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Context of 'September 10-13, 2004: Cuba Successfully Evacuates up to 1.9 Million Residents ahead of Category 5 Hurricane; Zero Fatalities from Storm'

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Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 storm, sideswipes the western tip of Cuba. The Cuban government, which says it has been preparing for a storm of this magnitude for the last 45 years, successfully evacuates between 1.5 and 1.9 million of its residents—more than 13 percent of its entire population—to shelters at higher ground. The entire evacuation takes 72 hours and utilizes every truck and bus available. All the shelters “have medical personnel, from the neighborhood,” according to Dr. Nelson Valdes, a sociology professor at the University of New Mexico, and specialist in Latin America. They also evacuate animals and veterinarians, TV sets and refrigerators “so that people aren’t reluctant to leave because people might steal their stuff,” he says. Though 20,000 homes are destroyed, there is not a single fatality from the storm. [MSNBC, 9/17/2004; United Kingdom, 10/1/2004; Truthout (.org), 9/3/2005] The United Nations International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) later cites Cuba as a model for hurricane preparation. ISDR director Salvano Briceno says, “The Cuban way could easily be applied to other countries with similar economic conditions and even in countries with greater resources that do not manage to protect their population as well as Cuba does.” A UN press release, summarizing the country’s hurricane preparation program, says: “Disaster preparedness, prevention and response are part of the general education curriculum. People in schools, universities and workplaces are continuously informed and trained to cope with natural hazards. From their early age, all Cubans are taught how to behave as hurricanes approach the island. They also have, every year, a two-day training session in risk reduction for hurricanes, complete with simulation exercises and concrete preparation actions. This facilitates the mobilization of their communities at the local level when a hurricane hits Cuba.” [United Nations, 9/14/2004; Seven Oaks, 9/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Ivan, Salvano Briceno, United Nations, Cuba

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Ivan approaches the Southern Gulf Coast. Residents of New Orleans have been urged to leave the city, but its evacuation routes are “spectacularly clogged, and authorities [acknowledge] that hundreds of thousands of residents [will] not get out in time.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2004; Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Terry Tullier, director of emergency preparedness for the city of New Orleans, explains to the Associated Press. “There is no plan that exists that will keep this logjam from occurring.” [Associated Press, 9/13/2004] Notwithstanding, approximately 600,000 residents will successfully flee the city, [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004] though for some the trip takes as long as ten hours. [US News and World Report, 7/18/2005] Ivan will make landfall east of Louisiana near Gulf Shores, Alabama, sparing the city of New Orleans from a catastrophe. [Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Hurricane researchers will hope that the close call will convince the federal government of the need to fund flood control and wetland restoration projects in Southern Louisiana. “Ivan was a real wake-up call. We have to take Ivan’s near-miss to get the federal government to fast-track some of these restoration projects,” says Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, Hurricane Ivan

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

In a National Hazards Observer article titled “What if Hurricane Ivan Had Not Missed New Orleans?,” University of New Orleans professor Shirley Laska warns that a Category 4 hurricane hitting New Orleans would be one of the greatest disasters ever to hit the US, with estimated costs exceeding $100 billion. According to Laska, in the aftermath of the hurricane, it would take nine weeks to dewater the city, and “national authorities would be scrambling to build tent cities to house the hundreds of thousands of refugees unable to return to their homes and without other relocation options.” [Natural Hazards Observer, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Shirley Laska

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

A poll conducted by the University of New Orleans finds that 62 percent of greater New Orleans’ 1.3 million residents would feel safe in their homes during a Category 3 storm. Only in the case of a larger Category 4 or 5 hurricane would a majority of the residents—78 percent—decide to evacuate the city. A total of 401 residents from St. Charles Parish take part in the survey. The figures cause grave concern for the university’s researchers who say the results suggest that residents have developed a false sense of security. For decades, residents have successfully rode out moderate-sized hurricanes. But as University of New Orleans pollster Susan Howell explains, Louisiana’s dramatic loss of its coastal wetlands means storms will have a greater impact, thus putting the city’s residents at greater risk. [Times-Picayune, 6/23/2005; Times-Picayune, 6/23/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Speaking before his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-LA) expresses concern about what would happen if a large hurricane were to hit New Orleans. “What would have happened if last September, Hurricane Ivan had veered 40 miles to the west, devastating the city of New Orleans? One likely scenario would have had a tsunami-like 30-foot wall of water hitting the city, causing thousands of deaths and $100 billion in damage. The city has always been at risk because of its low-lying location, but that risk has been increased because of rising sea levels, groundwater pumping and the erosion of coastal Louisiana. Twenty-four square miles of wetland disappear every year, since the 1930s an area one and a half times the size of Rhode Island washed away. Considering the reaction of the American public to the loss of a dozen people in the recent mud slides in California, it is hard to imagine what would happen if a disaster of that magnitude hit the United States. The experience of [the December 2004 tsunami that hit] Southeast Asia should convince us all of the urgent need for congressional action to prevent wide-scale loss of life and economic destruction at home and abroad. Prevention and planning will pay off.” [US Congress, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Earl Blumenauer

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

“Katrina is in the midst of a truly historic rapid deepening phase… [and] is now the sixth strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic,” states Jeff Matthews, meteorologist with the Weather Underground. “At the rate Katrina is deepening, she could easily be the third or fourth most intense hurricane ever, later today.” Katrina’s “winds are likely to increase to ‘catch up’ to the rapidly falling pressure, and could approach the all-time record of 190 mph set in Camille and Allen. Winds of this level will create maximum storm surge heights over 25 feet, and this storm surge will affect an area at least double the area wiped clean by Camille, which was roughly half the size of Katrina. Katrina has continued to expand in size, and is now a huge hurricane like Ivan. Damage will be very widespread and extreme if Katrina can maintain Category 5 strength at landfall.” Masters warns that, “Given that the storm is so large and is already pushing up a huge storm surge wave in front of it, even a weakened Category 3 Katrina hitting at low tide will cause an incredible amount of damage. A stretch of coast 170 miles long will experience hurricane force winds, given the current radius of hurricane force winds around the storm. A direct hit on New Orleans in this best-case scenario may still be enough to flood the city, resulting in heavy loss of life and $30 billion or more in damage.” [Masters, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Camille, Jeff Matthews, Hurricane Allen, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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