By Kathy Hughes
This week is the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have yet to fully recover, now their neighbors to the west are coping with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. After Katrina, close to 250,000 New Orleans evacuees fled to Houston, Texas, many of them permanently.
With regard to the current disaster, the word “unprecedented” is used in almost every news report, but that isn’t exactly true. Yet, how do you compare? Lives lost? Damage to property or the economy? People displaced and left homeless? Hurricane category, wind speed or rainfall?
Not only do we have the hurricanes in recent memory — Katrina, Dennis, Sandy and Rita, but also (in my lifetime), Andrew, Wilma, Ike, David, Agnes and Hazel. So far, the deadliest hurricane ever to strike the U.S. was the Galveston, Texas hurricane which struck Sept. 8, 1900.
The 1900 hurricane left the city of Galveston and the island in ruins, and an unbelievable death toll of six to 12 thousand lives lost; it is believed that 20 percent of Galveston’s 36,000 residents lost their lives, putting the best estimate at 8,000 people. Corpses were everywhere; desperation led to dumping bodies at sea, but they only washed back to shore, littering the beaches. Two hundred bodies were found on a train which was headed to Galveston from Houston; many people were drowned or buried alive beneath the debris. Despite cries for help, there was no way to rescue buried survivors.
The city of Houston owes its existence largely to refugees from Galveston, who abandoned the island where over 3,500 homes were destroyed. Katrina was the costliest U.S. storm to date, but Galveston was the deadliest.
A political note, currently the U.S. Congress is considering raising the country’s debt limit in preparation for determining budget allocations. So far, Hurricane Harvey is estimated to add tens of billions of dollars to the existing U.S. debt.
At the time of Hurricane Katrina, I distinctly remember the Netherlands offering to provide aid to the United States. Considering their experience with liberating underwater land, I was dismayed when the offer was refused. I may be wrong, but other countries also may have offered assistance at that time. It seems we are too proud to accept help, while the assistance we dispense in aid of disasters abroad must be in the billions of dollars.
Given the current international coldness towards the U.S., I don’t expect any offers of aid to be forthcoming. Should we accept help from other nations when freely offered? I don’t see why not.