Authorities say the catastrophe for working people is a natural disaster, a “1,000-year” event, impossible to plan for. But in fact what happened is a social disaster created by the workings of capitalism.
After the last big flood in 1983, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies met and designed plans to make further social disasters less likely — constructing a canal, a dam and new reservoir to siphon off high water, new levees and other projects. None were ever carried out. Too expensive, they said.
But developers and banks found money to finance and build more houses on low-lying land near area rivers, putting more and more working people at risk.
Little notice was given before the rain hit. The storm dumped as much water as a hurricane like Katrina, Barry Keim, Louisiana’s state climatologist, told the press. Because it didn’t have a federally designated “name” like Katrina, it just “snuck up” on people, he said.
The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness estimated that as many as 160,000 homes have been affected by the flood. Already, more than 120,000 households have applied for federal disaster assistance. One of the hardest hit areas was Livingston Parish, just east of Baton Rouge, where 75 percent of the homes have been destroyed.
Across the region, more than 30,000 people needed rescue. Many were saved not by state or local officials, but by what locals call the “Cajun Navy” — working-class people and neighbors who had set out with their personal boats looking for people who might be in trouble. Many traveled miles, including Katrina veterans, to come to the devastated areas and help.
One of the volunteers from Baton Rouge was Abdullah Muflahi, owner of the Triple S convenience store, the place where Baton Rouge police shot and killed Alton Sterling two months ago, leading to outrage and public protests. Muflahi met Socialist Workers Party vice-presidential candidate Osborne Hart when he joined the protests there.
“The flooding devastated this entire area. And for most people the crisis is ongoing,” Muflahi told the Militant in a phone interview Aug. 28. “People who lost their homes are now fighting for insurance payments and FEMA claims. Many people have complained to me that they were promised less than half of what they lost.
“Many who live here are also renters — and they lost everything and literally have to start over again,” he said. “Their home is wrecked; their car is flooded and totaled out by the insurance company; and almost everyone else near you is in the same situation. These are problems faced by tens of thousands in this area.”
“When the rains slowed down, people brought out their personal boats and trucks to do the work,” Muflahi said. “Without this volunteer help, I fear many people would still be out there and things would be a lot worse.
“If people’s homes were destroyed they have no place to go and no one giving them much help,” he said. “There are shelters, but they are mostly full.”
Working people in the area face a devastating housing crisis. “There simply aren’t habitable homes available for rent,” National Public Radio reported Aug. 19. And if you didn’t have flood insurance — and many didn’t — you face economic calamity.
The state government and FEMA have announced a program along the lines of “Rapid Repairs” — a program initiated by FEMA in response to Superstorm Sandy in New York. The program was notable for one thing — workers hit by the storm said it was structured to reward contractors for doing substandard repair work.
‘Natural’ disasters are result of capitalist profit drive
Residents in deadly Maryland explosion point to landlord, city
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home