Students cannot forget the mistakes of Katrina

To most people, the number 1,836 might be just that -— a number.

But 1,836 should stand out as the official count of people who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, along with the billions of dollars lost in socio-economic damage.

The number 1,836 represents federal ignorance through the actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state-funded negligence through Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s lack of immediacy, the incompetence of the local government in not providing nearly enough for its residents and today, on the seventh anniversary of Katrina, a tendency to forget such a catastrophic event.

These kinds of actions and attitudes must not be repeated, nor should the lives and homes lost in Katrina be forgotten.

As students and citizens of the United States, we should learn from past mistakes in order to prevent them from occurring in the future.

The true tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was not only the lack of government response during and after the storm struck, but also the national response. A politicized and critical atmosphere emerged rather than a charitable one.  Certain religious leaders, such as Christian broadcaster Rev. Pat Robertson,  even claimed that Katrina was a form of divine punishment, brought on by New Orleans and the region.

Yet New Orleans and the Gulf Coast recovered — in spite of its fellow countrymen, not because of them.

It was an integral part of the human spirit — enduring persistence — that allowed the area and its people to rebuild. This very same persistence has helped in other misfortunes that have affected the region, such as the British Petroleum oil spill in April 2010.

Steps in the right direction have occurred this week, though: both the state and federal government have already established a line of aid should Hurricane Isaac be anything more than a tropical storm.

Evacuations have already taken place, the levees have been repaired adequately and Tulane University implemented mandatory residence hall lockdowns for students who live on campus. And since it’s an election year, all eyes are on how President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney might respond should things take a turn for the worst.

As students of USC, we attend a school that takes pride in providing guidance and new ideas for dealing with political, sociological and economic developments.  Katrina, however, even at its enormous scale, is no longer on the student body’s radar.

Politicians have moved on, the media has moved on, but our institution should assume a leading role in actively learning from the mistakes made during Katrina to better understand how to prevent a similar event from happening in the future.

If the worst happens, citizens and students shouldn’t just sit and argue about why something disastrous happened or whose fault it was.  They should ask questions and demand answers, take action and extend a helping hand to all in need.

For many, New Orleans represents the soul of America. There — much like the rest of the country — the future might seem cloudy and dark. But learning from the past to build a better future will only make the triumph that much greater.

America shouldn’t forget the 1,836. If they seek to criticize and do nothing, remember that half the victims or more could have been saved if more people simply stopped talking and did something above and beyond what was expected of them.


Robert Calcagno is a graduate student studying animation.

1 reply
  1. Katrina myth buster
    Katrina myth buster says:

    Thank you for noting the importance of learning from Katrina. But in learning from an ACCURATE history, we have to put to rest the many urban myths that persist. Blanco did demonstrate a sense of immediacy, declaring a state of emergency and activating the state’s response the moment Louisiana entered the forecast cone. Just like Isaac, on a Friday Katrina was headed to Florida, by Saturday the track shifted – but unlike Isaac, Katrina was faster and hit on Monday morning. She was on TV, radio, local and national, using every available form of communication to get people out. The common misunderstanding on the timing of the evacuation is Louisiana’s PHASED plan, which prioritiezes citizens in coastal areas BEFORE those in New Orleans (you could see that in the state’s response to Isaac). If all enter the interstate at once, you get gridlock and residents in the most vulnerable areas don’t get out. So people assume the mandadory evacuation for New Orleans was late, when in fact, it was done in a certain order. 93% of the metro region evacuated before the storm. The delay in rescuing the 60,000 who remained was due to the federal government waiting until the following Saturday to send troops – as President Bush outlined in his own book. It’s because of these misconceptions that the Times-Picayune keeps its Katrina archives active – including what was submitted to the congressional record by state and local officials.

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