Hurricane Georges
A very massive group of levees may be all that
is in the way of lower lying New
Orleans and destruction with a visit from Hurricane
Georges. Without the levee system
and concrete flood walls Georges could have catastrophic
effects in New Orleans. But
with this man-made hurricane protection system protecting
the city people. New
Orleans is spared the casualties and damage past storms
have wrought. The levee system
is important because the city is like a saucer 6 feet below
sea level and is surrounded by
lakes, swamps, marshes and the Mississippi River. The fact
is, we are living in a large,
shallow bowl with a levee around it,” said Oliver Houck, a
Tulane University law
professor whose major is water resources. The New Orleans
area and location have
allowed hurricanes and floods to prey on its residents
since as early as 1718. A year after
New Orleans was laid out, a low levee had to be
constructed. As the city grew, the need
for a better levee system has been a lasting issue. The
levees were built taller and
stronger, but hurricanes in 1915 and 1947 flooded the city
killing about 200 and 47
people. The current hurricane protection system was
approved by Congress in 1965 after
Hurricane Betsy killed 81 people in southern Louisiana.
Hundreds of millions of dollars
has produced what may be the world’s most elaborate flood
protection system, said Jim
Addison, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers’ New Orleans
District, which builds and monitors the levees. The levees
along the south shore of Lake
Pontchartrain and other key areas are designed to protect
the city from a fast-moving
hurricane of Georges power. The levees work together with
channels that shift flood
waters to strong pumping stations. Then water is sent back
into the lake. But Georges is
moving slowly, meaning up to 25 inches of rain could fall
on New Orleans and the wind
could push the lake over the levees.

Hurricane Georges caused an estimated $1 billion
in insured property damage in
four Gulf Coast states. This made it the costliest
hurricane in the United States this year.,
The cost is nearly three times as much as that of Hurricane
Bonnie, which cost insurers in
the North and South Carolina and Virginia $360 million
earlier this year. And Georges
cost dominates the $25 million in damage from this year’s
Hurricane Earl, which edged
the Florida coast, Georgia and South Carolina .But Georges
cost is not close to the $15.5
billion in insured losses from Hurricane Andrew, which hit
south Florida, Louisiana and
Texas in 1992. It’s the nation’s costliest hurricane.The
Projections do not include flood
damage, which is not covered by homeowners’ insurance. The
flooding is bad news for
thousands of homeowners returning to their waterlogged
property and for taxpayers. Most
homeowners in the counties hit by Georges had not purchased
flood protection from the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, which means they will
likely seek low-interest
federal loans to help recover. Insured storm damage from
Hurricane Georges also was
estimated at $1 billion in the Caribbean. Most of those
losses, in a region where just 30%
of households are insured, came from damage to businesses.
Nearly a month after Hurricane Georges hit the
islands of the northern Caribbean,
bodies of the dead are still turning up in Haiti, pushing
the Caribbean death toll higher
and higher. Poor communications in Haiti delayed reports on
deaths, injuries and
damages from the storm. Its toll has risen to 213 and is
likely to top 240, a civil defense
official said Monday. Georges is now being blamed for
killing at least 509 people across
the Caribbean, including 283 in the Dominican Republic. A
report on storm damage from
Haiti’s northern district has yet to be completed, he said.
Some 30 people were reported
missing and feared dead from the storm, which struck Haiti
on Sept. 23, Deslorges said.
Most of the Haitian deaths were blamed on flooding and mud
slides in rural, mountainous
areas. For generations, Haitian peasants have cut down
trees to make charcoal, denuding
mountains and leaving them unable to absorb rainfall. A
flash flood nearly destroyed the
southeastern border town of Fonds Verrettes, where 102
people died. Georges destroyed
thousands of homes and killed more than 56,000 head of
livestock, Deslorges said.
Finance and Economics Minister Fred Joseph has estimated
agricultural damage at more
than $300 million. The United States has provided $12
million in relief aid, Taiwan
$300,000 and the U.N. Development Program $100,000. Canada,
Germany and Japan
also have donated relief funds and supplies. Georges killed
five people in Cuba, three in
Puerto Rico, three in St. Kitts and Nevis, and two in
Hurricane Georges crashed into the Dominican Republic on
September 22, 1998,
touching off flood waters that swallowed up hundreds,
perhaps thousands, of flimsy
homes along a river bank in the Sabana Perdida shantytown.
The storm killed more than
370 people in the Caribbean over 200 in the Dominican
Republic alone – and four in the
United States. It also drove 7,000 slum dwellers into a
half dozen squalid shelters in the
capital, Santo Domingo. Damages to farms, roads and
buildings from the late September
1998 rampage of Hurricane Georges surpassed $1.2 billion in
the Dominican Republic.
The hurricane hit several large islands in its march across
the Caribbean, but damage and
death were especially heavy in the Dominican Republic. In
addition to personnel and
supplies from the United States, aid came in from France,
Spain, Italy, Canada, Chile and
other nations. The government also sought help from the
World Bank and other
international agencies. Only 5% of the country’s tourism
centers were damaged by the
storm,Montas said. But some of the natural beauty that
draws tourists will need time to
recover.”Our ecology has suffered serious damages from the
severe deforestation caused
by the hurricane,” said Omar Ramirez, director of national
parks. Underscoring the
desperation after Georges, a mob of hungry people swarmed
an aid convoy bringing food,
water and second-hand clothes from the United States to
victims of Hurricane Georges.
Relief workers and police beat them back with sticks, to
little avail. In the end, the aid
went not to those most in need, but to those who could jump
the highest, shoulder the
heaviest burdens and bear the most punishment. A self-made
millionaire who grew up in
New York, Fernando Mateo, organized relief shipments in
hopes of taking aid straight to
the people. The Dominican-born businessman said previous
disaster relief and
government assistance to the poor had been stolen by
corrupt officials or manipulated for
political gain.Donated by thousands of Dominican immigrants
living in New York City
and New Jersey, the provisions were delivered to one of the
capital’s most impoverished
areas. But what began as a well-intentioned and orderly
relief effort quickly became
chaotic. Hundreds of residents pushed past a chain-link
fence at a refugee compound
where the aid trucks were parked. A call to form single-
file lines outside the 10-foot
barrier was ignored, as hungry people squeezed through
narrow cracks or scrambled over
the top of the fence despite barbed wire that sliced their
bare feet. After futile attempts to
swat back the surging throng, volunteers manning the trucks
began to hurl boxes, bottles
and bags. City official Alejandro Obrero said the mad
scramble for aid showed how
precariously people were living even before the latest
disaster.”There’s an immense
poverty in the Dominican Republic,” he said. “The hurricane
didn’t create that. It just
brought it bubbling to the surface.”
Bulldozing across Puerto Rico on September 21,
1998, Hurricane Georges served
up a powerful reminder of what nature can do: rivers
overflowed, trees were strewn like
matchsticks across highways, and 4 million people were left
without power.At least five
Puerto Ricans were killed – along with at least six others
who died as a result of the storm
elsewhere in the Caribbean. Damages reached $2 billion.
Although accustomed to
hurricanes every few years, Puerto Ricans were stunned by
the widespread impact of
Georges. Its 110 mph winds spared not an inch of the U.S.
territory as it swept westward
after hitting ground late September 21,1998.President
Clinton declared Puerto Rico a
disaster area. Georges raked the island, denuding
hillsides, toppling power lines, peeling
off roofs. Road signs on the Luis A. Ferre Expressway
simply disappeared, billboards
were flung aside and street debris ranged from porch
awnings to a Gulf gasoline station
sign.As the rains receded, rivers swelled, overflowing
their banks in the northern coastal
towns of Arecibo and Barceloneta. The tree-lined streets of
Barceloneta were under 4 feet
of water, and more than 200 homes lost their roofs. In the
capital of San Juan, where
almost half the island’s people live, the typical sight was
that of downed trees – in some
areas most were felled onto roads or broken in half. Some
flooded roads were impossible
to traverse. There were also many downed power lines – so
many that all of Puerto Rico
was blacked out. The state power company urged retirees to
report to work and asked for
help from private contractors. Damage to the power grid
alone was estimated at $60
million. In the east coast town of Humacao, 4 feet of water
surged into the municipal
government building. The police headquarters in the central
city of Caguas was
destroyed. In the southern city of Ponce, which suffered
some of the worst winds and
rain, damage totaled $50 million. Damage was expected to
far exceed that of Hurricane
Hugo in 1989, which crossed only the northeast corner of
the island and paralyzed San
Juan for weeks. The home of Paula Aponte Figueroa had its
roof blown off and deposited
on top of the house of her neighbor, Pedrom Juan Morales.
It even stripped the paneling
off the walls inside Aponte’s wooden home in San Juan’s
Hato Rey section.”This thing
was a monster,” said Morales, who lost part of his roof
and suffered flood damage. ”Hugo
was a little breeze compared to this.”
The stalks of rice were covered in mud shortly
after Georges struck in late
September, 1998, but the Haitian farmer, naked from the
waist up, thrashed them against
a rock in a cloud of dust to dislodge the under-ripe, dirty
– and precious – grains.
Throughout the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti – the
breadbasket of a nation that even
in good times can’t feed itself – floods unleashed by
Hurricane Georges devastated crops
almost ready for harvest. Haiti is the hemisphere’s poorest
country and could ill afford a
setback like this. Many people are undernourished, per
capita income is $250 a year and
life expectancy is among the world’s lowest 57 years. At
least 167 people were killed in
Haiti by Georges. Forty years ago, Fonds Verrettes
flourished at the foot of wooded
mountains, but farm incomes fell and impoverished peasants
cut down trees to make
charcoal. With no forest cover to absorb Georges’
torrential rains, storm runoff crashed
through the town, destroying dozens of homes and
buildings.In the village of Jean-Denis,
people boiled musty rice in huge cauldrons to try to make
it suitable for sale. Thousands
of subsistence farmers hacked away at their crops, trying
to harvest them before they rot.
Heavy rain in the mountains from Hurricane Georges
overwhelmed a hydroelectric dam
and sent a wave of water spilling into this eroded valley.
Both the Artibonite River and
hundreds of irrigation canals dug crosswise into the
fertile ground soon overran their
banks. Huge stretches of the valley were transformed into a
lake, leaving thousands
stranded. Georges did produce a windfall of sorts in the
nearby village of Salifoudret,
where it flooded houses, then deposited tons of sand on top
of the ready-for-harvest rice
fields. Each fall, in the rainy season, sand washes into
Salifoudret and the residents gather
it to sell to construction companies for $16 a truckload.
The deposits have never been as
big as this year, residents said, as dozens loaded 150-
pound baskets of sand on their
heads and sorted it into 6-foot piles along the riverbed so
trucks could cart it away.