Hurricane Katrina was a devastating event. The hurricane nearly came ashore as a category 5 hurricane, weakening at the last minute before coming ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Even so the storm had major and long lasting effects. Over 1800 people lost their lives and property damage exceeded $81 billion. Parts of New Orleans still remain an uninhabited ghost town. It is etched in the psyche of the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast and the nation. Whenever a storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico it brings back those terrible memories of August 2005 when death came to New Orleans in the form of Katrina. The ghosts of Katrina still remain and Hurricane Isaac has channeled those ghosts.
In 2005 I was serving as the Chaplain for the Marine Security Forces in Norfolk. I preparing to fly to New Orleans for a conference on Sexual Assault and Prevention. I was watching the weather closely and as Hurricane Katrina tracked toward New Orleans and grew stronger I got word that the conference had been postponed. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to the conference, meeting some colleagues that I had not seen and had planned to see a Minor League ballgame when in town.
My disappointment rapidly shifted to concern about the areas of New Orleans and Gulfport Mississippi. Initially I wasn’t too concerned but watched in horror as the storm strengthened. I was thinking hard about the Navy in Gulfport where I had talked the detailer out of sending me in to be the junior chaplain in the base chapel 2003 because I wanted to remain operational. Had I meekly agreed to the detailer we would have been directly in the path of Katrina’s track.
To watch the disaster unfold was frightening. To see people suffering and the breakdown in civil order as the city was inundated was frightening. Emergency response was woefully insufficient, public order completely broke down as levees failed and local response providers became victims themselves. The Super Dome was a prime evacuation center but it was hit hard, supplies we short and the attempt to provide shelter to the poor who could not evacuate a disaster. State, Local and Federal responses were poorly coordinated and executed. I some ways New Orleans will never completely recover from Katrina.
It appears Isaac is tracking to New Orleans and Gulfport. If it continues its path and the models are correct the effects should be nothing like Katrina although massive rainfall and storm surge could create some chaos. Thankfully some dry air is keeping Isaac from gaining too much momentum however Katrina surprised many by gaining a huge amount of power in a very short time.
Local, State and Federal government agencies are on alert, the National Guard has been activated in some areas and evacuations of coastal areas have been going on for a couple of days.
Isaac will have economic impacts beyond any life or property damage due to the storm but, hopefully only short term. Oil drilling and production facilities will be shut down for several days even if they sustain no or little damage and gas prices are moving up. Oil platforms have been strengthened since Katrina but all it takes as one platform to fail to create an ecological disaster.
Isaac has delayed the Republican National Convention in Tampa which was very much in the target zone just a few days ago. Anyone who has ever been to Tampa knows the danger if a storm was to hit it. There have been studies one of which, Project Phoenix http://www.tbrpc.org/tampabaycatplan/pdf/Project_Phoenix_Scenario_Info.pdf which analyzes the effects of a worst case scenario. In 1921 Tampa was hit by a category 4 storm that did great damage to Tampa and St Petersburg which were then much smaller metropolitan areas.
Damage from the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane
While Tampa should suffer little from Isaac, the city was right to take preparations and the GOP leadership was right to delay the start of the convention. Since hurricanes often make unexpected moves and sometimes strengthen in ways not expected they could not take that chance. That being said if Isaac hits New Orleans hard it could put a damper on media coverage of the convention. After all in our society natural disasters and human tragedies always get more coverage than political rallies.
I have been through about 6 or 7 hurricanes or tropical storms in North Carolina and Virginia and another in Okinawa. I have rode out hurricanes and Indian Ocean cyclones at sea. they are not to be taken lightly. Last year I experienced Hurricane Irene which was a very large slow moving category one storm which did enough damage in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to be classed as one of the top ten natural disasters in the history of the country.
So I pray for all of those in the path of Isaac tonight and in the coming days as the storm hits the Gulf Coast and then moves inland.