How to recover from natural disasters

On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category three storm, touched down in the city of New Orleans. With a storm surge over twenty feet in height, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico swelled up the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), breaching the area’s levees and flooding the city. Over the course of a few hours, approximately eighty per cent of the city’s land area was flooded. In the days and weeks that followed, experts reported on the damage caused by Katrina. With about 300,000 homes destroyed, hundred’s of thousands of jobs lost, and over 115 billion dollars of total economic damage, the city was reeling from combined financial and cultural devastation.    As a result, various investigations into the incident were published. It became clear that numerous governmental bodies were well aware of New Orleans’ vulnerability. During the very summer the disaster had taken place, national natural disaster experts gathered in Louisiana to model and prepare for future potential storms. The scenario that they modelled predicted Katrina almost identically, and yet nothing had yet been done to prepare the city for such a disaster. As for the weakness of the dykes, the responsibility for maintaining the dykes surrounding the MRGO was off-loaded to different agencies before failing on the day Katrina swept through. What’s more, vulnerability was literally built into the city. As the urban area expanded in the decades following the 1950s, New Orleans accommodated a growing desire for low-density by developing sub-divisions in drained swamp areas. These low-lying areas were below sea-level and thus extremely vulnerable. It was these areas, such as the city’s now famous ninth ward, that suffered the most impact in the storm.    Historically, citizens of New Orleans built in a manner that was conscious of the area’s flood-sensitive location. At the turn of the twentieth century, most homes were built on the levees’ naturally elevated floodplain. Other homes were built atop stilts made of indigenous and naturally water-resistant cypress wood.    By the time decision makers sat down to develop a new land-use plan, waves of weary citizens expressed their desire to return home. Planners who desired to redesign New Orleans to return to the resilient and mindful layout of the past were overcome with pressure to rebuild the homes and historic buildings as a way of bolstering the memories of the pre-disaster city and lifting the spirits of those who had lost their homes and livelihoods. A new plan was established for the city; it was to be rebuilt the same as it was before.    Like New Orleans, Sackvillians are also drawn to the land alongside the dykes. Notoriously fertile, many farmers seek out land overtop the marsh mud for growing crops. It is this land that will be most vulnerable in the event of a large flood.    On Thursday, March 28, former New Orleans planner Kristina Ford of Columbia University came to Mount Allison to speak about her perspective on climate change, natural disasters, and the planning profession. The greatest take home lesson that Ford emphasized was that, unlike New Orleans, Sackville has yet to experience a catastrophic event. Where her city was exhausted, hurt, and economically devastated when it chose to pursue unsustainable land-use planning, Sackville faces no such challenges. She stresses the importance of the town ceasing to develop in vulnerable areas and preparing citizens for the event of a flood.    Students and community members are lobbying to adopt a new land use plan that forbids development on land that stands to be inundated in times of flooding. Ford emphasized the need to prepare for a disaster by establishing an emergency evacuation plan. This spring, the town’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) will begin simulation activities in order to prepare for a potential evacuation event. Information is available on the Town of Sackville website on how to assemble a seventy-two hour survival kit to sustain you and your household in an emergency because, in the words of Sackville’s EMO president and fire chief Craig Bowser, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles