It’s good to give credit where it’s due


It is that time of year again: hurricane season. Of the natural disasters, it is the one that science and technology has managed to learn enough so that forewarnings can occur.

Lessons were certainly learned from the Katrina disaster. This time the people in New Orleans and the Gulf states listened to the authorities and evacuated. About two million residents got out of the way of Hurricane Gustav.

The authorities at all levels – federal, state and local – actually coordinated with each other. Buses, both public and private, were made available to people without transportation to get out of the hot zone. Food and medical supplies were stockpiled. Law enforcement was beefed up.

This was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doing its job by ensuring the stockpile of goods would be enough for one million people for three days. It was the Department of Defense ensuring that 50,000 National Guard troops would be on the ground to keep the peace. It was Mayor Ray Nagin telling New Orleans residents that if they did not get out, there would be no one and nothing to help them afterwards.

In short, people did what they were supposed to do and it worked. The states made sure all roads were one-way leading away from the coast. This allowed the motor traffic to move as quickly as possible and people got out.

After Gustav hit, the Gulf areas were essentially deserted and no looting occurred after the storm. Police, fire and National Guard troops were able to focus on dealing with emergencies such as a gas line exploding in a home, burning it to the ground.

Of course, there were moments of concern. There was water that lapped over the levees but nothing along the lines of what happened with Katrina. The levees that gave way last time held mainly because the Gustav storm surge was half of what Katrina’s had been. There is still work to be done to make New Orleans more hurricane-proof.

The Army Corps of Engineers still needs to bring the levees up to the point where they can withstand a 100-year storm. But, just as necessary is that, the wetlands that make up the Mississippi Delta need to be restored. Mayor Nagin made this point on NBC’s national news segment in an interview on Monday.

Unlike the mechanical fixes by the Corps of Engineers, restoring nature takes more time. It is a very expensive lesson to learn that man cannot outdo nature. It can only be hoped that the development community will stop its insistence on filling in the Delta to create more waterfront condominiums.

Unfortunately, Gustav seems to be only the beginning of what looks to be a formidable hurricane season. Already there is Hanna followed by Ike on the usual track to the southeastern United States. These next two seem to be heading toward the Atlantic seaboard starting with Florida and going north.

People were quick to condemn the government response at all levels last time and it was deserved. This time the government entities were prepared and ready. It would be good to see people acknowledge this positive change. Government can adjust and do good.

There is nothing wrong with criticism when deserved. The same is true for compliments and this time government deserves them.

Val Torrens covers local issues for the CK Reporter and North Kitsap Herald.

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