Column: Double Standard Exists Between Katrina, Midwest Flooding

This story was written by Matt Gravens, The Daily Reveille


This past week, there has been massive flooding in the upper Mississippi River valley, causing tremendous damage in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. Large cities in Iowa - including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Iowa City - have suffered extensive damage for the second time in the past 15 years. People in Iowa are comparing the destruction and flooding to the national catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.There are major differences in these two natural calamities.The first is obvious. Hurricane Katrina was responsible for an estimated $185 billion dollars in damage and more than 1,300 deaths. The Midwest flooding so far has only caused an estimated $3 billion dollars of damage and around 24 deaths. The comparison is not even close.Don't get me wrong: The flooding in the Midwest is devastating to many people's lives and is being considered some of the worst flooding in that part of the country in recent history. The event is being blamed for a huge spike in corn prices. The pain is real up there, and my heart goes out to all those affected.The major difference I have noticed is no one is calling for the abandonment of these Midwest cities. I know many people from the Greater New Orleans area were outraged by the suggestion of some educators and media pundits calling for the desertion of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.In September 2005, Edward Glaesar, a Harvard economics professor, published an essay titled "Should the Government Rebuild New Orleans or Just Give Residents Checks?"The essay said the federal government's insurance against disasters encourages bad location decisions. The article goes on to argue that the government should not rebuild New Orleans' infrastructure, but instead give citizens a large lump sum of money to do with as they please.Glaesar goes on to say "the only thing I strongly endorse is having an open-minded national debate about costs and benefits [of rebuilding]."One day after Katrina made landfall, economic professor Jack Chambless argued on Fox News that New Orleans was "a place where ecologically, it makes no sense to have levees keeping the Mississippi River from flooding into New Orleans like it naturally should."Chambless said the federal government should give no help to hurricane victims. Instead, he argued natural disaster victims should rely on charity and insurance payments.Even on National Public Radio there were arguments about whether to and how to rebuild the devastated city. Callers from all over the country were confused about why people even want to live in such a place.Imagine that: People not from southeast Louisiana not understanding the magic of New Orleans.Jack Shafer wrote an article in the online magazine "Slate" which presented the case for not rebuilding the Crescent City."Only a sadist would insist on resurrecting this concentration of poverty, crime, and deplorable schools," Shafer argued.But a few people got it.Sen. Chris Beck, D-Oregon, released a statement arguing for the rebuilding of New Orleans. The senator said New Orleans was the Venice of America and "is where the best and worst of it has found voice, and it behooves us to save this cherished chunk of our past and present, to understand our past so we can be reminded we still have a lot of work to do."The negative attitude of so many outside the state caused others to take up the cause of New Orleans. Chris Rose, Tom Piazza and many others started to get serious about convincing people that New Orleans really did matter.They definitely got it right. New Orleans has fought back amazingly. Hosting the Bowl Championship Series National Championship and NBA All-Star game less than three years later, New Orleans has returned to its former prominence.So why did so many advocate for the abandonment of New Orleans and all its rich history yet no one is calling for the same in the Midwest?I have an answer. People only focus onthe negative. They only saw the poverty and drunkenness in New Orleans. The reason couldn't be the chances of repeat disasters because the last serious hurricane in New Orleans was Hurricane Betsy in 1965, whereas the last major flooding in the Midwest was in 1993.Most of the Midwest is at a high risk for repeat flooding. More than half of Wisconsin and Iowa are designated as flood plains along with large parts of Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, according to a map by the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Services. Some of the same cities in the Midwest are underwater again. Yet no one is yelling and screaming about how tax dollars shouldn't be used to help these people.
  • CBSNews

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.