*With the Trump White House in chaos, an untested FEMA director in charge, No NOAA director, and the strongest storm in 12 years looming, could Hurricane Harvey be like Katrina?
In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck Florida, Cuba, Mississippi, Louisiana, and infamously, the below-sea-level city of New Orleans. It claimed over a thousand lives and caused over a billion dollars in property damage, making it the deadliest natural disaster in US history.
The federal disaster relief effort to Katrina was harshly criticized, as The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) struggled to contain damage, utilize available resources, and evacuate refugees – with FEMA Director Michael Brown being unaware of refugees stranded at the Louisana Superdome three days after the storm, despite multiple news outlets covering their plight.
There were severe coordination issues as well, as FEMA caused a bottleneck by preventing local first responders from acting without state permission, and was allegedly slow in responding to Amtrak when they offered to evacuate refugees by the hundreds via their passenger trains.
In the aftermath, FEMA’s director was recalled, and stories came out regarding countless breakdowns of the relief effort.The House of Representatives report on the situation was damning: “The failure of local, state, and federal governments to respond more effectively to Katrina…demonstrates…we are still not fully prepared.”
Now, nearly 12 years to the date of Hurricane Katrina’s first landfall, another Category 3 Hurricane, Harvey, sets its sights on the Gulf Coast. This time targeting communities from Houston all the way down to Port Mansfield. With over 100 mile per hour windsand the potential to drop nearly ten feet of water on coastal communities that have seen the sea level rise year-over-year for the last century.
So the question becomes, is FEMA ready? Since 2005 FEMA’s changed significantly. Its budget is threatening to be cut with monies being allocated for flood risk analysis, and mapping software, among other initiatives. Most of these initiatives appear to be a direct response to Katrina; allowing local officials to behave more independently and the creation of ‘strike teams’ that can get to any disaster affected area in the country within two hours.
*FEMA Director Brock Long has only been on the job 2 Months
“We’ve gone 11 years without a major hurricane land-falling in the U.S…I worry that a lot of people have forgotten what that’s like.” He said to Bloomberg
However, Long (and President Donald Trump) have stated they want to cut FEMA funding; suggesting federal flood insurance should be restricted in communities most prone to flooding, as a way to force local governments to have stricter building codes on coastal establishments.