A lot of folks in and around New Orleans are just happy to have a roof over their heads. In many cases, that roof is blue.
As part of a program funded by FEMA and managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, homeowners with damaged roofs in the disaster area can get a temporary patch of blue tarp “free for nothing.”
And a lot of people have taken the government up on the offer. According to a recent news release from FEMA, they’ve provided 77,510 blue roofs to date just in Louisiana.
Now think about this: Hurricane Katrina wasn’t all that bad a wind event in New Orleans. Sure, she was wound up to Category 5 just days before arriving here. But by landfall, the National Weather Service says Katrina had throttled back to a Category 3 storm. Better yet, the eye slipped to the East of New Orleans, so we missed the worst of her winds.
And yet, look at all those blue roofs. Look at all the homes and businesses that either got wet or came pretty close to getting wet. When water comes in through a bad roof and wets your sheetrock walls, it’s no different than if they got wet from rising flood water: you gotta tear it all out and put in new.
What would happen if New Orleans ever saw the business side of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane? Forget levees—even if we had significant levee protection, I’m thinking we’d have just as many heavily damaged and uninhabitable houses as we do now.
Keep in mind those 77,510 homes were the ones the owners felt were salvageable. No doubt there were many other houses with heavily damaged roofs that never got a tarp because the house is totaled anyway.
Keep in mind also that every shingle that gets pulled loose by hurricane force wind becomes a weapon. Can you imagine the damage that results when the hurricane hurls a few dozen shingles at neighboring houses at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour?
For now, the vast majority of homeowners are fixing their wind-damaged roofs with new roofs of exactly the same kind. No one should be surprised when the same thing happens again when the next Category 3 storm visits us. And let’s hope we don’t see a stronger hurricane for a long, long time.
Perhaps we need to rethink how we do roofs in this part of the world. Perhaps we need to put roofs on our houses that are held in place by some other method than just glue and gravity.