Friday, August 24, 2007

Bill Moyers Journal: Katrina Revisited

From the August 17 "Bill Moyers Journal," featuring Mike Tidwell (Bayou Farewell, The Ravaging Tide), and Princeton University professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell ("2005 Racial Attitudes and the Katrina Disaster Study"):
BILL MOYERS: ... Why do we ignore the warnings? We ignored the warnings before 9/11. We ignored the warnings before Katrina. I mean, you wrote in your book that Katrina's arrival was as certain as tomorrow's sunrise.

MIKE TIDWELL: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: How could you be so sure?

MIKE TIDWELL: Because all you had to do was look at the coastal maps going back from the French explorers all the way to the satellite maps from the mid 1970's forward and you saw a land mass, a coastal land mass imploding, disappearing. An area the size of Delaware was subtracted from south Louisiana between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico just since the great Depression. It was clear that there was no longer any land mass buffering the city.


BILL MOYERS: I've kept in my files since written one week after the disaster. Listen to this. "What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological-- what Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequence of the welfare state. 75 percent of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane. And of those who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects." What does that say to you?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, it's bizarre and inaccurate empirically. Because in fact, the public housing projects were on high ground. They experienced very little water damage. And most of the residents there who have been shut out by their government, by their city and by our national housing office, is not because of any destruction that occurred because of Katrina but because of the required evacuation that occurred.They were mostly safe.

The people whose homes were destroyed were mostly home owners. But they were poor people. And this is what we can't deal with in America. They worked jobs every day. Most of them stayed because they needed to go to work in the morning. Most of them had to go to work in the morning in the hotels, in the tourist industries, in the restaurants that served to make New Orleans the fun place that the rest of us liked to visit. So they were homeowners who were poor. They were working people who were poor. Because we live in a country where we allow people to work every day and still be poor. To still have the inadequate capacity to leave.

And the third reason why many people didn't leave are very thick social networks. So part of the question you asked is, why didn't people think, oh, this disaster is coming? Well, Betsy, Hurricane Betsy was in living memory in New Orleans. And Hurricane Betsy was a terrible storm that many people had survived. If you had an aunt or an uncle or a grandmother who had survived Hurricane Betsy, she or he refused often to leave.


MIKE TIDWELL: I think the true tragedy, as we-- as we look at the ninth ward, we look at Lakeview and these neighborhoods that are not being rebuilt, the city of New Orleans is effectively being abandoned. It really is. And we're not doing what we know we can do to save it. The city can be saved. I completely believe that. People should and we can save this city. And we have to do a number of things. We have to restore the wetlands and barrier islands. We've got to make levees that work.

BILL MOYERS: Would you take your family to live there?

MIKE TIDWELL: No, I would not. I would not go--

BILL MOYERS: To move to New Orleans.

MIKE TIDWELL: It's the most dangerous city in the world to live in.


MIKE TIDWELL: The levees are ineffective. The army corps of engineers says it's going to be 2010 before they even have the levees up to pre-Katrina levels. And then climate change. Hurricanes are getting bigger. We know this. There have been MIT studies, Georgia Tech studies that show that it's already happening. It is a dangerous place to live.

Now, if we resolve the issue of climate change, which we can-- the tragedy is, we can fix New Orleans. There-- it's not a matter of money and technology. We can do it. You know, in the war in Iraq, six weeks earlier, you have the 30 billion dollars to build the levees in the wetlands. And climate change. If we became a nation of hybrid car drivers, ten years from now, we'd cut our gasoline in half. We wouldn't be in Iraq. If Iraq's number one export was broccoli, would we be there? So, the tragedy is we can in fact save New Orleans, but we're not doing it. We can solve global warming, but we're not doing it.

And I think the main thing for people who live in Miami, who live in lower Manhattan, who live in Charleston, all these vulnerable coastal cities, if we allow New Orleans to disappear, if we don't come to the permanent rescue of our fellow countrymen in New Orleans, how are you safe in Miami? How are you safe in lower Manhattan? Who's going to come to save you?


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