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A New Appreciation for Hurricane Season


For New Orleans residents, including commentator Chris Rose, the state of the levees is just the first in a long checklist of things to worry about today.

Mr. CHRIS ROSE (Columnist, New Orleans Times-Picayune): One way to greet the first day of hurricane season in New Orleans would be to calmly insure that all citizens are fully informed of the latest emergency preparedness information. We could all be like stoic soldiers in one of those epic war movies, confidently nodding to each other to acknowledge the gravity of the mission ahead.

That's one way we could have done it, an effective and dignified way; but, alas, not the New Orleans way. Instead, we've been told the deadly breaches in our levees are still weeks away from repair. When the Corps of Engineers finally tells us they're safe, not one of us will believe them, anyway.

And we're told that the state has several evacuation shelters ready for use in the event of a catastrophic emergency this summer. But their locations are currently being kept secret. Sounds like a great plan to me. We're told that the contra flow traffic evacuation plan that we used last year was perfect.

So we're using exactly the same plan this year. That's the plan that turned the drive to Houston into an 18-hour grind, and resulted in hundreds of cars and families abandoned on the side of the road, because they idled themselves out of gas. No changes at all.

And there's a great new city evacuation plan for those without cars, a plan that relies on the city's public bus system and its drivers to get everyone out. Even though there are reports that the bus company will likely be laying-off 80 percent of its workforce in June, because federal subsidies are about to expire.

Now, some of this would almost be funny, if it weren't so decidedly not. To say those of us who remain here in New Orleans are little worried is like saying the Saints will be underdogs this season. It's a given, a way of life now. When you add up the city, state and federal plans, it looks basically like last year's scenario. Except this year, we can't pretend we don't know this part: If the big one comes, we're on our own, again.

So we're storing away generators, and ammo, and water, and gas, and hatchets to get out of our attics if the water comes. And we're going about the business of rebuilding this city, our homes and our neighborhoods. Whistling past the graveyards maybe against all odds, but isn't that our charmed way? It's always been our sense of magic, delusion and denial that made it us so popular with the visitors from the great elsewhere.

The National Weather Service is calling for a busy hurricane season, so our emergency preparedness plan will basically be what it has been for the past several decades: light a lucky candle, mix a stiff drink, and hope like hell the storms hit Texas and Florida instead of us. For the past 40 years, that was the one plan we could count on to work, until it didn't.

INSKEEP: Did he include ammo in the list of things to store away? Commentary from Chris Rose, a Columnist for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and author of the new book - One Dead In Attic.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chris Rose