In the past, the United States has struggled with handling natural disasters. When confronted with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our government made a series of critical mistakes in handling the aftermath. Crippled by both bad timing and poor management, it took two days for the Bush administration to fly into Washington for a briefing. Furthermore, it took until the final 24 hours of Katrina’s landfall for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to order an evacuation of the city.
The U.S. was once again tested by a natural disaster reminiscent of Katrina: Hurricane Harvey. Harvey continues to highlight the U.S. legislative failure when addressing natural disasters, especially when confronted with crucial planning and precautionary measures.
The immense loss of life—the most recent death toll being at least 60 for Hurricane Harvey—could have been completely avoided, or at least lessened, if urban sprawls were erected near areas that are known to safeguard its inhabitants. In other words, if common sense measures were taken, we could have seen less in damages and less human life lost.
Houston-based analysts confirm that city lawmakers did not account for the development of housing structures in flood-prone areas in the years prior. A significant percentage of the areas disturbed, as a result of urban development, were previously wetlands, which can contain excess floodwater and essentially lessen the impact of flash flooding.
“There were homes built where they shouldn’t have been built,” researcher at Rice University Mark Jones said.
Another issue the U.S. experienced leading up to Hurricane Harvey was a lack of pronounced evacuation measures. Houston was not evacuated in the days before the storm, and as a result, many of the city’s residents found themselves stuck in their homes, unable to reach the immediate help they needed.
“When you combine Houston and Harris County, you literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
This excuse seems weak, however, as it is unjust to put lives on the line just to maintain order and to prevent people from taking the city highways in order to leave an imminent flooding area.
Additionally, the lack of checks on climate change undoubtedly contributed to the level of destruction caused by Harvey. It is a well-known fact that warm waters serve as fuel for tropical storms, especially with global water temperatures increasing.
These urban planning and governmental and climate control issues highlight the U.S.’s inability to handle natural disasters and to protect its citizens from them.
While it is imperative to acknowledge the lack of competent prevention and governmental response to natural disasters such as Harvey, it is even more important to aid the storm’s victims. Once the disaster’s worst has passed and we have done everything to aid those affected, we must learn from Harvey and prepare so that our nation is more competent in the future.