Saturday, August 30, 2008

Preparations by Katrina Survivors and Responders

This is a little different post than normally seen on this blog. However, Mississippi Gulf Coast is currently under a Hurricane Watch and thousands are moving north. Katrina is on our minds, but Gustav is in our sights. Living and working along the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the better part of 2 1/2 years has taught me a lot about living in an area under continual threat of tropical storms during the summer months. The past two summers have come and gone seemingly without notice except a somber reminder on August 29th about why the coast still looks barren in many areas. This summer was different. A few storms that ended up making landfall in Mexico and South Texas brought about uneasiness to many residents in this area. They had gone two summers without a significant tropical system entering the Gulf of Mexico and that utopia suddenly ended. Gustav has brought about an opportunity for state, local, and even federal emergency managers to show the public that they learned a lot from Katrina and things would never happen like that again. This is most evident in the images and stories coming out of New Orleans. Having a new administration at the state level does not hurt, but there seems to be a better awareness among citizens about the fragile state of their security while living under mean sea level 365 days a year. Evacuations are orderly, well-planned, and information about evacuation began two days ago. That is nearly 5 days before landfall! A great illustration was an interview I saw on Weather Channel just before dinner tonight. The reporter had two African American women next to her, one was probably in her late-40s, early 50s and the other in her 20s. The reporter asked what was different about this evacuation compared to Katrina. The elder of the two women replied, "It's lovely." She expanded on that comment by stating the officials who were coordinating the evacuations were treating them with respect and acknowledging them. Here were two everyday women, visible affected by Hurricane Katrina, and they were calm, clear-headed, and extremely complementary of the evacuation efforts ongoing in New Orleans. Even more impressive was that they had only decided to leave just a few hours before that interview. That interview revealed a lot about the new respect shown by New Orleanians to tropical systems moving towards Louisiana. Emergency officials and managers learned so much from Katrina and all of their hard work seems to be paying off. People are listening and responding calmly and responsibly. For that, I must say thank you to those officials and emergency managers. Your work and preparation will save hundreds of thousands of lives from Hurricane Gustav.

In Mississippi, the messages are just as clear. Mandatory evacuations for those living in FEMA trailers and the like, began this morning. Tomorrow, certain flood areas will be placed under mandatory evacuation. It is almost like this is second nature. Oddly enough, while driving to the post office in an attempt to get some packages out of the area before Gustav, I was a little surprised at how few buildings were boarded up. Being in the northeast side of the storm, the unknown in everyone's mind is how high will the water get? Everyone knows how much water came in with Katrina, how high it got in their house, their neighbor's house, and the guy that lives three blocks closer to the water. Katrina was the worst. So Gustav is forecast to be a category 5, does that mean we can expect high storm surge? I can assure you, that piece of information is invaluable in these coastal communities.

On a personal note, it is difficult to find yourself in a situation where you must make the decision about what is important to take with you if you are leaving and what you are willing to sacrifice. I have been learning and teaching this for 2 1/2 years and never imagined I would find myself actually having to practice it myself. You look around your place and go, how valuable is that to me? Is that replaceable? I'll hang my clothes on the highest bar and hope that the water really won't be that high. It truly strips you of any security you thought you had. For those facing imminent threat of tornado, I truly cannot imagine what that must be like to have no time to grab anything of value. I am grateful that I have had the entire week to plan and prepare. However, I found myself doing so with really no intention of ever having to actually put the plan into play.

I am working on learning how to post on the blog via my Blackberry. We will surely lose power which means I lose my internet. Blackberry was the only system that worked in Katrina so I will continue to submit updates as the storm makes its effects known.

Please plan to volunteer! Plan to give support to non profits that are down in the trenches mucking out the houses and providing the invaluable support of being there. Busy day tomorrow! Boarding up and moving equipment will keeping a very close eye on the forecast.

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