Brandon: Katrina’s wrath reinforces awareness of vulnerabilities

A long-standing caveat in the weekly newspaper world is that you write about weather at your own peril: Write about a drought, and by the time the paper’s out there may have been a deluge; write about how nice the weather’s been, and by presstime a tornado may have ripped through.

The validity of that admonition was demonstrated anew last week, when my column about the changes development has brought to the Mississippi Gulf Coast went to the printer just before Hurricane Katrina wiped out a good portion of the region.

Seeing photos and TV coverage of the Biloxi area that we visited only recently was a sobering reminder that, however far we have come in terms of construction, technology, and creature comforts, Mother Nature can, in a few short hours, wipe it all out.

For those of us who remember the devastation in 1969 from Hurricane Camille, second at the time to the monster hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas, Katrina’s damage is infinitely worse, if for no other reason than that New Orleans took an almost-direct hit and on the Mississippi coast there was so much more to be destroyed — casinos, commercial developments, condos, etc., that didn’t exist in ’69.

This storm enforces anew the need for Mississippi and other coastal areas to re-examine policies regarding beachfront development. There’s no reason for all those huge casinos to be on the Biloxi beaches, and it was shortsighted of the state powers-that-be to require them to be on the water in the first place. Buy them out if necessary, let them rebuild inland, and restrict any future development on the beaches.

Inevitably, when these events occur, whether in Florida, on the East Coast, Gulf Coast, or the West Coast, all taxpayers help foot the bills for reconstruction of private property, either through government aid, higher insurance bills, or both. And then next year it happens again somewhere in some coastal area. However esthetically great it may be to have waterfront property, it’s just asking for trouble.

Another Katrina may not come for another hundred years, or it could be next month. Mother Nature is nothing if not a random generator of weather events, and nobody can predict when the next one will occur — for that matter, there’s still a good two months left in the ’06 hurricane season, and it’s entirely possible another one could hit the area, piling misery on top of misery.

Aside from the tragic loss of life and property caused by Katrina, hundreds of thousands of people will have major disruptions for months. Not only do many have no homes to return to, their jobs are gone for who-knows-how long. Without work, no paychecks to take care of bills, car payments, house payments, etc.

With thousands of businesses wiped out and not likely to be in operation for months, the economic impact from tax revenue losses will be enormous for city, state, and local governments.

This disaster only makes us all the more aware of how vulnerable this nation would be were there to be successive destructive weather events, or a major terrorist attack that crippled the infrastructure.

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