Fausta's blog

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

After Katrina, and after Hugo, and after Andrew...

A friend who lives in Florida sent me this link today, It's Time To Get Over Katrina Already. Talking Points Memo is shocked, shocked that conservatives are getting tired of the weeping over New Orleans.

As it happens, today I talked to my mom in Florida and my brother in Puerto Rico, and a friend who used to own a small property in one of the smaller islands in the Caribbean dropped by my house.

None of us have much sympathy for those who are still crying over Katrina.

As you can read in the "About Me" section in the sidebar, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. My parents were also born and raised in Puerto Rico (and we're tall, thank you, but not because we had "government-provided-healthcare"), and after my father retired they relocated to Florida. People who live in South Florida and the Caribbean know a thing or two about what to do before, during and after hurricanes strike.

The best thing you can do before any storm is to not live in a flood zone. The first thing each one of us does before buying a property is check the local town hall maps. If you don't live in a flood zone chances are you won't be asked to evacuate your home. While half of New Orleans is above sea level, all of it is in a flood zone, and then when it comes to the other half, If you live in a bowl below sea level, you will get flooded, again and again.

My brother and his family lived through hurricane Hugo in 1989. It was a terrifying experience, but they recovered quickly.

When Hugo struck Puerto Rico my brother and his family were in a well-built house that met all the strictest building requirements, and they were far from flood zones. The house suffered some minor damage, of which the most surprising was that the force of the wind and rain blasted all the paint off one side of the house. They, as everybody else, were without potable water or electricity for many days, and the island of Puerto Rico suffered very considerable damage. However, people did pull themselves together, and by the time I went to visit in 1990 six months after Hugo struck the place was well on its way to complete recovery. While there were some areas that still had damage, all the urban areas had made very significant progress.

The strangest thing about my 1990 visit was that the entire drive from Isla Verde to Caguas - some 25 miles - was nearly bare of trees. Hugo had mowed down all the trees as far as the eye could see. However, the roads, the houses, and the infrastructure were in pretty good shape, and most were very well. The tourist areas, which are the livelihood of the island, had made full recovery. Workers were everywhere.

Today my friend and I were talking about the island were she once owned a small property. The particular island is basically on the path of each hurricane, which sometimes gets multiple hurricane visits per season, and they too spring to work to repair and restore any damage as soon as possible.

I mention Puerto Rico because it has many things in common with Louisiana:
Puerto Rico is poorer than Louisiana
Louisiana and Puerto Rico politics are rife with corruption
New Orleans, and Puerto Rico as a whole, are highly dependent on tourism
Both New Orleans and Puerto Rico have huge shipping industries (New Orleans has the largest port by tonnage in the world).
The difference is that Puerto Rico can not afford to sit around waiting. While New Orleans has half a million people, Puerto Rico has four million.

Then you have South Florida, where my mom and my sister live. In 1992 they endured hurricane Andrew, another huge storm. The town of Homestead was totally razed by Andrew, the second-most destructive storm in US history, so strong the name was retired. Two years after Andrew hit journalists weren't going to Florida to interview people whose rent was still being paid by FEMA.

Interestingly, a large influx of illegal labor went to work in the rebuilding effort after Andrew, Hugo, and Katrina in Louisiana, Florida, and in Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean.

I don't think FEMA paid for those laborers' rents.

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3 Comments:

At 5:51 AM, Blogger doctorj2u said...

You don't have a clue to the reality of the situation. Come to the area and see for yourself. I helped gut a church in Gentilly in January. Thousands of homes destroyed. They were built in the 1950's and have NEVER flooded before. The reason they did this time was a sub-par federal floodwall on the London Avenue Canal. You would be ashamed of yourself for posting this if you had seen what I have seen. Just this last weekend I visited the church again. There is still a boat sitting in the street. Like I said, you don't have a clue.

 
At 7:10 AM, Blogger Fausta said...

I don't have a clue, perhaps, but I know what I've seen elsewhere.

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger newton said...

Two points:

The sig.other spent a week in New Orleans just last August. Before then, he had been there eight years ago. His verdict: buildings that were total crap then are still total crap now. All those who wanted to return did just that.

He and I agree: the whole outcry about Katrina is because they want more of the government's gravy train. It is as if they had never been through a hurricane before. They think that the government should solve all of their problems. The reality is that it is they who should think about ways to prevent another disaster from ensuing after a hurricane. Look at Galveston, TX, for a darned good example.

Second: I was sixteen when Hugo passed right over my hometown on the Northeast coast of PR. The eye was right over my house. When it moved on to the ocean, we saw the devastation. Roads, trees, cars, light posts... a mess. Some wood houses became Barbie dollhouses. There was no running water, nor electricity, for two or three weeks. Classes started two weeks after. Our College Board tests (PR SATs) were rescheduled for November.

Of course, we complained about the lack of ice. But we did all we could to find some, in some other parts of the island. Not to mention that the Navy guys at Roosevelt Roads were generous enough to provide ice for us, and to help us with clearing roads and get the basic services back. But we all rebuilt. We all made the effort. And within a year, we were on our way.

I still saw the remains of the missing palm trees at Seven Seas beach. There were fewer trees, of course. But we rose again.

Sure, there was plenty of charitable gifts coming to us. But we kept our roofs. And we didn't cry "Woe is me!" every time there was a problem.

Unlike those crybabies for New Orleans.

So, as you can see, I know whereof I speak.

Here are some suggestions for those who really, REALLY don't have a clue, like the first commenter above:

1. Stronger building codes and stronger building materials, such as concrete and cement (my childhood home was strong enough to stand to those winds, and we all were safe therein.) Make those building codes the strongest in the nation.

2. Raise the city by ten feet, if possible. See Galveston, above.

3. If no progress is made in the above two suggestions, the best solution is to get the hell outta there! There's always higher ground. To live a few feet under sea level is to play with your life, IMHO.

 

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