Monday, August 29, 2005

The Big Blow

Unless you're a foreign tourist in New Orleans, you probably know about Hurricane Katrina, which at this moment is getting ready to turn most of the Big Easy into the the biggest toilet bowl in history. It slowed down a little bit from the 170+ m.p.h. winds it had Sunday to "only" 135 m.p.h. this morning when it made landfall. The trouble is that this hurricane is huge, with clouds covering about half of the Gulf of Mexico. It's essentially a F3 tornado on steroids.

What did Floridians think when Katrina moved more towards the west? "Thank God it isn't US again!" The original computer models on the National Hurricane website showed the monster coming up the Gulf towards my little part of the world. Of course, just because we didn't get the big bullseye painted on the Big Bend this time doesn't mean we won't get another one in a few weeks. The experts are telling us that the bulk of the tropical storms for this season probably haven't even happened yet, which will make the rest of this fall SO much fun. I suspect that the prescriptions for antidepressants are starting to skyrocket all over the Gulf States.

Perhaps this should remind us that we are at best a fragile species. We have to live in a cocoon of a very specific mix of gases not found on any other planet in this solar system. No potable water for a few days and we're toast. No food for a while and our body begins to devour itself in a frantic attempt to keep the cells happy. Yet, we've begun to think of ourselves as the masters of this planet, able to overcome anything and everything that Mother Nature or God in some of his more unpopular "Acts" throws at us. It doesn't take much, a tsunami here, a massive hurricane there, to reestablish the fundamental concept that we're breakable.

As much as we like to think that we're noble, loving and kind to each other, let's remember that the National Guard gets called out to places like New Orleans just as much to prevent looting and thievery as to protect lives during disasters. When bad things happen, people tend to turn into opportunistic vultures (as they did down in Peru last week after the crash of an airliner; people from surrounding villages literally stripped the crashsite bare of luggage and scrap aluminum for their own use while troops sent to guard the site for investigators just moped around). It's only afterward the danger has passed that the angels of our better nature (and government) step into keep things peaceful and start putting things right. No, we'll still crawl all over each other to get out of the way of a coming disaster when we see it coming.

The latest technology of satellites and radar, which helps us see the uncontrollable coming on a moment's notice over the Internet, is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, the Web helps us prepare with more time than ever before, but it also begins the frenzy earlier than ever. Maybe being unknowing and unprepared wasn't so bad.

No comments: