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9/11 and Katrina: Comparing and contrasting

A lot of people are comparing the response to Hurricane Katrina to that of the attacks on 9/11, especially the World Trade Center.

While it is tempting, as that was the most recent great disaster to hit the United States, there are some significant differences that should be noted.

1) 9/11 was an attack, while Katrina was a natural disaster.

Katrina gave us warning, let us know that it was coming. Further, it was the sort of thing we routinely speculate about and know will eventually happen. 9/11 was a surprise attack, with no forecasters telling us it was coming, predicting just where it would hit and when.

Also, with 9/11, we knew that there would be more attacks unless we stopped them. We had a clear enemy to fight, and we did. You can't declare war on hurricanes.

2) The attack on 9/11 consisted of four jet liners.

An average hurricane has as much energy as every single nuclear weapon ever detonated -- and Katrina was one of the biggest we've seen in some time.

3) The 9/11 attacks were focused on three areas -- the World Trade Center complex in New York City, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

The destruction, while tremendous, was also very focused and concentrated. Katrina devastated an area roughly the size of Great Britain.

4) Once the last building came down, and the fires were mostly put out, the disaster areas were immediately accessible to rescuers.

With Katrina, the destruction -- especially in New Orleans -- continued, and continues to this day.

To draw in yet another comparison, the tsunami that ravaged Southeast Asia was similar to Katrina. But with the tsunami, once the wave passed, the waters receded and rescue and recovery could begin. In New Orleans, the waters came -- and stayed.

Parallels and analogies are useful things, but they reach a point of diminishing returns. No two events are ever exactly alike, and sooner or later any comparison will fall apart.

I think the closest we can find in our histoyr would be an earthquake, such as the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. There, too, the devastation was immediate, but also persistent (fire and aftershocks). And the lines of communication were destroyed, as well as much of the infrastructure. But that was at a time before our Age of Communication, with the 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous information flow. Other workable parallels might be Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

I don't think the United States has ever seen anything quite like the destruction wrought by Katrina and, if we're lucky, we won't again for a very long time. But if anyone ever wants to see what one of our cities might look like after it's been hit by a weapon of mass destruction, just send them down to The Big Easy.

Update: In the comments, Brian S. brings up the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a touchstone for New Orleans. While there are some significant differences, such as the worldwide ramifications and the initial lies by the government about the nature and severity of the catastrophe, they don't really detract from the usefulness as a model. Brian, I am greatly annoyed with you for bringing this up -- but more annoyed with myself for not seeing it first.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference 9/11 and Katrina: Comparing and contrasting:

» Arguing with signposts... linked with Katrina analogies

» Kerfuffles linked with America’s Angels

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Families Rally Against Sept. 11th Museum

» Outside The Beltway linked with Remembering 911

Comments (8)

You made some good points J... (Below threshold)

You made some good points Jay. I especially agree with your last 2 paragraphs.

The biggest problem with the response is that we have no recent event to draw on for precedent. For another instance of an American city being so devasted you would have to go back to the San Francisco earthquake, the Galveston hurricane, or the Chicago fire. But even in those catastrophes, no one had to contend with flood waters that lasted for over a week.

I'm sure everyone wishes more could have been done faster, but unprecedented disastors will often cause a delay in response. "By-the-book" responses are inadequate because "the book" is written by past experience. Innovation is required, and federal bureaucracies are often the least innovative entities in existence.

There will be lessons learned form Katrina, and "the book" will be revised, but the people of NOLA will have paid a heavy price for this knowledge.

Although it was manmade, th... (Below threshold)

Although it was manmade, the perfect analogy to Katrina as far as continuation of effects would have to be Chernobyl!

forced evacuations, inhospitable terrain, continuing dangers, failures of government oversight, hundreds dead and dying. It's all there.

Now, true it wasn't in America, but that's probably the closest parallel I can think of anywhere.

I don't think the United... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I don't think the United States has ever seen anything quite like the destruction wrought by Katrina

I've tried to make this point to many, many people with little effect. For example, Entergy Louisiana had never had more than 247,000 customers without electricity at one time. In the aftermath of Katrin, they had 1.1 million customers without power.

What is the appropriate level of response in this situation? I certainly don't know. The tsunami comparison is a on the correct scale, I think, but even that has problems. The tsunami affected multiple countries that were widspread. It was not concentrated in a small area. Also, you made the point that the water came then went. Finally, it struck without warning. With Katrina, there was a good deal of advanced warning.

I find it difficult to criticize events that happened after the hurricane struck. The landscape was destroyed, the infrastructure in ruins, and water was everywhere. All those tings complicated recovery efforts.

However, the events that happened in advance of Katrina are fair game for criticism. None of the factors complicating the recovery wee in place. The pre-hurricane events are the ones that need the closest scrutiny.

I agree with Steve -- you c... (Below threshold)

I agree with Steve -- you can prepare and prepare, but some things are bigger than our ability to succeed --

Hindsight is 20-20. The principal aspect of the NO disaster is the levees failing. The fact that they did is not Bush's fault or Blanco's fault or nagin's fault -- it is an institutional failure taking place over decades.

I don't see any similaritie... (Below threshold)

I don't see any similarities, just none at all, between the two events (Hurricane Katrina damage effects and 09/11 terrorist activities damage), and not because they were both ultra disasters, mega disasterous damaging events, but because the responses to the events was and is entirely different.

09/11 saw nearly everyone working together and from minute one. Not successfully as many examinations of the events over time afterward have shown, but the willingness was there from the moment of the disasters as they were occuring on through to present day, for the most part (save but for the 09/11 Memorial in N.Y., which has become a tool used by social memes for that purpose in defiance of sincerity for the event and tragedy itself).

However, the Katrina damage was and continues to be mired in territorial wars and resentments that have nothing to do with the storm damage itself but are like canvases people with "pre existing disorders and conditions" have rushed to apply their particular labels of color to.

What it emphasises to ME is that at times of natural disaster, individuals have to be prepared or at least capable of taking care of themselvse, their families, including their pets.

People who relent that individual responsibility (for immediate saves, for life-vs.-death decisions, these are my points here, not general recovery and welfare afterward) then set into motion greater suffering and greater risks and damages for everyone else.

It's right and good and sometimes holy to risk your own place of security and act selflessly to care for others but the point I'm making is that when too many individuals do not do that, and not only not that but do not act to save themselves, then you get anarchy and those acts of cruelty and brutality that we all saw take place recently in New Orleans.

It also points out to me that our CIVILIZATION, not only our country, but the world's human population, is not ready to deal effectively with massive disasters. Stragglers cling on, survive remarkably but the after effects of so much suffering and misery doesn't get solved so much as it gets lectured at by those who most object to it. And mostly that's liberals who consider social programs as solutions and which time and time again we see are no solutions but encouragements to fail instead.

Poverty and housing for the poor and middle class is our biggest hurdle in the world, certainly in the U.S.

About disasters, however, they are going to continue to occur. People were told Mount Saint Helens was going to erupt, and some remained behind in their homes out of obstinance and perished. Who is responisble for their dependents and the suffering that resulted from those decisions?

Same thing applies to Katrina effects and will again when Yellowstone erupts (and it will), when various other volcanoes in the West and Northwest erupt (and they will), when the next monster hurricane arrives in North America (and it will), when sea levels rise and Hawaii loses most of it's current habitation (and it will), when Alaska has another mega earthquake (and it will) and same with San Francisco and Los Angeles (and they will).

Our species does not learn collectively. We seem to only learn individually. Otherwise, you'd not see a person in a governor's office like Governor Blanco failing to even know what she could do, how, and worse, preventing assistance when needed to alleviate the worst that then befell those she was responsible for: the vulnerable within her own population in Louisiana.

You can only blame others so many times. Ultimately, you act or you don't, you save yourself and those you are responsible for or you don't. These are the grim realities of mortal beings faced with overwhelming natural disasters.

So, no, I see no similarities between the intentional, wanton murderous acts of crazy people and our human populations' inability to understand personal responsibility. The first, our population rallied. The second, the population rallied but only in spite of, despite, barriers and nonsense by "those in charge," and I don't mean "the federal government."

P.S.: more people died in Mississippi as a result of Hurricane Katrina than they did in Louisiana. And most of them where white, in Mississippi. But they didn't perish because their local governments didn't help or respond but because they had worse storm conditions than did Louisiana. Louisiana just failed and failed all together from the top on down and I think that the country and even world is rallying so to their assistance is proof that humanity is trying very hard to extend compassion to the suffering. I'm still wondering where all the celebrity outrage is for the people in Mississippi and Alabama, however.

Compare and Contrast:... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Compare and Contrast:

The MSM on 9/11 - We won't show the bodies or the jumpers, because it will 'incite' the American people. We don't want Americans mad at Islamic extremists because that may mean America may have to use it's military.

The MSM on Katrina - We will show the bodies. And if the American people get mad at Bush because we've been implying it's all his fault, well...

Is the author of this artic... (Below threshold)

Is the author of this article trying to subtly convey the idea that God by permitting this natural disaster (Katrina) could be more evil in the exercise of His Divine Justice than the worst of Islamic Terrorists could ever be? Just wondering...

Quote: The devil was the first one to ask God "Why?" The answer to all of our "why" questions will be found in Heaven. On the other hand, Hell will never know the answer due to their rejection of God's Wisdom and of His Love.


I definatley love this arti... (Below threshold)

I definatley love this article! im in 7th grade and were studying the comparison and i think that thid is a wonderful sight!






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