Reported by David Waterman, affiliate WVOC
Today marked five years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast with 125 mph winds, causing more than 1,800 deaths and $81 billion in damages.
University of South Carolina geographer Dr. Susan Cutter, who directs USC’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, has studied the storm’s aftermath extensively.
Cutter says the lessons of Katrina are many – and they apply to our state, as well. She says, “We as a society, we as a state need to do a better job of planning for evacuation for disadvantaged populations that may not have the resources to get out of harm’s way by themselves.”
Cutter says hurricanes are not an “equal opportunity” hazard, and they hurt low-income residents more – those who lack jobs, insurance, and other portable resources to transfer elsewhere and start over. Her observation:
We’ve got this real disparity along these coastal areas between the very, very rich and the very, very poor and in hurricane evacuations and in this coastal development and in planning for these emergencies, we really need to think long and hard about how we address those segments of society that don’t have the capacity to adequately respond to – and more importantly, recover from – disasters.
She also says Katrina shows how easy it is to be under-prepared for storm damage. “I think you can say you’re prepared. But when you have a 20-foot-plus surge of water coming over and basically obliterating the landscape for blocks and blocks along the coast, you’re not really that prepared,” says Cutter.
She finds it disturbing to see many people rebuilding right where they were along coastal areas without elevating homes higher or taking other precautions. She offers, “Building on sand that moves is going to lead to destruction of homes and there are ways to enjoy those coastal views, but we’ve got to build better a little bit farther off the beach if we want to prevent the huge property losses associated with storms.”