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March 1, 2013

Sandy v. Katrina

Roy Meachum

As politicians are wont to do, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) misspoke; he corrected himself later. But the impression was stamped on the national conscience, aided by the media. The Democratic leader said: Sandy was worse than Katrina.


What compelled him to admit the misspeaking were the facts. In the 2005 hurricane, 1833 people lost their lives; last year the figure fell way short: more than 200 in seven countries, including 132 on the U.S. mainland. Estimated costs: $148 billion in Louisiana and Mississippi v. $71 billion – that was spread to Connecticut where 3,000 homes were damaged. (There are no figures given for Delaware and Maryland, especially the Eastern Shore.)


Because more people and businesses crowd the mid-Atlantic region, Senator Reid might have been right in the popular impact; certainly more voters than in his native Nevada. Because the national media headquarters are in this area, Sandy poured forth more words and pictures, leading to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo misspeak also. Acknowledging the difference in human losses, he said this region suffered more than Katrina inflicted along the Gulf Coast.


While noting New Amsterdam was found 100 years earlier than the city I grew up in, New Orleans gravely revered traditions in contrast to New York and New Jersey. Mardi Gras is only an example. Furthermore, the whole culture was based on the 19th Century; there were no overwhelming immigrations of the Irish and Eastern Europeans. Seeking the warmer weather, Italians arrived before and after the Civil War, largely replacing the French.


Katrina destroyed history. Holy Cross College, the boarding school I first attended in 1938, deserted the Lower Ninth Ward to move inland. The 1879 building remains, with its levees that I used to climb when I was 11 years old. The French Annunciation nuns have long since departed, and the Holy Cross brothers and priests – the last left in the 2005 hurricane. Still the memories remain. Most of New Orleans I knew didn’t get flooded. The street in front of my 2nd Street house filled with water that didn’t breach the curbs.


When people in the parts destroyed last year are bidden to look to the reconstruction along the Gulf Coast, they will find neighborhoods still devastated. I was once married to a lady from New Jersey, whose Italian father was a heart surgeon; I still don’t know the state’s seaports, except through Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront.” From living in Manhattan, I came to understand Wall Street, and the Superstorm Sandy reports fill me with dread.


From a political view, I understand the comparisons; but they don’t show much to me. They were both full-fledged American disasters. Regarding Galveston storm in 1900 when 8300 men, women and children were swept away and in other ways killed, that remains the ultimate tragedy.


Government leaders should get underway the solutions and protections. I observed the Mississippi flood in 1935; I recall a cow floating on the river, its bloated body floating along quickly, more quickly than it moved in life.


Please, politicians, shut up! And get to work!


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