Tuesday, September 13, 2005


A Different Flood, a Different President

In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Ashley Shelby reminds us of another, recent flood that threatened to destroy a city.

In 1997, in what many consider to be the biggest mistake in the modern history of the National Weather Service, the city of Grand Forks, N.D., was nearly wiped off the map in a catastrophic flood. The Red River of the North breached dikes that had been built, and reinforced, to hold back a 52 foot flood (the National Weather Service had predicted a 49 food flood, but the city and Corps of Engineers had added an extra 3 feet of freeboard in case of unexpected hydrological events). Instead, the waters of the Red River came roaring down the channel at Grand Forks at a whopping 54 feet. ... Witt's FEMA began canvassing Grand Forks almost immediately after the city was evacuated. Trailers were brought in for displaced residents. The famous FEMA trailer christened "Red October" arrived soon after -- one of FEMA's mobile emergency-response support units, outfitted with more than a dozen computers wired with Internet access, a satellite communications system, a radio system and 48 phone lines, including dedicated lines to the White House and the Pentagon. The U.S. Department of Energy immediately announced an action plan to restore power systems in North Dakota, and deployed personnel to help cities get their systems back online. ... Why did Grand Forks deserve a better response to a catastrophic natural event than New Orleans? Some may argue that Grand Forks' largely white population may have something to do with it, and perhaps it does. But I think the more likely answer is that the administration in charge of the federal government in 1997, for all its faults, was not only better equipped to deal with a natural disaster; it was also a team that felt, at core, a fundamental empathy for American citizens who had lost everything through no fault of their own. The dearth of such empathy in the current administration -- one in which the president refuses to attend military funerals resulting from a war he started -- is chilling and, ultimately, telling.
As we know, we respond to disasters with the government we have. They’re not the government we might want or wish to have at a later time.
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