Gustav spares New Orleans

New Orleans escaped catastrophic damage from Hurricane Gustav, but Louisianans face a long and difficult cleanup.

New Orleans this week escaped catastrophic damage from Hurricane Gustav, but the 2 million Louisianans who fled the storm in the largest evacuation in U.S. history face a long and difficult cleanup. Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were largely unscathed—good news for the nation’s oil supply—but the storm was blamed for at least 10 deaths. More than half of the state’s residents—1.4 million households—were without electricity, and officials warned it could take weeks to restore power. Coastal roads were blocked by debris scattered by the storm’s 110-mph winds, slowing residents’ return. “We’re tired, we’re hungry, we’re out of money, and we want to take a bath,” said New Orleans resident Merlene Demourelle.

The city’s battered levees could face further strain this week. Tropical Storm Hanna was over the Caribbean as The Week went to press, and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane and make landfall between Florida and South Carolina late this week. Two other storms, Ike and Josephine, were moving westward across the Atlantic and could strike the U.S. next week.

Those responsible for protecting New Orleans still haven’t learned the lessons of Katrina, said USA Today in an editorial. Not only were the levees not fully repaired, but thanks to cheap flood insurance, people have been rebuilding in the most vulnerable parts of the city. Everyone is avoiding the difficult question of whether New Orleans should even try “to re-create all its neighborhoods” and instead “reinvent itself as a slimmed-down city where some low-lying areas are given up to parks or marshes.”

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That’s not the only tough question being avoided, said Joseph Romm in Global warming is playing havoc with the planet’s weather patterns, and while it does not appear that climate change directly causes hurricanes, scientists say it “makes any particular hurricane stronger.” Many of my fellow environmentalists worry about looking as if they are exploiting a tragedy for political gain, but facts are facts: Emissions of greenhouse gasses have been linked to “extreme weather.”

At least the people of New Orleans have learned from bitter experience, said Jarvis DeBerry in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. As Gustav “churned in the Caribbean,” the people showed “a proper sense of danger and concern” and hustled out of town. Yet as they fled, many took time to applaud a kid who stood by the road and serenaded them on his tuba. Scenes like that remind us why New Orleans is worth saving.

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