News & Politics

How Not to Prepare for a Hurricane

President Bush vacationed while hurricane Katrina ruined homes and lives. This behavior is par for the president's course.
In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as "among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

Yesterday, disaster struck.

One of the strongest storms in recorded history rocked the Gulf Coast, bringing 145 mph winds and floods of up to 20 feet. One million residents were evacuated; at least 65 are confirmed dead. Tens of thousands of homes were completely submerged.

Mississippi's governor reported "catastrophic damage on all levels." Downtown New Orleans buildings were "imploding," a fire chief said. Oil surged past $70 a barrel. New Orleanians were grimly asking each other, "So, where did you used to live?" (To donate to Red Cross disaster relief, call 1-800-HELP-NOW).

While it happened, President Bush decided to … continue his vacation, stopping by the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort in El Mirage, Arizona, to hawk his Medicare drug benefit plan.

On Sunday, President Bush said, "I want to thank all the folks at the federal level and the state level and the local level who have taken this storm seriously." He's not one of them. Below, we present "How Not to Prepare for a Massive Hurricane," by President Bush, congressional conservatives, and their corporate special interest allies. 

SLASH SPENDING ON HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS IN NEW ORLEANS:  Two months ago, President Bush took an ax to budget funds that would have helped New Orleans prepare for such a disaster. The New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suffered a "record $71.2 million" reduction in federal funding, a 44.2 percent reduction from its 2001 levels.

Reports at the time said that thanks to the cuts, "major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. … Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now." (Too bad Louisiana isn't a swing state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Frances -- and the run-up to the 2004 election -- the Bush administration awarded $31 million in disaster relief to Florida residents who didn't even experience hurricane damage.)

DESTROY NATURAL HURRICANE PROTECTIONS: The Gulf Coast wetlands form a "natural buffer that helps protect New Orleans from storms," slowing hurricanes down as they approach from sea.

When he came into office, President Bush pledged to uphold the "no net loss" wetland policy his father initiated. He didn't keep his word.

Bush rolled back tough wetland policies set by the Clinton administration, ordering federal agencies "to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands and an untold number of waterways nationwide."

Last year, four environmental groups issued a joint report showing that administration policies had allowed "developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands."

The result? New Orleans may be in even greater danger: "Studies show that if the wetlands keep vanishing over the next few decades, then you won't need a giant storm to devastate New Orleans -- a much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could destroy the city too." 

GUT THE AGENCY TASKED WITH DEVELOPING HURRICANE RESPONSES: Forward-thinking federal plans with titles like "Issues and Options in Flood Hazards Management," "Floods: A National Policy Concern," and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management" would be particularly valuable in a time of increasingly intense hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the agency that used to produce them -- the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) -- was gutted by Gingrich conservatives several years ago.

As Chris Mooney (who presciently warned of the need to bulk up hurricane defenses in New Orleans last May) noted yesterday, "If we ever return to science-based policymaking based on professionalism and expertise, rather than ideology, an office like OTA would be very useful in studying how best to save a city like New Orleans -- and how Congress might consider appropriating money to achieve this end."

SEND OUR FIRST RESPONDERS TO FIGHT A WAR OF CHOICE: National Guard and Reserve soldiers are typically on the front lines responding to disasters like Katrina -- that is, if they're not fighting in Iraq. Roughly 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is currently deployed in Iraq, where guardsmen and women make up about four of every 10 soldiers.

Additionally, "Dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators" used by the Louisiana Guard are also tied up abroad. "The National Guard needs that equipment back home to support the homeland security mission," Louisiana National Guard Lt. Colonel Pete Schneider told reporters earlier this month. "Recruitment is down dramatically, mostly because prospective recruits are worried about deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan or another country," the AP reported recently. "I used to be able to get about eight people a month," said National Guard 1st Sgt. Derick Young, a New Orleans recruiter. "Now, I'm lucky if I can get one."

HELP FUEL GLOBAL WARMING: Severe weather occurrences like hurricanes and heat waves already take hundreds of lives and cause millions in damages each year. As the Progress Report has noted, data increasingly suggests that human-induced global warming is making these phenomena more dangerous and extreme than ever.

"The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service," science author Ross Gelbspan writes. "Its real name is global warming."

AP reported recently on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis that shows that "major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific … have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent" since the 1970s, trends that are "closely linked to increases in the average temperatures of the ocean surface and also correspond to increases in global average atmospheric temperatures during the same period."

Yet just last week, as Katrina was gathering steam and looming over the Gulf, the Bush administration released new CAFE standards that actually encourage automakers to produce bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles, while preventing states from taking strong, progressive action to reverse global warming.
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