DISASTERS: FLOODS :
UNITED STATES: STATES: LOUISIANA :
ENVIRONMENT: GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE:
Louisiana, Its Floods, and the Presidential Question
Louisiana, Its Floods, and the Presidential Question
By Douglas McCollam
August 27, 2016
The New Yorker
A shorter URL for the above link:
Louisiana, the history of rain and flooding flows through the culture. Whether from the skies, the rivers, or the encroaching ocean, the people of the southern half of this subtropical state are pitted in a constant contest against water. Indeed, but for seasonal flooding through geologic history, much of the very land they live on would not exist.
But even for the Bayou State, the deluge that began on August 11th was extraordinary. More than two feet of rain fell in seventy-two hours across a wide band of the state north and west of New Orleans, causing local tributaries to reach flood stages never before recorded. More than sixty thousand homes and businesses were inundated. A sixty-mile stretch of Interstate 12 was shut down, stranding more than a hundred motorists in their cars. In all, more than a hundred thousand residents had to be evacuated out of the flood zone. And unlike the traditional televised countdown that precedes the arrival of hurricanescomplete with B-roll footage of cleared-out store shelves and boarded-up windowsthe 2016 flood appeared more or less out of nowhere, a slow-moving low-pressure system conjured seemingly overnight.
The combination of the sudden onset of disaster and the perceived lack of attention to their plight by the national media produced strong feelings of aggrievement among the states residents. And it didnt take long for that anger to home in on the figure of President Obama, who, for reasons that perplexed many victims, opted to ride out the disaster on Marthas Vineyard instead of visiting the flood zone or even tossing on a jacket and making some televised statement of support. Soon enough the meme of Obama in golf shorts squeezing in another eighteen holes juxtaposed with images of evacuated refugees and flooded communities began to circulate widely on social media. Matters werent helped when Donald Trump showed up near Baton Rouge with a semi-trailer full of supplies. (I think Obama just had a par on 16, one Baton Rouge friend texted me from the flood zone during Trumps visit).
The issue of federal response to natural disasters is, for obvious reasons, a touchy one in South Louisiana. Its been more than a decade, but memories of the federal governments botched response to Hurricane Katrina still vex many residents. In President Obamas seemingly nonchalant attitude, many saw a reminder of President George W. Bushs ineptitude in the days following that deadly hurricane. The comparison seems unfair based on the facts. Obama apparently stayed in close contact with Louisianas Governor John Bel Edwards, who, concerned about diverting resources to cope with the Presidential entourage, said he was O.K. with Obama holding off on a visit. In stark contrast to the delays, red tape, and managerial incompetence that snarled the federal response to Katrina, Louisiana officials of both parties have praised the initial federal response to this months flood. Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was on site almost immediately, and more than a thousand fema staff members were deployed in the days after the storm. Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, also toured the region.
Given that the federal government seems to have supplied all the requested help, worked closely with state officials, and been attentive to the needs of victims, it can be asked, What difference would it have made if the President had shown up earlier? Not that much, Obama seemed to say when addressing the criticism surrounding his delayed visit during a tour of the flood zone, earlier this week. One of the benefits of being five months short of leaving here, he said at a curbside press conference in a Baton Rouge neighborhood, is I dont worry too much about politics.
Part of the local criticism of Obama is certainly political. Louisiana is among the reddest states in the country, and many of the rural parishes north of New Orleans that were hit hardest by the flood are decidedly conservative.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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