The Great Flood of '05

Thursday, September 1, 2005; Page A28
Washington Post

"I had read of the destruction of Babylon, of Nineveh, and many other soul-stirring and awful human experiences recorded in history . . . at length I realized that San Francisco was about to suffer an effacement as complete as any that had ever taken place."

-- From an eyewitness account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

NOW THAT THE fabled New Orleans levees have catastrophically broken, now that the first helicopter photographs of the city's flooded streets have been broadcast, it has become clear that the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans compares to any of the worst natural disasters in American history: to the fire that destroyed much of Chicago in 1871; to the hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Tex., in 1900; and, above all, to the earthquake and fire that wiped out San Francisco in 1906.

At least in San Francisco, people were able to begin rebuilding immediately, sometimes using the rubble left behind after the fire. In New Orleans, rebuilding can't begin until the levees are repaired; the water has been pumped out of the city; and sufficient electricity, communications and sewage disposal have been restored. This may take weeks or even months. Even then it is possible that some parts of this nearly 300-year-old, below-sea-level, at-risk city may never be rebuilt at all. A huge chunk of America's heritage -- the remnants of what was once France's largest North American colony, a Creole culture unique on this continent -- is in severe jeopardy. [...] Read it all at: http://tinyurl.com/8x8cu

© Virginia Metze


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