It makes perfect sense to me. If we really expect the government to build Category 5 levees, we have to build Category 5 houses.
By “Category 5,” I of course refer to the famous Saffir-Simpson Scale for hurricane intensity. The scale was developed by two scientists to help the weather folks and the general public talk about hurricanes. The scale conveniently allows us to understand that some hurricanes are more dangerous than others.
The scale tops out with Category 5, defined as a storm with sustained wind of 155 miles per hour or greater. It’s that or greater part that should catch your eye. As if 155 isn’t scary enough, that’s just the minimum wind speed for a Cat 5.
Let there be no mistake about those storms: they’re as bad as bad gets.
Now it might sound funny to say this now, but New Orleans has been very fortunate. We’ve never (in recorded meteorological history) been hit by a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina, briefly a Cat 5 out in the Gulf, quickly lost steam as she slashed across Louisiana on her way to Mississippi.
Katrina’s storm surge is now officially the biggest ever, both for Louisiana and Biloxi. Wind? Not so much, it turns out. As well we know, the flooding water did all the damage.
So here’s what we’re doing now: we’re rebuilding our homes and we’re begging (in some circles, demanding) for our government in Washington to build Category 5 levees to protect us. We say we’re worried that the dreaded Cat 5 hurricane is destined to come this way, and we want to be safe.
And if Congress and the President have an ounce of decency, they will rise to the mandate that the deaths of 1,300 Americans will not be tolerated. If they have any respect for life and humanity, they will build the levees necessary to protect the million-plus citizens who live in coastal Louisiana from the real danger of storm surges.
But what about wind?
Levees will not shield us from the wind.
Here’s the amazing part: while we talk about Cat 5 levees, we’re rebuilding Cat 2 or less houses. Does that make any sense?
As it stands right now, many houses in New Orleans would not survive a sustained wind of 155 miles per hour or greater. When Katrina made a glancing pass to the east of the city, winds hardly reached 100 miles per hour.
And yet, have you seen all the blue roofs?
So if we are serious about protecting our lives and property from Category 5 hurricanes, what should we be doing with our houses?
If that dreaded Category 5 hurricane does show up one day soon, even if we have the biggest, strongest, smartest, and perfectly impermeable levees on the face of the earth, will it matter? If 200,000 or more homes are left uninhabitable by shredding winds, how will that be any different than the catastrophe brought by Katrina?
I say, if we really expect the government to build Category 5 levees, we have to build Category 5 houses.
Doing one without the other makes no sense at all to me.