Tuesday, August 30

Pray but row away from the rocks

After a day spent praying, and a night spent studying the precarious situation of New Orleans....I think I'd rather plow through a week's worth of reports on pig disease, rather than wade through another explanation about why more hasn't been done to secure New Orleans against a direct hit from a big hurricane.

I have a bad feeling that all the explanations boil down to a statistic: since recordkeeping began in 1886, only two Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States of America.

However, Katrina didn't form off Africa or somewhere in Asia. It formed very close, very fast -- fed by record warm waters in the Gulf. That does not seem to be a blip; all the world's waters are now warmer. Warm waters help create powerful hurricanes.

Given the region's importance to the nation and global trade, should the federal government designate funds to rebuild/reinforce Big Easy?

The guest expert on Chris Core's show last night said the problem is that there are several important US cities perched precariously near water in hurricane alleys and all of those cities need modernization. However, New Orleans is the most precarious....

Pundita doesn't know what the answer is. One thing I know for certain: The people of New Orleans need to find the answer and act on it as quickly as possible.

I can't anymore click my tongue at the bad building codes and shoddy building practices in earthquake-prone regions in "developing" countries, not after learning what I did about the situation in New Orleans. From Miami Herald
[...] "There's a lot of older homes [in New Orleans that can't sustain winds higher than 85 mph], most of these homes are below sea level, most of these homes are termite-ridden," said Capt. Lou Robinson, a training instructor with the City of New Orleans Fire Department.

"The newer homes, construction-wise, they just meet minimum requirements. You know, just for cost-effectiveness, they scrimp. The roofs are manufactured with trusses or lightweight metal, but they just don't hold up under extreme conditions." [...]

The prevalent hurricane code in Louisiana has been what engineers consider the bare minimum -- that buildings be designed to withstand 100-mph winds.

In 2004, Louisiana approved a higher standard comparable to post-Andrew codes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the highest in Florida -- that buildings stand up to gusts of 146 mph.

But the legislature didn't require localities to adopt the new standard. New Orleans and Baton Rouge did, but many local communities have codes that haven't been updated in 10 or 15 years, LSU's Levitan said.

And, he added, the local building industry seems reluctant to adopt hurricane-resistant windows or shutters, which are now required for new construction in Broward and Miami-Dade. Levitan, for instance, is building a wood-framed home, but when his contractor told him he didn't need hurricane straps, he installed them himself.

In any case, New Orleans has seen little new development since adopting the new codes, meaning that most of its structures at best meet the inadequate old standard -- certainly no match for Katrina. And many of those are aging or have been damaged by a Formosan termite infestation.

Worst-case scenario? The city could lose half its homes, Robinson said. [...]
All day yesterday, while I was praying, the old saying kept coming to mind: "Pray, but row away from the rocks."

No comments: