The Intersection

There is going to be a lot of hand-wringing today about the relative lack of progress when it comes to rebuilding and redefending New Orleans. And rightly so. But kind of like with Fight Club, the second lesson to be learned from Hurricane Katrina is that you shouldn’t simply focus on Hurricane Katrina.

Yeah, this storm was really bad for New Orleans–and another storm could be even worse for the city. But as I detail today on the Huffington Post and in an op-ed syndicated by Blue Ridge Press, we have to look at the broader national picture as well. Consider the following scenarios:

* A Category 4 or stronger hurricane strikes the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Florida, area, driving a tremendous storm surge that knocks out bridges, floods downtown Tampa 20 feet deep, and temporarily turns St. Petersburg into an island.

*A mega-hurricane strikes Galveston/Houston, Texas, flooding the homes of 600,000 Harris County residents–resulting in damages approaching $50 billion.

*We see a repeat of the 1926 Category 4 Miami Hurricane, but the storm strikes a massively wealthier and more populous coast than existed the last time around. Damages exceed $ 100 billion and Katrina ceases to be the most costly hurricane in U.S. history.

* And most alarming of all: Decades from now, with sea level a foot higher, a Category 3 storm makes its way to New York City. Areas submerged include parts of southern Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island City, Astoria, and (that’s right) lower Manhattan.

We’re not ready for any of these. Not by a long shot.

[To read the rest of my Huffington Post piece on the other vulnerable American cities, click here.]


  1. #1 Mark P
    August 29, 2007

    Hurricane readiness and global warming are two different issues, although they are related. I think it’s reasonable and probably advisable to separate the two. Strong hurricanes have hit the US many times in the past, and even absent GW will continue to do so. The state of NO’s protection was inexcusable, and remains inexcusable, regardless of what effects GW may have. But, as you note, the same can be said for many coastal areas. It’s absurd for any government, whether local or federal, to encourage or aid extensive coastal development in areas where hurricanes will inevitably hit. It’s irresponsible for any government, from local to federal, not to take steps to protect citizens already living in those areas. A truly responsible move would be to encourage un-developing such areas.

  2. #2 Keanus
    August 29, 2007

    Actually, Chris, the part of Manhattan most at risk is not Lower Manhattan but the fringes of the area (like the World Trade Center site) which are built on land fill, and the area running river to river from Canal Street north to about 30th Street. Look at any skyline of NYC and you’ll find very few tall buildings between Canal and 30th. That’s because much of the area was a low lying swamp with tidal ponds and meandering streams and no bedrock near the surface. Most of those streams and ponds still exist as saturated soil which can and does flood, especially in basements.

    For a dozen years during the ’60’s and ’70’s my wife and I lived in and owned a 19th century row house in Chelsea (W. 25th Street) and the basement floor was at best only a foot or two above mean high tide (and two blocks inland from the Hudson). When heavy rains descended we usually had a foot or so of water in that basement, especially at high tide. It was the only drawback to living there IMHO.

  3. #3 Cliff Figallo
    August 29, 2007

    >>”We’re not ready for any of these. Not by a long shot.”

    **stunned silence**

    Chris maybe it’s that the scale of these potential catastrophes is so tremendous that our intended audience (which should be everyone) is struck dumb by the mere suggestion.

    I’ve watched plenty of movies depicting end-of-the-world scenarios, so I’ve actually “seen” worse – from the Terminator series (ubiquitous warfare) and in The Day After Tomorrow (hundred-foot tidal waves and deep freeze in the Big Apple.)

    It’s impossible for me to ignore the fact that we are spending so much attention and money (“Another 50 billion, please”) on the misbegotten Iraq War, while issues like these have barely been considered. Socially speaking, this is madness.

  4. #4 Jimbo
    August 30, 2007

    If you want to SEE what a Cat 4 hit on Tampa/St. Pete would look like, cut and paste this poster into a browser:

    John’s Pass on the Pinellas Beaches was a hurricane washout from the Great Hurricane of 1848. It can — and will — happen. Charley was a near-miss.

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