Grief stricken woman in New Orleans

Grief stricken woman in New Orleans

Billions spent on Iraq war

Relief for the rich, disaster for the poor
Hurricane tragedy could have been averted

By Larry Hales

Aug. 31, 3:15 p.m. EDT -- The mayor of New Orleans has just announced that hundreds, probably thousands, have been killed by Hurricane Katrina.

Last year in the midst of hurricane season, as Hurricane Ivan—a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which categorizes hurricanes based on barometric pressure, winds and storm surge—was bearing down on New Orleans, the city set aside 10,000 body bags. Hurricane Ivan was to be the storm that forecasters were suspecting would level the entire city.

New Orleans is essentially a bowl. It is below sea-level and surrounded by water. New Orleans is flanked by Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Levees and pumps keep the city dry.

A storm like Hurricane Ivan would have wiped the levees out, destroyed the pumps and have left parts of the city submerged under nearly 20 feet of water. The water would have grown stagnant, teeming with bacteria and the dead, and oil and gas would have spilled into the water with the storm. Thirty-three percent of the United States’ oil comes from the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Ivan missed New Orleans. It veered to the east and New Orleans narrowly escaped what many call an inevi table disaster, the worst the country has seen yet.

On Aug. 28, 2005, New Orleans braced for Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 hurricane, but the kind of preparations necessary for such a hurricane had not been made.

Fears of the damage and death were evoked. Residents of New Orleans, other southern Louisiana counties and cities, and counties and cities along the Gulf Coast were told to evacuate. The highways out of the populated areas were clogged, but many—over 100,000 residents in New Orleans alone—have no means of escaping. Thousands more along the coast are in the same predicament; many of these poor are people of color.

The major news stations, in covering and tracking the storm, of course mentioned the people that would be stranded, but rarely the reasons.

Lines at the rescue stations, especially at the Super Dome—the stadium where the New Orleans Saints team plays—were blocks long. The Super Dome became the largest structure to house people that could not leave the city. At one point, an estimated 35,000 people waited to gain entrance to the stadium, but only around 9,000 were allowed to enter and others were turned away. Many were relegated to riding the storm out in their homes because they had no way out of the city.

When Katrina hit, the center of this storm also veered to the east of New Orleans, but New Orleans was hit by the storm, which had been downgraded slightly as it came ashore.

No one knows how many lives have been lost or the extent of the damage done by the hurricane. The Gulf Coast was pounded and entire buildings collapsed. One apartment building fell from the wind and surging water, and at least 30 people there are said to have been killed. Harrison county, in Mississippi, is counting at least 100 dead and expects the number to continue climbing.

Eighty percent of New Orleans is submerged, with some areas being covered by over 20 feet of water. Many people are stranded on their rooftops and in trees, and rescuers are said to have to push aside the dead to get to the still living.

A day after the hurricane, there were reports that at least 100,000 are stranded in New Orleans. People, desperate for food, without electricity and other means, after having lost everything, are relieving store shelves, as there is only scant emergency relief. Thousands are huddled in the Super Dome, with nowhere to go. By Tuesday, Aug. 30, food supplies had run out in the Dome.

The situation in New Orleans is especially tenuous. The levees have broken in areas and flood waters continue to rise. Hospitals are having to evacuate very ill patients, because as the waters rise, the generators have malfunctioned and valuable life support has been cut off. Also, the city’s water supply is contaminated and much of the food in the city is unfit for consumption. Many more could become ill from the stagnant water, from the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus and from other diseases resulting from the contaminated water supply.

Loss of life could be averted

The doomsday scenario given by fore casters did not have to be as deadly as predicted.

Many in the big business-controlled media claim that the city of New Orleans was spared by the change of direction of the storm and that things could have been worse. However, had the city taken proper preparations, the loss of life, and the still potential loss of life, would have been averted.

The residents of the hard-hit areas were told to eva cuate, but the city was not mobilized to evacuate. What’s more, part of the reason for the doomsday scenario is because of the receding coastal marsh and barrier islands. The south of Louisi ana loses about 24 miles of coastal marsh a year. The loss of the marsh and barrier islands, which slows down storms, means that every hurricane that hits southern Louisiana could cause massive damage and loss of life.

A coastal restoration project was earmarked at $14 billion dollars, but the Bush administration put pressure on the state to lower the cost to $1.2 billion dollars; as of yet, only $375 million has been allocated.

In addition, the National Guard, which is usually mobilized for natural occurren ces, has been depleted and demoralized by the Bush administration’s growing imperialist disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One could contrast the preparedness of socialist Cuba with that of the United States. Cuba—a resource poor country—spares nothing when it comes to moving people from the path of tropical storms, hurricanes and other natural occurrences. This year, Cuba was hit by Hurricane Dennis, a category 4 hurricane. Cuba, through mobilizing the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the popular army, and by being prepared to meet the needs of the Cuban people, was able to evacuate 1.5 million people.

Hurricane Dennis hit the island, sweeping through Havana, and though 16 people were killed, the number would have been higher were it not for the socialist response of revolutionary Cuba, and a head of state who uses his influence to mobilize the Cuban people.

What happened in Cuba is markedly different from what happened in Haiti, where scores died from Hurricane Dennis, and from the United States, where the number of dead from Hurricane Katrina is already at least 100.

While this hurricane ravaged, President Bush was on vacation on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, itself deluged—but by activists galvanized by the courage of Cindy Sheehan, and in opposition to the brutal war in Iraq.

Nature cannot be stopped, but it doesn’t have to spell wholesale death. Hun dreds of billions of dollars a year are autho rized for the Pentagon, and hundreds of billions more have been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. A fraction of this money could have saved the lives of the people that live on and near the Gulf Coast. In the richest, most technologically advanced country in the world, there is no reason that every person could not have been evacuated and placed in shelters.

That storms do come is no mystery. They come every year around this time. And, it is no mystery what has to be done to spare those in the path of hurricanes. Society has to be organized around the needs of the many, and that will never happen under capitalism, but only by the overthrow of the capitalists and through building socialism. Under socialism the masses can be organized and a socialist state apparatus set up to plan the economy and use valuable resources to provide for countries’ needs, and to oversee massive efforts like evacuations.

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