Thursday, September 01, 2005

Only beginning to see the damage

The news outlets continue to cover Katarina as though it were just a weather story. Get some shots of the water and fallen buildings, show some boats with rescuers. All reasonable enough, given the scope of the human tragedy still being sorted out. But there are much wider implications to this, not just those having to do with our preparation for national emergencies, but those specific to the importance of the New Orleans area (and especially its port) for national economic health:
The Port of Southern Louisiana stretches up and down the Mississippi River for about 50 miles, running north and south of New Orleans from St. James to St. Charles Parish. It is the key port for the export of grains to the rest of the world -- corn, soybeans, wheat and animal feed. Midwestern farmers and global consumers depend on those exports. The United States imports crude oil, petrochemicals, steel, fertilizers and ores through the port. Fifteen percent of all U.S. exports by value go through the port. Nearly half of the exports go to Europe.
I suspect that if the federal government was poorly prepared for the logistical needs of this crisis, the small farmers, oil refiners, and other businesses that depend on this port will have even less idea how to manage their lives around it. We won't be able to assess the impact of those losses for quite some time, but it could be almost as large as the destruction wrought by the hurricane itself.

(via Medley)

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