Tag Archives: disaster

Hurricane Lessons:  Gas Stoves, Oak Trees, Power, and Climate

New Orleans     Storms around Labor Day get my full attention.  Betsy hit hard in the fall of 1965 right after school began and took more than a week to get everything back in gear.  Katrina in 2005 hit at the end of August and decimated the city of New Orleans in what is now an oft-told tale still looking for a happy ending, fifteen years later.  Now in 2020, the year of the worst pandemic in one-hundred years and the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have now had five, yes, count them, five, storms hit Louisiana.  Lake Charles in the western part of the state caught a double whammy of terrible proportion.   Other storms with other names had glanced New Orleans with more bark than bite as kind of nothing-burgers.

Then here comes Zeta, so far down the hurricane chain that even the Greek alphabet is exhausted by the horror of this season.  This one smacked us around a bit, as a category 2.  When I left work at 5pm thinking I should buckle down a couple of more shutters at the house, I was surprised rolling down Elysian Fields from the lake towards the river to see, gulp, I was pretty much the last one on the road, and the wind was picking up.  After some stops and starts, power went off in our riverside neighborhood by 7pm, and now thirteen hours later as I write this, it’s still out there and in about one-third of the city.  Cox Cable, the dominant internet provider, is ghosting now.  There’s no power in our offices.  The radio station is off the air.  It’s going to be that kind of day.

I wrote a book, The Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster, but in weathering Zeta, there are a few lessons I left out, that I’ll mention now.

  • Gas stoves are the best! When electricity goes kaput for hours or perhaps days and weeks, you can still eat.  This morning I was able to eat my oatmeal and drink my coffee, thanks to a gas stove.  My family had one in Betsy as well when power was down for over a week, as I recall.
  • Stately old oak trees are beautiful and help define the city, but in a storm, they are nothing but dangerous. Weakened branches are every everywhere, including the yard in front of our organizing center.  Worse, I can see a very large branch, dangling over the sidewalk by a fiber.  Walkers and gawkers will be watching their feet not to trip on fallen timber, but they need to keep one eye to the sky for what is ready to fall.
  • Why haven’t the city and Entergy, the power company, come to grips with the need to bury the power lines after all of these hurricanes? Our organizing & retreat center is in a neighborhood developed by the Orleans Levee Board in the mid-1960s, and the lines are buried, so, voila, I drove five miles in the dark in the predawn to now sit by shining lights.

Oh, and one more thing.  This climate change thing is real!


Demanding a Suspension of Remittance Fees During Disasters

_85611725_e26ea287-55ce-49b3-8ea6-b02ceba61ef7Newark   An 8.3 level earthquake hit Chile in recent days. The quake lasted three minutes. The tsunami carried boats from the port onto city streets along the coast. One million people were evacuated. Over 100,000 continue not to have electricity. Many are displaced. Amazingly, the death count has been relatively minor for such a tragedy with only eleven reported at this point. Many believe this may be due to progress in governmental response and the institution of tougher building codes since a 2010 earthquake killed over 500.

Several years ago when the tsunami hit Japan the focus was huge, damage immense, and attention riveting. Many are just coming back to their homes three years later in the worst impacted areas. Nuclear plants are still under observation and the existence of the plants themselves and the threats of climate change are heated debates.

In a global community what is the best response? Many will be moved to help, but families will feel special obligations whether it is Chile now, Japan then, Katrina ten years ago, or Aceh in Indonesia.

Sending money costs money. Big money. Even the Economist in a recent editorial and article chided the lack of progress by the G-8 and World Bank on reducing the fees to the 5% cap that was supposed to have been achieved years ago. They claim the average is 7.5% but that figure has little credibility given how much it leaves out of the calculations. There are regular reports of technological breakthroughs and new competitors, but many institutions have raised their rates claiming the costs of money laundering and terrorism legislation requires more scrutiny. The Economist called for reductions across the board, and ACORN’s Remittance Justice Campaign has long made that demand.

Can there be any better argument for reductions than disasters like Chile? A number of banks in Canada and the United States lowered or waived fees for transfers after the Japanese tsunami. Western Union and MoneyGram even said the right things for a bit. Where are they now?

Many are joining in a call for Western Union particularly to lead the way by reducing the cost of transfers to Chile during this crisis and time of displacement. Any of us that can need to raise our voices now.

ACORN and many other organizations have begun online petition drives among other tactics to get the message to the CEO of Western Union in Colorado to act now. Do whatever you can and sign the petition with us.