Magazine article The American Prospect

Unfortunately, He Knew

Magazine article The American Prospect

Unfortunately, He Knew

Article excerpt

From the editors: On May 23, 2005, Prospect senior correspondent Chris Mooney, whose "Inferior Design" appeared in our September issue, wrote a piece for our Web site about his hometown of New Orleans. Fully three months before Hurricane Katrina hit home, Mooney wrote:

"A slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane ... could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans.... Soon the geographical 'bowl' of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops--terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris."

Noting that "a direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil," Mooney surveyed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans and wrote that time was running out on protecting his hometown.

After Katrina struck, he added the following thoughts.

Recently my mother, a refugee from Hurricane Katrina now holed up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pointed out something that had never occurred to me before: Despite having grown up in New Orleans, played football there, and gotten drunk for the first time there at a ridiculously young age, I had never had the quintessential experience of fleeing the city in fear of a hurricane.

It was all a matter of timing. In 1995, the year the Atlantic Ocean kicked into its current, active storm cycle, I went away to college--as far away from New Orleans as possible. So I spent my undergraduate autumns with only a vague awareness that my family was, from time to time, busy fleeing nature. I never had to sit in traffic for hours just to get a few miles beyond the city. I never had to return to find that the storm had turned aside, but that those who did not evacuate had been living it up at hurricane parties--drinking the frozen red drinks that are also defiantly called Hurricanes, and scoffing at those who fled.

After college came visits to New Orleans at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and two more prolonged stays. But it was never hurricane season, and I never allowed myself to stay too long. …

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