Disaster-Resilient Communities

Introduction

Hurricane Katrina remains one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the US. The hurricane primarily impacted the city of New Orleans, leaving behind a trail of destruction and death. Moreover, the most affected were the poorest people in the city who either could not afford to evacuate in time because they had no cars. The poor also lived in the areas with the lowest elevation as compared to the sea level. This essay is an analysis of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, its impact on New Orleans city and how the city officials and the government could have reacted better to it. Secondly, the essay will also seek to explain how the city should prepare for such an incident in future. The essay seeks to establish that while it is impossible to have disaster free communities, it is possible to build disaster resilient communities. 

Event and Impacts

The Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the US on August 29th, 2005. While hurricanes are usually destructive, Hurricane Katrina seemed to be more destructive than had been expected. It was traveling at between one hundred and one hundred and forty miles per hour. The hurricane also stretched more than four hundred miles across the Gulf Coast. However, while it is apparent that the hurricane had a broad purview, it was most devastating at the New Orleans. 

 
 

According to the United States Congress the city of New Orleans had a population of about half a million people, while the metropolis had more than a million people. Townsend explains that, geographically, a significant part of the city also is below sea level in the US Gulf Coast while River Mississippi and several lakes and marshes are close to the city. Thus, the environment seems to always be damp. The city has had levees to hold flood water from previous hurricanes for decades. However, while River Mississippi had reliable levees, the same was not for the levees that held the lakes, swamps, and marshes. Thus, more than four-fifths of the city was to be under water from the flooding that followed the hurricane. 

The impact on the community was devastating. A large number of businesses were destroyed, rendering some residents destitute. There was also an intense folding of homes in the city. The most affected population in the city were the poorest people whom the hurricane made poorest and more vulnerable than before in a city where almost 30% of the population lived below the federally defined poverty line. In the aftermath of the flooding, many people could not locate their relatives and friends. Meanwhile, while the mayor had indicated that people who were stranded could go to the Superdome, a stadium in a relatively higher ground, the authorities only allowed around fifteen thousand people then locked the doors. Some individuals who tried to walk to the relatively higher area of Gretna to avoid the floods were forced back by armed police.  

Infrastructure critical to the city economy was affected. Townsend explains that roads to the city were impassable while most of the high-rise buildings such as the hotels got extensively damaged. Even the largest stadium in the city, the Superdome which had housed thousands of people during the storm, sustained significant damage. 

How the Affected Community Could Have Reacted to Hurricane Katrina

Most of the deaths that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were preventable. First, the levees had been built in an inadequate levee in a bid to preserve steel and thus make the building cheaper, rather than more durable. The realization that the flood waters from the hurricane were going to be breached the levees should have led to mayor issuing evacuation notices earlier. Moreover, the city seems to have had little to no prior plans on how to deal with the hurricane. In an area that has had several of the hurricanes, it would have been advisable to have the contingency plan at all the times. This would have made the reaction to the hurricane effects much easier. 

Moreover, while the mayor issued mandatory evacuation in the city, there was no effort to enforce it. Thus, many people stayed behind in their house which greatly complicated the search and rescue effects. Moreover a significant number of individuals did not have the means to evacuate from the city. Consequently, the city, state and the federal government should have provided evacuation services in days preceding the hurricane. Moreover, there was no leadership in this incident from the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  FEMA did not establish any operations in New Orleans until days later. 

How the City Should Prepare for the Next Event

It is apparent that New Orleans lies in an area with a high proclivity for hurricanes. Much of the city also lies below sea level while a river, some lakes, marshes, and swamps surround the city. This means that the possibility of a similar disaster happening is high. First, there should be a plan on how to react in case the levee system fails again. Moreover, federal and state governments should allocate more money to the building of another levee system, which would be able to hold category four and five hurricanes.

The city should also have a citywide communication and notification mechanism which will ensure that in the event of a hurricane so that the city notifies the residents promptly. An email notification or a text notification would go a long way towards helping in this regard. The city residents themselves should heed to evacuation notices it would make little difference if after the notices that were to stay in the vicinities likely to be affected. 

Lastly, the city government, the state government, and the federal government should ensure that they have a contingency evacuation plan for the city. It is clear that with prompt evacuation, the city could have avoided massive loss of life that resulted from the hurricane. Rather than have search and rescue services after the floods have already devastated several tens of thousands of families, a plan that involves an evacuation promptly would be more efficient, safer and cost-effective.  

Conclusion

As it is apparent, while it is impossible to control the occurrence of disasters, people can build disaster resilient communities. The essay was an exploration of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the effects of the hurricane in New Orleans, how the metropolis, federal and state government could have reacted better, and how to prepare for such an eventuality in future. It is apparent that the city lies in an area that is prone to both hurricanes and flooding due to its geography and environment. In this case, the levee system failed to hold during Hurricane Katrina. There was flooding, extensive damage to infrastructure, business, and loss of life. The response from all the levels of government and the requisite agency was underwhelming. The evacuation notices should have come earlier, and the city should have enforced them. The city, state or federal government should also have provided means to evacuate since a significant part of the population did not own a car. Lastly, the city should prepare for such an eventuality by building a stronger levee system, having a citywide communication in the eventuality of the prediction of such a hurricane, and the governments ensuring there is a contingency evacuation plan for the city. 

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