Holding Back The Sea On Cape Cod: A Lesson From Down South

By Greg O?BrienCodfish PressCape Cod, we are fond of saying, is a dead-end street?a blessing and a curse at times. It is a natural jetty, jutting out into the Atlantic and Nantucket Sound, a maritime barrier that often absorbs the punch of violent storms roiling up the eastern seaboard. These meteorological imbroglios are expected to increase in regularity and intensity in coming years. The destructive power of hurricanes in the North Atlantic has doubled in the past 30 years and will continue to increase, according to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. An MIT hurricane specialist, Kerry Emanuel, has suggested a warming of the ocean?s surface temperatures provide hurricanes with more energy to stir higher wind speeds. Writing on the subject years ago, another storm expert suggested hurricanes in the future might throw off winds in excess of 200 miles an hour, a speed that would virtually flatten Cape Cod?in this case, literally a sitting duck. It?s not if, but more a matter of when. The storm surge of a Category 4 or 5 storm would reduce the peninsula for a time into a series of islands, particularly on the Outer Cape. The horror unfolding in Louisiana and Mississippi, in terms of damage and loss, may be a prelude?up-close and personal?of what to expect here some day. We had a taste in 1991 with spiteful Hurricane Bob. And we are no better prepared today at the national, regional, state and local levels. No one seems to want to respond until the lights are out, but that?s when we start tripping over each other, as they are along the Gulf Coast, with the government leading the way. Last Sunday as killer Katrina?then a Category 5 storm packing 160-mile-an-hour winds with the threat of a 28-foot storm surge?roared toward New Orleans, many in the region found religion. ?Have God on your side,? warned a woman, who sat gridlocked in fleeing traffic. ?Definitely have God on your side! It?s very frightening,? she told the Associated Press. In the turbulent and tragic wake of Katrina?with hundreds, possibly thousands feared dead, looters roaming free in the streets (not to mention the corporate looters like the oil companies and some retailers), and an estimated $25 billion and climbing in property damage, making the hurricane one of the worst natural disasters in the nation?s history?the Almighty seems to have taken a long weekend, and during those critical hours of first response, the Bush Administration also appears to have been missing in action, a lapse that may prove to be a political high water mark for the maxim: too little, too late. Television and newspaper coverage of the event, from both liberal and conservative sources, has been stunning: horrific footage, photos and anecdotes of scores waiting helplessly in the cruel southern sun to be rescued as if trapped on an isolated planet, while the bodies of friends and family members bobbed in the surge of Noah proportions. ?Help us,? was the futile cry, as a bloated and sluggish bureaucracy responded after an official sigh of relief that the region had dodged a bullet?the full, ugly force of this weapon of mass destruction. It was as if our Commander-In-Chief George Bush had re-appeared on the deck of an aircraft carrier to declare prematurely that another war was over. The delayed and fatal blast the following day was an aging levee system that predictably couldn?t hold back the rising and rocking tide of Lake Pontchartrain. While television and newspapers now report the flood of National Guardsmen, financial aid, food, water, pumping equipment and all the concomitant spin, where was all this outpouring in the first 72 hours, a time when lives could have been saved? It is a chilling reminder of our measured and derisory early response to Tsunami relief. As na?ve as it sounds, one supreme command from the Oval Office, declaring this to be the highest national priority, no matter what the cost or effort, ought to be enough in this day of instant communication to get sufficient help on the street to respond to a disaster that was always a possibility. The key is good, long-range planning, and there wasn?t much here. Earlier this summer, for example, Louisiana ?pleaded for federal help to protect the state?s rapidly eroding coastline?but the state was rebuffed by an administration and a Congress bent on budget-cutting,? according to a Boston Globe report. Bush last Sunday from his Crawford, Texas ranch declared a ?massive relief effort? was in the works. ?We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses,? he said, sounding the alarm. But it will take more than a declaration of war on hurricanes. Hollow words alone fall short, if essential emergency infrastructures are not in place. With more powerful storms predicted in the years to come, perhaps we ought to spend less time and money tilting at windmills in Iraq, and focus more on defending our vulnerable shorelines, our exposed flank. Neptune is awaiting our next move in this conflict.

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