Saturday, September 3, 2005

Titanic 2005

Less than 3 hours past midnight on Monday, April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean toward its watery grave. Of the 2,223 people onboard, only 706 survived the iceberg. Not surprisingly, most of the dead were from third class. As described in the Wikipedia,
First and second class passengers had easy access to the lifeboats with staircases that led right up to the boat deck, but third class passengers found it more difficult. Many found the corridors leading from the lower sections of the ship difficult to navigate and had trouble making their way up to the lifeboats. Not helping third class passengers were gates kept locked by crew members waiting for orders to let the passengers up to the deck.
Fast forward to August 29, 2005. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know this is the date Hurricane Katrina came ashore. Like the maritime disaster almost 100 years ago, members of the upper and middle class were most able to heed the evacuation orders and get out of town before the storm hit. The majority of the dead are the poor (third class) who faced numerous barriers to escape. Theirs are the bodies we see floating in the stagnant water on TV.

As I’ve thought about the innumerable personal tragedies of Katrina, I see a lot of similarities between it and the Titanic sinking. Many of the same types of decisions impacted both events. And, most importantly, it’s sad to say that, when tragedy strikes, one can be almost guaranteed that the poorest of citizens will be the ones to bear the greatest pain, agony and hardship.

As a Titanic history buff, I know a lot of the less-publicized particulars of this sinking. For example, while most people are aware that the luxury liner did not have enough lifeboats onboard, few people know that this was not in violation of then current law and that the ship had MORE lifeboats than was required.

Of course, the prime reason that sufficient lifeboats weren’t mandated is because the idea was fought by ship owners. Lifeboats meant less space for luxury cabins and this meant less profit to shareholders. Had an adequate number of lifeboats been available AND the crew had been sufficiently trained to operate them, far less people would have perished.

The issue of money also plays a big role in the death toll in Louisiana and Mississippi. Several years ago Congress created a fund for flood control and emergency preparedness for the region in and around New Orleans. Unfortunately for the residents of New Orleans, President Bush diverted over 40% of these funds to the “war on terror”.

As has been well-documented, a large share of this money has found its way into the pockets of corporations like Hallburton. Consequently, like with the Titanic, it seems that profits for the few took precedence over protection and safety for the many.

Another similarity between these two calamities is arrogance. Many believed the RMS Titanic was unsinkable and so they didn’t exercise caution nor prudence toward reports of icebergs in their path. In fact, upon hearing reports of a large ice field up ahead, Captain Edward Smith ordered the ship to INCREASE speed.

Several scientists have been predicting that it was an inevitability that a major hurricane would strike near the Mardi Gras city and that 2005 looks like a year for several major storms. Understanding that the vast majority of the City of New Orleans lies below sea level and is protected by inadequate levees, these experts warned that, unless efforts were undertaken to remedy this circumstance, New Orleans could easily become a lake of dead bodies and sewage.

Yet despite this clarion call, the federal government refused to heed the warning. We now have been witness to the damage and heartbreak this has caused.

Every time the world is faced with a major calamity, people vow it should never happen again. Political leaders make glorious speeches in which they SAY we will learn from our mistakes and be better prepared the next time.

But what did humanity learn from the sinking of the Titanic?

Hurricane Katrina is the Titanic all over again.


  1. Another it was all Bush's (and now the Federal Government's) fault scenerio. Well, let's look at this.

    FEMA: It is a coordinating agency that encourages and assists States, Territories, Tribal Nations, and local governments in development of all-hazard plans, to reduce the impact of, enhance response to, and ensure recovery from catastrophic and non-catastrophic disasters.

    Louisiana Office of Homeland Defense and Emergency Preparedness: The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LHLS & EP); formally the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness (LOEP), was created by the Civil Act of 1950 and is under the Louisiana Military Department. In 1976 LHLS & EP via the Louisiana government reorganization, was moved to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). In 1990 LHLS & EP was transferred again to the Military Department. In 2003 the Agency name was changed to the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, reflecting the additional responsibilities to the State and her citizens.

    Louisiana Laws
    To address the need to reduce flood damages in Louisiana, the legislature passed Act 351 in the 1982 Regular Session thereby creating the Louisiana Statewide Flood Control Program. This program may provide up to 90% of the cost of construction for projects that reduce existing flood damages, do not encourage additional development in flood-prone areas, do not increase upstream or downstream flooding and have a total construction cost of $100,000 or more.

    Louisian Floodplain Management Program (R.S. 38:84 and 44CFR Part 60)
    The Department of Transportation and Development is the State Coordinating Agency for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as designated by the Governor. The purpose of the program is to promote local government compliance with NFIP regulations in order to ensure the availability of low-cost flood insurance and in doing so minimize loss of life and property due to catastrophic flooding. This is accomplished through on-site assessments, distribution of a quarterly newsletter, conducting workshops, providing technical assistance on local government ordinance development and participation in post-disaster Flood Hazard Mitigation activities. The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in coordination with the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness on a 75% Federal and 25% State basis.

    Louisiana Levee Districts (R.S. 38:281-513)
    Currently there are twenty-four (24) levee districts within the State and one in southeast Arkansas for which engineering support and coordination is provided by the Public Works and Water Resources Section. These services include devising, planning, designing, and providing advice on operation and maintenance of a multitude of levees, canals, and structures constructed with local funds. Coordination of the activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the conduct of similar services for such flood control works installed within the levee districts with Federal funds is part of the program's responsibilities. Also, the Federal Projects Unit serves as staff support for the Executive Committee of the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana.

    Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Disaster Preparedness: The two primary federal funding sources for flood mitigation are the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMAP). Both programs are administered in Louisiana by the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (La OHSEP), and both provide 75% of eligible project costs; 25% non-federal funds are required. Non-federal funds may come from the state, community or property owner. All projects must be economically justified.

    OK, in summary, Louisiana should have been prepard. From the FEMA statement, it appears it is the State Governments responsibility to be prepard, with assistance of the Federal Government. It is not mandated, though. From the history, it appears that this issue hasn't been a surprise to anyone for over 25-50 years in Louisiana.
    The blame game, it seems there is a long list of delinquent Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, Govenors, LA National Guard Generals, State Assemblymen, Mayors and City Councilmen who have contributed to this mismanagement on a massive scale. Maybe Louisana should have learned the lessons of Florida and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The aftermath of Hurricane Ivan (CAT 4 storm) was not nearly as traumatic because they learned their lessons. Florida learned it, look at the aftermath of Ivan. Regardless, who is responsible for this anyway?

  2. It all sounds like a morass of bureaucratic bullshit that will have people pointing fingers for years. There was nobody willing to step forward and take charge because there apparantly was no way to ascertain who was supposed to lead the parade. I'll bet if the pres. had gotten on the phone to FEMA and in terms as succinct as those used by New Orleans mayor, told them to get off their asses and do something, it would have happened, but we know he doesn't like to watch the news nor does he care to read newspapers, so he probably was unaware of the disaster until he was flown over it.

    I'm suffering from a disaster hangover from watching too much TV and fuming and steaming over the inept performance of our elected leaders. By the way, why wasn't the Red Cross doing its thing in the disaster area? I know they are present in Houston and other cities that have accepted large numbers of the displaced, but they sure weren't handing out water and food or overseeing shelters in New Orleans. ===== Kudos to the Coast Guard, they were the heroes of the week.


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