Hurricane Isaac is passing just south of New Orleans this morning. There is still a chance that the hurricane could make a direct hit on the city, but there is reason to hope that the worst weather will stay five miles away. Even without a direct hit on the city itself, there is extensive damage in the area, and power will be out and low areas flooded for days.
Isaac arrived on the same day of the year as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which also narrowly missed New Orleans, though on the other side of the city. That was a hurricane with ten times as much energy, with winds strong enough to knock down buildings. Like today, the area of worst damage was barely five miles away from New Orleans.
Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory, and whatever post-traumatic or other associations people have with Katrina will be strongest right now because it is exactly that time of year again. As long as it is another hurricane at the same place on the same day of the year as Katrina, much of what people think of Isaac will be colored by their recollections of Katrina.
This applies also to the speculators who, since yesterday, have driven up the prices of oil and especially gasoline. Some of the worries about supplies are well-founded, but part of the price movement is simply the vague worry that we are seeing another Katrina-like event.
Hurricane Isaac is classified as a Category 1 hurricane because of its wind speed, but it is a larger and stronger storm than that category suggests, and this is reflected especially at the shoreline with waves and surge. From what I am hearing, people are taking the appropriate level of precautions, so I am hopeful that everyone is safe. In spite of people’s worries that the current disaster will turn into a repeat of a past disaster, there are many things to indicate that today’s events will come out differently.