Climate researcher Roy Spencer says a repeat of the Miami hurricane of 1926 would cost $110 billion.
Adjusted to 2004 dollars, Hurricane Andrew of 1992 was the costliest hurricane on record, at about $44 billion. It remains to be seen whether the Katrina event will exceed this record. If it does, it will be more attributable to the desire of so many people to live and build in coastal areas than to the inherent strength of the hurricane itself. Indeed, if we ask the question, "which land falling hurricane in U.S. history would be the most expensive if it happened today?" the clear front-runner would be the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. It is estimated that, if that hurricane occurred today, the costs would reach about $110 billion.
The US government and state governments in the American southeast should adopt policies aimed at shifting more of the costs of hurricane strikes onto the people who choose to live in areas where hurricane damage can rack up huge costs.
For example, how about regional taxes in ocean front counties that would pay for disaster relief and repair of public infrastructure? Also, tougher building codes could reduce damages. Florida has probably gone furthest on this score with a succession of increasingly tougher building codes that require elevation of houses to reduce the risk of flooding damage and that also require better anchoring of roofs against high winds.
Who pays when hundreds of thousands of people become refugees from predictable disasters? We do. But these people shouldn't be living in flood zones in the first place.
Durham, N.C. -- When civil engineers start planning for rebuilding New Orleans, there are few historical examples to guide them. Duke University engineering professor Henry Petroski says the closest example he can think of is the 1900 Galveston, Texas, hurricane which, like Katrina, left a city partially underwater.
To protect Galveston from a recurrence, engineers found a bold and challenging solution that Petroski said may be necessary to save New Orleans: they raised the entire city.
“There have been massive floods before, but few have covered such an extensive urban area as 21st- century New Orleans,” said Petroski, an author of several books on engineering and society. “Galveston was devastated. What the engineers basically did was to raise it. Every low point of the city was higher than before, and some places were quite a bit higher, so if there was another flood the houses would be above it. In addition, they built a sea wall, but then they had backed this up so that the houses were higher if water did get through.”
Petroski, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ History and Heritage Committee, said he doesn’t know if engineers would consider something similar for New Orleans. “The challenges would be enormous. The city is so much larger than Galveston was in 1900. But, on the other hand, they have many more resources and tools that the Galveston engineers didn’t have.”
Petroski provides no cost estimate for this undertaking. Abandonment of the lower lying areas would probably be cheaper. My basic questions:
If the cost of raising the land up exceeds the market value of the land the exercise would be wealth destroying and dumb. How much does an acre-foot of dirt go for? Anyone know what the cost is in your area delivered by truck?
Also, Petroski does not address the problem of continued subsidence. A place that does flood subsidies faster than a place that does flood. Many areas of NO that are below water level did not used to be. To make this worthwhile the level would need to be raised high enough to account for 50 or 100 or some other number of years of future subsidence.
Also, there's still the additional cost of preventing the delta from eroding all the way up to NO.
If New Orleans is worth saving by lifting it up with dirt then property taxes on the property of New Orleans should pay for the lifting. If the property there is not worth enough to pay for the lifting then raising up New Orleans is not cost justifiable.
Update II: Writing for the Wall Street Journal Sharon Begley reports that disaster experts see Hurricane Katrina as an unnatural disaster created by human folly.
As Theodore Steinberg argues, God is getting a bum rap. "This is an unnatural disaster if ever there was one, not an act of God," says Prof. Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland. "If the potential for mass death and destruction from extreme weather existed anywhere in the U.S., it existed in New Orleans."
Yes, building a city in a delta and putting levees around it while it gradually sinks from natural subsidence is a pretty stupid thing to do. But in America the big move to build on hurricane coasts is far from the only foolishness humans are doing on mass scale. The construction of mobile home parks in tornado alley is taking its toll as well.
It isn't only hurricanes whose destructiveness has been increased by human actions. Tornadoes turn mobile homes into matchsticks (one of Prof. Steinberg's first jobs was at a New York brokerage firm, where he followed the trailer-home industry). From 1981 to 1997, he found, more than one-third of all deaths from tornadoes occurred among people living in mobile homes; federal regulations didn't require them to withstand high winds, and a 1974 statute actually pre-empted stricter state standards with more lax federal ones.
The New York Times reports that the overreaction of federal disaster relief spending has created conditions for big wasteful federal contracts.
Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have uncovered in post-war Iraq.
"They are throwing money out, they are shoveling it out the door," said James Albertine, a Washington lobbyist and past president of the American League of Lobbyists. "I'm sure every lobbyist's phone in Washington is ringing off the hook from his clients. Sixty-two billion dollars is a lot of money - and it's only a down payment."
John Tierney of the New York Times points out that the Army Corps of Engineers was not lacking for funds but Congress critters had earmarked the money for their pet projects rather than for the biggest threats.
Or suppose the investigators try to find out why the Army Corps of Engineers didn't protect New Orleans from the flood. Democrats have blamed the Iraq war for diverting money and attention from domestic needs. But that hasn't meant less money for the Corps during the past five years. Overall spending hasn't declined since the Clinton years, and there has been a fairly sharp increase in money for flood-control construction projects in New Orleans.
The problem is that the bulk of the Corps's budget goes for projects far less important than preventing floods in New Orleans. And if the investigators want to find who's responsible, they don't have to leave Capitol Hill.
Most of the Corps's budget consists of what are lovingly known on appropriations committees as earmarks: money allocated specifically for members' pet projects. Many of these projects flunk the Corps's own cost-benefit analysis or haven't been analyzed at all. Many are jobs that Corps officials don't even consider part of their mission, like building sewage plants, purifying drinking water or maintaining lakeside picnic tables.
But local governments ought to protect their own jurisdictions against flooding anyway.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 September 10 01:12 PM Politics Money|