[LETTERS to the editor]The lessons of Katrina and Gustav

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[LETTERS to the editor]The lessons of Katrina and Gustav

On Aug. 31, residents were ordered to evacuate New Orleans, which was still recovering from the catastrophic disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, as another monstrous storm was approaching the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Gustav raised fears of large-scale devastation, having killed 94 people in the Caribbean before arriving on the American coast. It was predicted that Gustav would strengthen quickly into a Category 4 storm and was poised to reach category 5.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin urged city residents to get out, calling Gustav “the storm of the century.” But before making landfall, the storm was downgraded into a category2 hurricane. The impact of Gustav appeared to be much less formidable than those of hurricanes Rita and Katrina of 2005.

Though it turned out weaker than expected, Gustav was the first test of the United States government’s supposed improvement in dealing with potentially disastrous storms since Katrina. Officials were expected to have learned from the horrible experience in the 2005 hurricane that killed over 1,600 people [and displaced hundreds of thousands]. The main factors that have contributed to the disaster from Katrina were weak levees and slow evacuation. If there was a better mechanism that could address the problem rapidly, the impact of Katrina would not have been as horrible.

This time, the countermeasures for Gustav seemed much more efficient. First of all, the levees have proved their capability as a flood wall. Although strong waves in Gustav’s wake pounded against a flood wall at the edge of the Ninth Ward, which was hit hard during Katrina, the place was safely protected. The only reported consequence of Gustav was the ankle-to-knee-deep flooding on streets, and some downed trees and power lines.

Moreover, the mandatory evacuation has allowed nearly 2 million people to take refuge in safer areas that Hurricane Gustav can’t reach. According to the governments’ official report, seven people were in killed in total - four in traffic accidents and three from downed trees. Medical services and shelters were sufficient enough to accommodate evacuees. The secretary for U.S. homeland security, Michael Chertoff, said that there were no people trapped in the flooded areas. Compared to the situation three years ago, actions by state and local officials have made a difference. [It was a big difference from memories of the Katrina, of New Orleans inundated, and painful scenes of trapped people asking for help, from rooftops and crowded stadiums many of them having lost family members and their homes.

Even though there was great improvement in governments’ action to prepare for the hurricane this time, officials found themselves being criticized for overreaction, before the intensity of the hurricane was confirmed. Hurricanes can change force and direction abruptly, so it is true that it is hard to predict exactly what’s going happen.

However, the government was probably hasty. The decision to order evacuation had its effect on the oil industry [prices shot up in anticipation of the storm] which can have a huge impact on the U.S. economy and social stability. Furthermore, halting the manufacturing of oil companies could affect the world economy as well. This is because major petroleum processing and shipping are situated around the Gulf of Mexico; a sudden reduction of the supply of oil while demand is continuous, could lead to increased prices, which did happen. Actually, the oil price rise was temporary; fortunately with the rapid departure of Gustav, the region dodged potential damage.

The evacuation was smooth, but the return of the evacuees was delayed. A lot of residents of New Orleans were stranded or turned away due to blocked roads. Even though Hurricane Gustav was out of the city, a majority of the residents were still awaiting permission to go home. Electricity and transportation that were cut off due to Gustav were not back, [not just in New Orleans but in neighboring areas as well]. New Orleans has successfully avoided Gustav, unlike Katrina, but putting the city back up has become a continuing problem.

Park Kyu-ri, student,

Daeil Foreign Language High School

*e-mail to eopinion@joongang.co.kr or via fax to 82-2-751-9219
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