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Profile: Hurricane Ivan
Hurricane Ivan was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
The Washington Post publishes a front page story examining what might happen if Hurricane Ivan, or any other major hurricane, hits New Orleans. The article cites numerous experts who agree that such an event is inevitable and will be a disaster. Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish, warns that as many as 50,000 people could drown if a Category 4 hurricane makes a landing on Southern Louisiana’s shores. Windell Curole, director of the South Lafourche Levee District, tells the newspaper: “I’m terrified. I’m telling you, we’ve got no elevation. This isn’t hyperbole. The only place I can compare us to is Bangladesh.” Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, says, “I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but the doomsday scenario is going to happen eventually. I’ll stake my professional reputation on it.”
[Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Other articles at the same time also point out the danger. For instance, on September 14, the Associated Press publishes the story,“Direct Hit by Ivan Could Sink New Orleans” which discusses a worst-case scenario where a direct strike could leave the city “deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks…” Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Public Health Center, states, “My fear is, if this storm passes (without a major disaster), everybody forgets about it until next year, when it could be even worse because we’ll have even less wetlands.”
[Associated Press, 9/14/2004] The Dallas Morning News publishes an article giving similar warnings. [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2004]
William Crouch, Vice Commodore of the Coast Guard’s Auxiliary Eighth District Central Region, states that boats, radios, aviation units will be ready to respond “based on the District’s Contingency plan which has been in effect since Hurricane Ivan.” According to Crouch, “units from outlying areas are preparing to depart for the disaster area as soon as the situation becomes clear.” Units from as far away as Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi and other areas of Louisiana are preparing to respond. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005]
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