There went the rain, again

Monday was a wet day in Southeast Louisiana.

Big rains out-performed city pumps, drains stopped up, and water was everywhere. Paul and I had proceeded with the days plans: taking the kids to school (after which Paul picked up a teacher who was stranded), then doing some errands which included getting some birthday provisions for a teacher. The phones/internet went out and we couldn’t work. The city shut down. We had lunch out and realized getting home was going to be very tough… if at all possible. We had several close calls where we were concerned about our car flooding and/or shorting out. We were lucky (and Paul is both smart and a very good driver.)

The day highlighted the vulnerability of this place, how our lives carry more similarities to life in a city in Central or South American than in United States. This is not because this, or any other place, is by itself more vulnerable. It is that the preparedness, ability to cope, and overall infrastructure has been weakened or lessened to the point that we are more vulnerable to crisis in the face of a natural occurrence*. But back to Monday.

After a good half hour of fighting the flood waters, we decided to go back to Abeona (or at least try) as they were forecasting more rain for the evening. We were worried that getting the kids in a few hours could be difficult (or impossible… or maybe impassable) so we went to the school, hung out until the rain had backed off a bit, then took them home. It made for a good afternoon of puddle-jumping. (Note: our street was very dry, and by this time, the rain had stopped and the entire city had practically shut down.)

The rains delayed in-coming flights, but only by a few hours — the guest faculty for our course arrived and joined us for dinner and course planning. She even brought Empire Apples, freshly picked, from Michigan! Tuesday’s session went well — complete with students turning in first assignments (that was today’s work.) I am very thankful to have a second Teaching Assistant this term!

*So to those who would compare the horrible crisis of the South California fires to Katrina are just completely off-base; although both are certainly natural disasters, they are completely different in everyway. Katrina itself was a natural disaster, heightened by a man-made disaster (the failure of the levees). The structural and social vulnerabilities here, coupled with the (arguably deliberate) nonresponse of federal resources, created a dire situation. People were not at risk and dying due to the direct impact of a natural disaster, but the influence of a man-made disaster and the exposure which followed. People were left to die trapped in their attics and exposed for days outside emergency shelters, isolated by water and storm debris. In many cases, they left quickly without provisions, food, water, or medicine, or left with only what they could carry. The desperation and fear in this scenario are incomparable to other modern domestic disasters. This is very different than Southern California, which is facing daunting fire and relatively low ratios of home loss compared to that of the home loss due to Katrina and the levee failures (ARC estimated more than 350,000 homes were destroyed in Katrina and the flood; CNN reports approximately 1430 homes destroyed in the California fires, and although those numbers will rise, it is doubtful that they will carry the same percentage of loss seen in New Orleans, who had 80% complete city destruction due to flood waters and significant storm damage and debris in the rest). Additionally, the temporary shelter activities in Southern California are occurring with passable roadways, people in good health who had time to pack for evacuation, staying in climate-controlled shelters with electricity, access to water, and other important resources. (Not to mention entertainment, psychological support, and even masseurs?) Comparing the two is not only impossible, but it implies a slippery slope reflecting the people involved in the scenarios, rather than the overall structure that each disaster occurred within.