It was four years ago today.
The effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were shattering and long-lasting. As the center of Katrina passed east of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, winds downtown were in the Category 3 range with frequent intense gusts and tidal surge. Though the most severe portion of Katrina missed the city, hitting nearby St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees and also in navigational canal levees and precipitated the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States.
By August 31, 2005, eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under 15 feet (4.5 m) of water. Most of the city's levees designed and built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers broke somewhere, including the 17th Street Canal levee, the Industrial Canal levee, and the London Avenue Canal floodwall. These breaches were responsible for most of the flooding, according to a June 2007 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Oil refining stopped so the price of petrol increased all over the world.
Ninety percent of the residents of southeast Louisiana were evacuated in the most successful evacuation of a major urban area in the nation's history. Despite this, many remained (mainly the elderly and poor). The Louisiana Superdome was used as a designated "refuge of last resort" for those who remained in the city. The city flooded due primarily to the failure of the federally built levee system. Many who remained in their homes had to swim for their lives, wade through deep water, or remain trapped in their attics or on their rooftops.
The disaster had major implications for a large segment of the population, economy, and politics of the entire United States. It has prompted a Congressional review of the Corps of Engineers and the near total failure of the federally built flood protection system which experts agree should have protected the city's inhabitants from Katrina's surge. Katrina has also stimulated significant research in the academic community into urban planning, real estate finance, and economic issues in the wake of a natural disaster.
Although it was over 1,500 miles from where I am, the disaster was no less devastating. We all watched in horror as the levees broke, the city flooded, and hundreds of Americans
drowned in their homes. This isn't supposed to happen in the United States.
But why do I think this was our death knell as a Superpower?
Our status as such was created on July 16, 1945. The US, and the US alone, had the power to destroy the world. But is that really the measure of a Superpower? Through all the years of the cold war, we also looked to help those in need, especially after a disaster.
I think that changed in the 21st Century. It's interesting to note that George W. Bush was elected in the fall of 2000...and his arrogance and complacency led directly to the events of September 11. To the end of my days, I will never forgive him for what he did on September 12. The world was lined up on our doorstep, hat in hand, saying "I'm so sorry....how can we help?" and he turned them away.
History repeated itself for his second term. Was it coincidence that Mr. Bush was re-elected in the fall of 2004....and his arrogance and complacency led directly to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? (Hey now, I won't blame him for the *actual* hurricane, that could have happened on anyone's watch.) Mr. Bush's lack of concern, and indeed, utter callousness toward human life, American
lives, changed my perception forever of what a superpower is and what it should do.
We couldn't save our own citizens. We couldn't agree on a rescue plan, we didn't help them for days or weeks, and in the end, New Orleans died.
When a country can't even take care of its own citizens, what right does it have to go around the world, acting like a super-bully, and expecting the rest of the nations to follow heed?
Yes, we can still destroy the world today with our weapons. But is that the true measure of a Superpower?
I did also want to mention briefly my Senator this morning. I watched most of the public wake last night, and it was interesting to me to see our Republican friends there to honor him. In many ways, that was more powerful than the expected Democrats lining up to pay their respects. It is the true measure of what Senator Kennedy accomplished that last night it didn't matter what letter you had after your name...we were all Americans pausing to ponder what the loss meant to us all.
For this Commonwealth...I was talking to Raine about it earlier in the week. All of you out there with differently-winged public officials have had to spend years calling, writing, and emailing your representatives to write or co-sponsor some legislation, or do the right thing by voting for it. We've been very complacent up here in Massachussetts. All that legislation you're trying to cajole your folks to support, more often than not, had Kennedy's name on it somewhere already. I never had to worry about my Senator doing the write thing....he usually had a hand in creating the bill in the first place.
"Lion of the Senate" might be too small a term for what we have lost.