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Katrina: Big, but not the Big One
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina could have been a lot worse than it was, but it was still a frighteningly close call. Just before coming ashore, the storm started to weaken and it changed direction just enough so that New Orleans didn't get the direct hammer blow for which it was braced.

But the likelihood of the "Big One," a killer category 5 hurricane taking dead aim at New Orleans or another of our major and fast-growing coastal cities, is a chilling reality. And as the Katrina narrow escape so dramatically demonstrated, there is no such thing as too much advance planning and preparation.

Highly accurate weather forecasting, ample warning, toughened building codes and beefed up emergency preparedness have paid off. Of the 10 deadliest hurricanes to strike the United States, five were 1919 or before and the most recent 1957. But in sheer property damage, since Americans are drawn to the same places as hurricanes, four of the 10 costliest hurricanes were in 2004 alone and none before 1955.

Thanks to a full-court press by television, hurricanes have become a national, communal event. No one could miss the seriousness of Katrina even if the broadcasters did seem to dwell on worst-case scenarios. Taking nothing away from the skill and resourcefulness of the storm reporters, surely one of TV's most bizarre customs is the standup by a rain-lashed reporter in flapping slicker shouting over the wind. But the repetition does seem to underscore the urgency.

The nation witnessed the spectacle of a major city being evacuated. Estimates are that 80 percent of New Orleans' 480,000 residents packed up and left, as did residents of other threatened Gulf Coast towns. President Bush personally urged them to evacuate, adding his authority to that of state and local officials.

The stress and aggravation the evacuees suffered was worth it. Surely lives were saved. Katrina could have remained a 175 mph category 5 and stayed on course, in which case a catastrophe would have been averted. The flooded roads, downed trees and power outages means that the return home will be arduous and there is the uncertainty of what awaits them when they get there.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour raised a worrisome point - the prospect of "hurricane fatigue." That repeated evacuations, especially in instances where the storm suddenly weakens or veers off, mean coastal residents will be increasingly inclined to stay put.

In spite of our super technology and advanced forecasting, there remains only one way to deal with a killer hurricane - flee. The Big One is still out there.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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