East Coast hurricanes are relatively rare, especially those that reach the Northeast corridor from Washington to Boston, as Hurricane Irene did.
Thus it was no great surprise that the national media – headquartered in that relatively small geographic swath – was all over this storm.
Fortunately, Irene wasn’t as powerful or devastating as advertised. Not that there wasn’t tragedy involved – at least 42 deaths up and down the East Coast were attributed to the storm, mostly as a result of trees falling or flooding-related drownings or accidents – but had Irene not weakened in its march up the coast, the result could have been much worse.
Hurricane Katrina, by contrast, was responsible for more than 1,800 deaths, at least 235 in Mississippi. It demolished or severely damaged most of the buildings on our state’s coastline, rendering much of it unrecognizable.
Yet as Irene hit shore just before the sixth anniversary of Katrina, most national news accounts recalling Katrina’s devastation, as has been the case for six years now, focused solely on New Orleans without even mentioning Mississippi.
People outside major metropolitan areas on the East Coast got a bit of the same lesson in being ignored or overlooked when reports on New York – which felt relatively little impact from Irene – dominated the news while places hit much harder, like Vermont, received much less attention.
While the Katrina anniversary observances Monday were eclipsed in the news by Irene, it’s worth noting that significant progress in rebuilding the Mississippi Gulf Coast has occurred. The people there are as determined and resilient as anyone anywhere.
Still, however, there are major problems, whether it’s sky-high insurance that is hindering rebuilding or the erosion of government services in small communities like Waveland, where the tax base hasn’t recovered from its decimation.
Interestingly, the much-less-hurricane experienced Northeast is undergoing some of the same second-guessing that follows Gulf Coast hurricanes that turn out less dangerous than originally thought. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, are taking much criticism for their evacuation orders for areas considered especially prone to high tides and flooding.
People on our coast can attest to the wisdom of an overly cautious approach. Quite simply, it saves lives.
Had most people not heeded Katrina evacuation warnings, the death toll on the Mississippi Coast would have been staggering.
No one in the Northeast should be lulled into a sense of security by thinking they’ve seen what a severe hurricane can do, and if next time the evacuation orders come, people there would be wise to heed them.
NEMS Daily Journal