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Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Livin' on the Edge

Barring divine intervention, some part of the Gulf Coast is going to have to deal with this next storm. Once Rita’s in the Gulf, that’s the only end game.

There have been debates ad nauseum about New Orleans’ exposure, and whether it makes sense to re-build on a site below the water surrounding it. These conversations aren’t just happening in the world press or popular blogs, either. I’ve had them on my own front porch with friends and neighbors.

No doubt about it, New Orleans is vulnerable – but are they the only ones? What would happen if Rita makes a bee-line for…say… Houston? As a Cat 4? At the right angle?

In February of this year, Eric Berger (the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy”), published an article describing what would happen with our own “perfect storm”. On the SciGuy’s blog this morning, he brought this up, and highlighted several relevant paragraphs, including this one:

"A landfall here would allow its powerful upper-right quadrant, where the waves move in the same direction as the storm, to overflow Galveston Bay. Within an hour or two, a storm surge, topping out at 20 feet or more, would flood the homes of 600,000 people in Harris County. The surge also would block the natural drainage of flooded inland bayous and streams for a day or more."

Not only that, but Houston is currently accommodating over 200,000 additional people, and everybody is helping to their absolute limit. I’m trying to visualize the emotional cost this would have on the hundreds of thousands of evacuees and existing residents, who are already stretched to capacity.

What, then, does this mean to those concerned about rebuilding New Orleans? Well... would they re-build Houston? For me, at least, it means that the world is full of dangers, whether man-made or natural, and every place has risks. California has earthquakes, the far North has blizzards, and the Gulf Coast has hurricanes. But all these places have cultures, and traditions, that cannot be recreated in a random environment. Their very locations, in fact, are what gave each its uniqueness.

So - we build smarter, we learn from mistakes, and we absolutely don’t give up. This next week, though, is going to be very tense for an awful lot of people.