The Spark

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

New Orleans:
An "unnatural disaster" narrowly avoided

Sep 27, 2004

Many people in New Orleans, Louisiana escaped a potential disaster when Hurricane Ivan veered away from the city at the last minute. The city had no mechanisms in place for how to evacuate the poor.

As the hurricane approached the southern coast, city officials warned people to evacuate. More than a million people jammed the interstate highway trying to get out of town. It took some people seven hours to drive 60 miles from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Some radio broadcasters actually told people not to get on the interstate, saying they could be trapped in the traffic jam when the storm hit.

People with no cars had no way to leave and nowhere to go. The Red Cross has stopped providing shelters in New Orleans for hurricanes rated over Category 2. Hurricane Ivan was a category 4 storm. The city told people who could not leave to go to high-rise hotels.

Until the storm was just hours away, the city had provided no shelters for those who could not afford hotels. Only then did they open the football stadium, the Superdome, for those with nowhere else to go. In any case, who knows how safe the Superdome would have been in a category 4 hurricane?

People have known for a long time that New Orleans is at risk of sinking under the right hurricane conditions. The city sits below sea level, between a large lake, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters had predicted this would be a bad hurricane season and yet the city had no real plans for everyone to evacuate. The only arrangement they made to deal with the worst-case scenario was to have ten thousand body bags on hand.

The people of New Orleans were lucky – this time. The experience, however, shows capitalism's weight on the population – which turns natural occurrences into socially-caused disasters.