Special Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
How did you first learn of the Katrina disaster a year ago, and what kinds of thoughts did you remember having in the immediate wake of the catastrophe?
I learned about a Katrina-like catastrophe about a year before it happened, from a National Geographic article that forecast in frightening detail what
Katrina achieved in 2005, aptly in concert with the abysmal failure of local, state and federal governments. Even before, New Orleans featured for years in my Barnard "Natural Disaster" and SIPA "Disaster Risk Management" courses as the unsustainable city.
What prompted you to write your 9/6/05 op-ed for the Washington Post "Time for a Tough Question: Why Rebuild?"?
The Washington Post editorial I wrote partly in response to my taped NBC Dateline television interview (8/31/05) that never aired since the show's producers opted for personal interest stories; and in response to President Bush's televised speech and -- largely hollow -- early promises of the same day, about rebuilding the city. The President had little grasp of the facts on the ground. Both he and Dateline appealed to emotions and avoided embarrassing facts I thought had to be addressed.
What is your current assessment of the situation?
New Orleans, I fear, faces a gradual decline from exodus, delta subsidence and global sea-level rise, occasionally expedited by future hurricanes. Absent
a consensus of local, state and federal governments on a realistic plan for a sustainable, new New Orleans, outside help will be haphazard. Smart money leaves. Unaffordable or unavailable insurance keeps business away from a drowning city. The cultural core, long carried by the underprivileged, will endure the longest, and leave last. These blues will be New Orleans' true legacy. One hundred years at best.
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