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Katrina has reinforced my conclusions
9/5/2005 11:05:56 AM
The country is not prepared to handle a disaster such as a New Madrid earthquake, one that is ten times the size of Katrina, and I do not believe the government and people will learn enough to know how to survive as we are.
I wish to share with you what a friend wrote to me and my response:
> Thought I would drop you a line.
> It would go without saying that you and you wife have been following the events of Katrina from the onset.
> I think it rather foretelling of the "next" big event along the New Madrid, and would certainly love your comment. Not the event itself, nor its pyhsical aftermath to the cities of New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, etc. Rather a [comment] on short article I saw... Cities having trouble coping with the thousands of refugees streaming from New Orleans.
> Have you see things thus far that trouble you or perhaps reenforce you conception as to the capibility of this country, on any level, to deal with a major New Madrid quake?
Dale, I am pleased to hear from you, though the circumstances are so dispiriting. Alice and I have indeed been watching as the events of Katrina unfolded. We stayed up into the night as the eye made it's landfall, thankful that it had veered eastward and would not impact New Orleans in the worst way. We have continued to watch and read reports on the Internet. I now have to limit my exposure; it is just too depressing.
As the hurricane was heading into shore I told my wife that there would be over two thousand dead, there was no way out of it. Even with days of warning, there was just no way to save everyone. I could only hope I was wrong -- that I was a Chicken Little worrying about something that would turn out to be a tragic but minor problem. When I awoke the next morning and watched Katrina make landfall to the east over Gulfport and Biloxi, I felt thankful that New Orleans had been spared the worst and sorrowful the Mississippi coastline was "saving" the city. But I still felt apprehension that the claims for the death toll was far too small. Now I find I again have adopted the role of Cassandra.
As time passed and the "response and rescue" phase kicked in, the events I witnessed in the media were terrifyingly similar to, and in many cases worse than, my outline for the third book of my series on the process of recovery in Memphis: chaos, total destruction of the infrastructure, looting, desertions and/or breakdown of police and fire, delays in government response, bureaucratic holdups, finger pointing. I have stopped for the time being working on "The Phoenix of Memphis" because it is so difficult to write disaster fiction in the face of hard reality.
Put things in perspective. The damage from all four hurricanes to hit Florida and the Gulf Coast last year amounted to about 3% of what I had estimated would be the result of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake on the New Madrid. I am guessing that Katrina is about three times more damaging than all the hurricanes of last year. That means a major earthquake would be ten times worse than Katrina: ten times more deaths, ten times the number of homeless, ten times the damaged area, ten times the economic loss. Memphis would be surrounded by ten areas suffering damage equivalent to what has hit New Orleans. It will be a city whose infrastructure and society has been destroyed, cut off from help because of it is surrounded by other cities that will soak up every bit of aid they can get, not letting it flow through to Memphis.
Today there are about 1,000,000 homeless, and 600,000 should be able to return to their hometowns and help rebuild, living in or near their damaged homes until they can get back online. There are about 400,000 true refugees with nowhere to go in the immediate future.
Texas is the temporary home to half of them. Texans are helping, but the locals will soon tire of them. The same will be true of the other places where the displaced will have to spend months if not years away. Indeed, I wonder if the authorities will bother to rebuild New Orleans, and I doubt that all those displaced will ever return. This is a problem that will not go away for years, and it could well poison the attitudes of people in the southeast towards refugees.
You ask about the capability of this country to deal with a major New Madrid earthquake. Katrina has reinforced my conclusions that the country is not prepared to handle such a disaster, one that is ten times the size of this one, and I do not believe the government and people will learn enough to know how to survive as we are. I know the country will survive, but as a much different entity. It will cease to be a world power, and the freedoms we now enjoy will go away. You and I have been blessed to live in the Golden Age. We are now entering an Indian Summer that will last until the New Madrid once again fractures. Enjoy it while you can.
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