Hurricane Katrina: A Natural Disaster or a Disaster that is the Capitalist State

Hurricane Katrina struck USA 's Gulf coast on August 29 flooding and decimating houses and destroying infrastructure in the states of Louisiana , Mississippi and Alabama. The city of New Orleans was deluged. The death toll is estimated to be in tens of thousands and 25, 000 body bags have been ordered. Approximately, 140,000-160,000 houses have been submerged or ruined [1] and initial loss estimates could reach $125 billion, with insured losses of between $40 billion and $60 billion [2].

For 4 days after the hurricane the government had not provided almost any assistance to the people. While President Bush was raising money from the wealthy, Vice President Cheney was on vacation, and the Secretary of State Rice was buying $ 7000/pair shoes, thousands of people were suffering and dying. The President of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana broke into tears during a live interview and said, "The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in US history." Paradoxically the corporate media, for a few days, showed startling images and reports and statements such as "US handles the crisis like a third world country." This shook the ruling elite as the ratings for the President reached the lowest ever and the US consumer confidence plummeted to a 10 year low.

The Capitalist State is Failing the People

Bush has said that the destruction of New Orleans could not be anticipated. Lies! For years federal emergency management agency (FEMA) had categorized New Orleans as a top three potential catastrophe. In 2001 the Scientific American wrote, " New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms." The oil, gas and shipping industries along with the government had been "levying rivers, draining wetlands, dredging channels and cutting canals through marshes" [3]. Since the "1950s [army] engineers have also cut more than 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometres) of canals through the marsh for petroleum exploration and ship traffic" [4]. Property developers also contributed to the destruction of 1 million acres of coastal marshland, the natural protection against flooding, around New Orleans [5]. The levees that protected New Orleans were in a state of disrepair because of the major funding cuts. What was also known was that New Orleans had a 67% African-American population with the average adult income in some city parishes under $8,000 a year while the average national income being $33,000. In total, 27% of the population lived below the poverty line in New Orleans .

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast making landfall very close to New Orleans , the socio-economic and environmental factors exacerbated the impact. The levees burst flooding the city in 20 feet of water. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, "Trapped between three cascades of water were the neighbourhoods of the Lower Ninth Ward, where nearly 14,000 African Americans lived, a third of whom owned no vehicle and a third of whom had physical disabilities." "To the north, water poured through Black and Vietnamese neighbourhoods closer to Lake Pontchartrain , where another 96,000 people lived ... large numbers of those people had not evacuated" [6]. According to reports, 100, 000 Mexicans and 200, 000 migrants from Central America were in the area. The poor, immigrants, infirm, and people without cars were the worst affected as in New Orleans , 24% of adults were disabled and 50,000 households did not have cars [7]. Since the government hardly helped people with transportation and the vulnerable lacked the means to evacuate from the city, they took the brunt of the storm induced flooding.

The people who were lucky to survive and escape to the convention centre or the Superdome were subjected to racism. They were packed like cattle and in interviews they asked, "why are we being treated like animals?" Even the financial press admitted, "Katrina laid bare America 's class divide, as better-off residents escaped New Orleans while poor blacks suffered in the city's stinking Superdome" [8]. In the absence of food, water and medicine, and surrounded by sewage and cadaver filled waters, when people were forced to break into stores they were labeled as looters. Now almost the entire city of New Orleans has been evacuated and it is estimated that about 1 million people will be homeless for months or more.

The most predicted disaster turned into a catastrophe because of government's minimal and haphazard evacuation despite a precise forecast 56 hours before the hurricane struck. The state's hands were also tied because 40% of the Louisiana National Guard is in Iraq . Cuba , whose offer to send 1156 doctors was rejected, on the other hand had in 2004 evacuated 1.5 million people. Its hurricane evacuation of about 10% of its population without a single death had been possible because of neighbourhood committees and Communist cadres [9]. This comparison is quite telling.

The Vultures are Feasting

The national outrage that followed the Gulf Coast catastrophe forced Bush to give $ 62.3 billion, which is estimated to increase to $ 200 billion, to 'rebuild' the area. Soon after the announcement the Army Corps of Engineers received 6, 300 calls from contractors. For the capitalist vultures who feed on human suffering another feast has begun. With most people evacuated the Gulf Coast now has around 70, 000 troops. Firms close to Homeland Security and Pentagon have already received hundreds of millions of no-bid contracts. Blackwater Security, the private militia which is also 'helping' in Iraq , is patrolling the streets of New Orleans while the likes of Halliburton enjoy the feast. Bush also issued an executive order that suspended the depression era Davis-Bacon Act, which led to higher wages on all federal contracts, making the deal sweeter for these corporations [10].

The government was surprised to see that the normally compliant media was stating the facts for a few days. Tony Blair was shocked that BBC's coverage of the hurricane was "full of hatred of America ." Bush and Blair are ensuring that the media is back to its job of building consent amongst the US public.

The People are Resisting

The failure of the capitalist state in preventing the loss of life and suffering in New Orleans has once again unmasked its true nature. When a small country with a 45-year embargo like Cuba can evacuate more than a million people without a single casualty, then how is it that the richest and most powerful country could not defend its own people? The outrage is not just national but international. Numerous protests have been organized by the International Action Center and other organizations with the theme of 'Bush Lies-New Orleans Dies-Money for Our Cities, Not for War' and 'Stop the War on Immigrants and the Poor.'

As the US population gets more and more revulsed by the imperial war abroad and war on the people's livelihood at home, nationwide protests are planned for the coming months. In September, Troops Out Now Coalition, ANSWER coalition and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) have jointly called for a march in Washington on September 24th. The Million Worker March Movement has endorsed a call for the Million More March in Washington in October. The people's hurricane opposing the imperialist wars and the war on the working people is getting stronger. Are the rulers ready for Hurricane People?

- PB


1. The Economist , "The way of Babylon ?" September 8, 2005 .

2. The Financial Times , " Louisiana set for an epic legal fight," September 11, 2005 .

3. Fischetti, M., "Drowning New Orleans ," Scientific American , October, 2001.

4. Bourne, J. K., "Gone with the Water," National Geographic , October 2004.

5. The Economist , "A City Silenced," September 3, 2005 .

6. As quoted in Goldstein, F., "Drowning New Orleans: The putrid waters of capitalist politics," Workers World , September 11, 2005.

7. The New York Times , "A Delicate Balance Is Undone in a Flash, and a Battered City Waits," September 4, 2005 .

8. The Economist , "Seeking a Cure for the Hurricane Hangover," September 16, 2005 .

9. Parenti, M, "How the Free Market Killed New Orleans ," ZNet, September 3, 2005 .

10. Neidenberg, M., "Profiting from Pain: Corporate gold-diggers head to Gulf region," Workers World , September 13, 2005 .