Opinion: Irene: the new Katrina



Seth Cohen

Seth Cohen

Seth Cohen is a senior magazine journalism major. Contact him at [email protected]

With all the warnings and media coverage on Hurricane Irene, most people assumed the worst, as they should. Whether the outcome is horrific or not, the people on the East Coast were warned to take what they need.

As of Monday, according to CNN, 27 people died and at least 4 million people are living without electricity. It’s tragic of course, but ever since news broke out of the hurricane arriving, I asked myself and other people if this is similar to Hurricane Katrina.

Back in 2005, Katrina lasted more than a week, killed 1,836 people and cost the city of New Orleans $108 billion in damages, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency; however, the people of New Orleans were not warned as much as the people on the East Coast today. In a news article written by Luis Martinez of ABC News, documents released by Congress show two days before Katrina hit New Orleans, the White House received detailed damage forecasts from Homeland Security officials predicting that the city’s levees might be overtopped or breached.

“Yet in the days after the storm struck on Aug. 29, 2005,” Martinez said, “federal officials, including President Bush, said the levee breaches could not have been foreseen.”

I don’t understand that term “foreseen” because on the weather reports, many meteorologists saw what appeared to be a big cloud forming over the Bahamas, which became progressively bigger over time moving over to the West. The White House did not properly handle Katrina’s aftermath. Many people also put blame on FEMA, and even the media for stereotyping people based on race with descriptions of photos saying that a black family was stealing food and in a similar photo, a white family was gathering food for themselves. Let’s not forget Kanye West’s outburst on TV with his infamous quote, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

FEMA was an even bigger disaster — it did not provide enough people with the shelter, food and water they desperately needed, which caused additional loss of life. This also led Michael D. Brown to resign as the head of FEMA, which was great because before that, he was the head of the International Arabian Horse Association. What?

Now, the Obama Administration announces they will be fully prepared and will expect the unexpected for these next few days or weeks. Sadly, this is something learned from Katrina.

So with all these warnings and coverage on what will happen next with Irene, why didn’t we have all this information for Katrina? I receive e-mails from the Washington Post telling me what’s happening next. It’s become infamous, but it’s known and many people are taking shelter as well as moving west until the commotion dies down.

I wish all those on the East Coast the safety they need if they can’t go anywhere else, but I really hope the outcome isn’t like Katrina.