16 January 2011
From one river rat to 4.5 million others...
I have to admit that I have been impressed with the people and government of Queensland during their recent flooding. I've followed most of your reports on Twitter and seen some articles and live feeds, and I was amazed at the lack of reports of looting, lawlessness, and general assclownery, and by the prompt and efficient response from the individual citizen all the way up to the federal government level. There just isn't a whole lot you can do when a column of water comes roaring your way except get yourself to high ground...quickly!
It made for a shocking comparison and contrast to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where what little system there was broke down. Now, I'll state (hopefully once and for all) that what happened in New Orleans in 2005 wasn't all President Bush's fault. New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana get hurricanes every year, so it shouldn't have been a big shock to anyone. For the city of New Orleans to have had an evacuation and relocation policy of 'If you know someone with a car, try to catch a ride out of town' was, to say the least, shameful and more likely criminal. To have fleets of buses underwater and old people left in nursing homes indicates to me that no one had the least idea of what to do.
Civil defense plans for natural disasters need to come from the bottom levels of government up-not imposed by the central government. In other words, it isn't up to Washington/Canberra to come up with a plan to evacuate New Orleans/Brisbane. That job is best left to Louisiana/Queensland.
Except that Louisiana and New Orleans never bothered, and Queensland and Brisbane did, it appears.
I'm told that the US offered Australia disaster management specialists. The Good Doctor said that got a good laugh when that came out, given the black eye the Katrina debacle gave us. Personally, I'd have offered Australia an amphibious ready group if one had been in the area, because 1000 Marines can fill and stack a lot of sandbags, the helicopters in the group could have shuttled food and medicine around (and a CH-53 can carry a pile of vegemite), and the amphib ships have good medical facilities on board if onshore hospitals suffer flooding or damage. I'd've told Governor Bligh to put 'em to work. You all would have known best where and how to use them.
Then I read Murph's blog, and he pointed out that perhaps a better comparison would have been to the Flood of 1993 along the Mississippi/Missouri/Illinois River watershed.
I've lived along the river for four decades and change, and everyone here knows that almost every spring the river will go up and probably go over its banks for a while. If it rains nearly every day for two months up north, the river will go up. Most of us just sandbag where we can, get stuff up high where necessary, and get the flatboat out because we'll be needing it before too long.
The Midwest gives its residents a little bit of everything to deal with-floods, droughts, blizzards, lake-effect snows, and tornadoes. So generally our local and state governments are ready and have a plan for most events.
1993 was a nasty flood here. It rained hard up in Wisconsin and Minnesota for most of June and July. By August, most of the floodplains of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri were underwater. You can compare the satellite photos of the Illinois and Missouri River confluences with the Mississippi north of St. Louis.
It was damn soggy up here, but, like the people of Queensland, we just went about the job of sandbagging, watching, making sure people were taken care of, and cleaning up afterward. Citizens worked along public works crews, church and civic groups, and National Guard units to shore up levees, feed and house evacuees, and make sure the elderly and infirm were looked after. Here in Illinois, we even had prisoners working on the levees. Chain gangs-just like a modern-day Cool Hand Luke. Never had a problem with escapes or uprisings either. I suppose a Humvee with a manned machine gun will take the 'fuck you' right out of most groups of prisoners, anyway.
The state and local authorities and individual property owners did what they needed to do without waiting for the national government to step in and coordinate everything-which is probably how it should be for a great many things. We didn't loot, and we didn't fall apart under the strain.
Now the citizens of Queensland get the lovely task of cleaning up all of the debris and mud. I suspect the place smells like a giant armpit and will for a few days or weeks if it stays humid. That won't be fun. But you same citizens have earned a pat on the back. You did magnificently! I think a lot of people that live around the Mississippi river valley would say the same thing. And we grieve with you for the people that died.
As a final note, I read in some blogs posts from people wondering why anyone would build an expensive house right on a known floodplain. It happens here too, and it's still a stupid idea. Give me an old mobile home, put it on stilts, and park it right by the shore. If it gets water in it, I'll hose it out afterward. Done.
Posted by yankeedog at 00:00