it all propperly, should be marched through down town NO and pelted with rotten eggs and then forced to sit in the sun for several hours.
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[User Picture]From: eloquencelost
2005-09-03 05:09 pm (UTC)
< angry rant >

Okay so I've been avoiding discussing this in LJ because I had whining bitching. Angry bitching is all well and good but I don't think my mind can fully wrap around what's happened in New Orleans. I sit at work everyday and I actively go read the news. I haven't actively sought out and read the news since September 11th, I just really hate inundating myself with such depressing things I suppose. And all we'll talk about at work is NO so sufficing to say, when I get home, last thing I want to do is make an emo-y post on LJ about how horrible things are. I live in Houston and on Monday, my ass is going to be going down there to the Astrodome and I'm going to help because that's the right thing to do, period, the end. I'd go sooner but rent has to be met this month or I'll find myself homeless..^^; So sufficing to say, myself and hundreds of other people are going to go help these people because, to take a page out of Pete Wisdom's book o knowledge, it needs doing.

I have been hungry in my time, I have been without a home but in all the minor travails of my life I have never had to sit back and watch my life and all I've worked for blow away or be lost beneath swirling flood waters. I can imagine how horrible things have been for these people but I'd be wrong. I wouldn't even scratch the surface and so when people like Bush turn around and say they're not going to forgive the people looting and breaking the law in NO, that is when my temper hits the roof. Because if I hear one more pampered rich white person whine about how they're all breaking the law and how it's all their fault the rescue efforts are falling behind, I'll probably throw something at them. Because you know what, if me and my family was stuck there and my family was dying of hunger, thirst and the need of basic medical supplies, fuck that, I'd loot too. Where's a bloody store open for them to BUY the things they need!? I duuno, I'd had this conversation a lot in the past five days and you know what, every single time someone at work or my friends get all huffy and uppity about how they're looting there I tell them to just stop and try and put themselves in the shoes of the people who have to watch their grandparents and children die right before their eyes because they can't get drinking water to buy or food for them. I dunno, I guess I fall under the general label of people disgruntled and pissed off about how everyone has fucked this up left and right. And this is only in New Orleans, don't even get my started on how they're not even mentioning the people dying in MI and other parts of LA gragh....

</ angry rant >
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-04 01:33 pm (UTC)
I understand wanting to avoid this discussion on LJ. I find a lot of it on here because it is just so upsetting to people.

The only looters I have a problem with are the ones being foolish and taking electronics, not including radios, and other items that have no immediate lifesaving use. Heck, I can even see clean clothing as something you can make a case for a pressing need for that would require such measures. Everything was written off when the evacuation order was given, it isn't like the stores are losing all that much more money.
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[User Picture]From: barriequark
2005-09-04 02:05 am (UTC)
One point that I read on th eWashingtonpoast.com site was that there WAS water in the city in case of disaster, but that the winds smashed the building where it was being housed and it became contaminated. Also the reason that communications were down was not only because of lack of batteries but because the towers were all blown down.

My question is - Where were the satelite phones? Why didn't at least the critical organizations - the police, firefighters and ambulance personnel have reliable communication? I can't believe that no one thought about that.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-04 01:29 pm (UTC)
I have no answers, just a lot of questions simillar to yours. All I know for a fact is that this could have been handled much much better. I may be biased by my background as a military brat, but this seems wrong beyond any yardstick of wrong I've ever had before.
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[User Picture]From: sapphi_chan
2005-09-12 09:36 am (UTC)
Coming from someone who's not living in U.S, this is a good discussion you've made. I've seen news reports about this whole hurricane Katrina and I see it's a mess thinking that the government should have taken some action quickly. Looking at those dead bodies that are just scattered around (and from what I've seen in Fox news, the reporter was asking some officials who's responsible for getting those no one would answer.)

You know wildfires, earthquakes, land slides, flash floods, and tidal waves are all too common here. We have volcanoes - now here's a start... we do have lots of inactive volcanoes today but we have 24 very active ones... If you can remember Mt. Pinatubo being one of the worst volcanic erruption, and some other active ones to the point that everyday you get to see smoke rising at its crater.

But unlike U.S. that doesn't get hit always by hurricanes (or in our case we call them typhoons), we're always hit by a typhoon on an average of 20 and sometimes it reaches up to 30. So we're all to used to the idea of it hitting us.

I guess what I'm trying to point out is that people there didn't face it like we do. Floods like that is a natural occurrence, people don't go to fits of depression, and actions to give donated goods and clothes are given to people fast.

All in all I just wish that they can fix it fast so that it's all back to normal. And yes Mother Nature does gives us a lot of trouble these days. And I believe she's telling us a lot and we should pay attention to it.
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[User Picture]From: telosphilos
2005-09-12 01:34 pm (UTC)
Part of the problem is that the governments should have acted more quickly, your impressions are quite correct in that. One of the things that they aren't really stating is that there is also a well known problem in Lousianna with coruption. A good portion of the money that was meant to be spent on those levees actually went into people's pockets. The mafia has long operated pretty freely in New Orleans and the rest of the state as well.

It just makes the problem more complex. The people who are corrupt have in essence sabatoged some of the defenses the city should have had. It will take a very long time and a fair bit of research to fully understand the hows and whys of this particular disaster, but it will be known eventually.

Mt. Pinatubo I remember because of the US Airforce base that got caught out by that erruption. Many of the people who were stationed there were reassigned to Homestead AFB in south Florida, just north of Miami. Just as they were finally getting settled after having lost everything, they got hit by Hurricane Andrew. I was at Patrick AFB which is where the hurricane was supposed to have hit and where I worked the relief tables as a preteen.

Also, we do get hit by a number of huricanes each year. Somewhere around six with significant wind speeds. Anything below a catagory three is barely worth worrying about. Its the bigger storms that we find dangerous. The current reseach I've seen suggests that we are just comming out of a lull in the storm cycle.

The truth is that all of those disasters that I listed are common. Usually, we get in see what the damage is, make preparations, and then fix everything back up to normal as quickly as possible. What we have all witnessed in this case is anything but typical. Its the fact it is so far from typical that has us all so upset.

We do have a few legal issues that have to be ironed out when it comes to natural disasters and federal help cleaning them up. The first issue is the governer of the state has to request it from the President. The answer is nearly always yes, I can't think of a single instance of a "no" being given. Now, usually that process is gone through before the huricane has even passed through, often before it has even hit a particular area. Without the request, the federal government's hands are tied. A second legal issue is that the mayor of any given city will not have the same powers as the mayor of another city. It all depends on how the city was set up. I don't know how New Orleans' local government was set up, but the mayor may not have had all that much in the way of real power, or he may have and didn't exercise it correctly.

We move around a lot in the US. I have family in six different states for example and I'm from a small family. Families living multiple generations in one small area do happen, but they aren't anywhere near as common as they are in the rest of the world. So we have a lot of people educated in one area of the country coming to live and work in another area. That right there is part of the problem with the education of the citizens to the hazards where they live.

It won't be fixed fast in New Orleans, but it will be back to normal soon. Its just a matter of time. There are good reasons to rebuild the city and some really stupid ones too. It may not be as big or in quite the exact same place, but the city will be restored.
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