The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Changing Weather, a Cruise Ship, and a Louisiana Flood

Oct 17, 2016

In August, two very different events took place at opposite ends of the North American continent.

To the north, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity was the first large passenger ship to sail through the Northwest Passage, from Alaska to New York. It carried 1070 passengers, who paid for the privilege of being first: $32,000 for basic rooms or up to $120,000 for a “penthouse with veranda.”

To the south, a near-hurricane storm dumped 7.3 trillion gallons of water on southern Louisiana, around Baton Rouge. Floods caused 8.7 billion dollars damage with 130,000 homes badly damaged or destroyed.

The Northwest Passage, near Canada’s Arctic Circle, has been sought as a trade route for centuries. But hundreds of miles of solid ice blocked the way until warming temperatures began to open the route. By 1906, a small ship in a rare warm year could get through. By 1980, ships with up to 200 people on board could make scientific studies. This year, the Crystal Cruise line sent the Serenity through.

But the cruise line took no chances with its wealthy cargo. They had an icebreaker escort the whole way, courtesy of the British government. Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards did early planning of rescue simulations. Helicopters stood by for the entire 32-day voyage. The ship relied on special ice-sensing satellites and ice-detecting radars, with all its other modern gadgets.

In Louisiana, residents had little warning about the floods that would bear down on them. Local forecasters simply warned of “heavy rain.”

Yes, heavy. One town received 31.39 inches of rain over three days. The area received 24 inches of rain in 48 hours. Ten rivers flooded. 130,000 homes were badly damaged.

The rich folks’ cruise ship was guarded through every wave and ripple by the combined forces of three governments. But the flood victims were working-class. FEMA sent 130 trailers, and ordered 250 more, to serve those 130,000 flooded-out families.

It took Congress six weeks to authorize 500 million dollars for relief – to cover 17 times that amount of damage! And the maximum FEMA grant for a destroyed home is $33,000 – only enough to build the required flood-resistant foundation. Tens of thousands of families will have to start over from nothing.

For the wealthy class, weather extremes aren’t much more than an unusual tourist attraction. For the working class, however, it’s seeing the work of a lifetime gone in one stroke.