Category Archives: Natural Disasters

We’re Talking About Money, Honey

Felix Salmon:

Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it — faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.

Please don’t.

We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.

In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”

Tyler Cowen:

For reasons which you can find outlined in my Discover Your Inner Economist, I am generally in sympathy with arguments like Felix’s, but not in this case.  I see a three special factors operating here:

1. The chance that your aid will be usefully deployed, and not lost to corruption, is much higher than average.

2. I believe this crisis will bring fundamental regime change to Japan (currently an underreported issue), rather than just altering the outcome of the next election.  America needs to signal its partnership with one of its most important allies.  You can help us do that.

3. Maybe you should give to a poorer country instead, but you probably won’t.  Odds are this will be an extra donation at the relevant margin.  Sorry to say, this disaster has no “close substitute.”

It may be out of date, but the starting point for any study of Japan is still Karel von Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power.   Definitely recommended.

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior

John Carney at CNBC:

The fact that Charlie Sheen has decided donate a portion of the money from his live stage shows to help people affected by earthquake in Japan should be all you need to know that donating money to Japan is a bad idea.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and even chemical or nuclear disasters can provoke a strong urge on the part of people to want to provide disaster relief in the form of charitable donations directed at those afflicted by the most recent disaster. This is almost always a mistake.

Almost all international disaster relief is ineffective. Part of the reason for this is that relief groups rarely know who is suffering most, or how aid can be most effectively directed.

Reihan Salam

Annie Lowrey at Slate:

Concern and generosity are entirely human—and entirely admirable!—responses to the disaster and tragedy in Japan. But if you really want to be helpful, as Felix Salmon and others have noted, there might be better ways to donate your money than just sending it to Japan. There are two basic rules for being useful: First, give to organizations with long track records of helping overseas. Second, leave it up to the experts to decide how to distribute the aid.

The first suggestion is simple: Avoid getting scammed by choosing an internationally known and vetted group. Big, long-standing organizations like Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross are good choices. If choosing a smaller or local group, try checking with aid groups, Guidestar, or the Better Business Bureau before submitting funds.

The second suggestion is more important. Right now, thousands of well-intentioned donors are sending money to Japan to help it rebuild. But some portion of the donated funds will be earmarked, restricted to a certain project or goal, and therefore might not do the Japanese much good in the end. Moreover, given Japan’s extraordinary wealth and development, there is a good chance that aid organizations will end up with leftover funds they will have no choice but to spend in country—though the citizens of other nations wracked by other disasters, natural or man-made, might need it more. Aid organizations can do more good when they decide how best to use the money they receive.

Taylor Marsh:

As for giving to Japan, don’t and here’s why, unless you want to give specifically to an organization like Doctors Without Borders.

Mahablog:

Felix Salmon wrote a column for Reuters warning people “don’t donate money to Japan.” His argument is that donations earmarked for a particular disaster often “leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places.”

Commenters pointed out that many relief organizations accept donations with a disclaimer that surplus funds may be applied elsewhere. And other relief organizations don’t allow for earmarking of donations at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a burst of cash during an extraordinary crisis.

Salmon also wrote, “we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective.”

That last probably is true. I also have no doubt that various evangelical groups already are planning their crusades to Japan to rescue the simple indigenous people for Christ in their time of need. (Update: Yep.)

So if you do want to donate money, I suggest giving to the excellent Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization headquartered in Taiwan. Relief efforts in Japan are being coordinated through long-established Tzu Chi offices and volunteer groups in Japan, not by random do-gooders parachuting in from elsewhere. Tzu Chi does a lot of good work around the globe, so your money will be put to good use somewhere.

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Disaster In Japan

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up of live blogs

Naked Capitalism:

When a smaller earthquake struck near Tokyo a couple of days ago, I wondered if worse was on the way soon.

Japan has been overdue for a major earthquake, given their historical frequency. Perversely, there was much more worry about the impact of a major quake on Japan when it was an economic force to be reckoned with (perhaps a subconscious wish to cut the seemingly unbeatable Japanese down to size?). While the horrific death count that resulted from the last great quake in 1923, led the Japanese to impose vastly tougher building codes and continue to improve upon earthquake-related technology, events like this too often have a nasty way of defeating careful planning. But this tremblor, which registered a formidable magnitude 8.8, was off the northern coast, but still has produced serious disruptions in Tokyo. There are no good reports of the damage yet.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Livestream news from Hawaii seem to show non-devastating waves and pullbacks as the tsunami spreads out from its source in Japan, but at “fairly significant numbers,” according to the islands’ tsunami guy. Japan is still reporting a shockingly low death toll from such a significant event; but that toll is expected to rise. In Hawaii, people seem nervous but assured: “I’ve cut my feet on this reef a few times but nothing like this,” said the KHNL newscaster a few minutes ago, looking at the exposed Diamondhead reef, which is now getting some water again. So far they’ve seen surge of about six feet; it’s now expected to top out at 8 or 9 feet. In the 1946 tsunami, waves lasted all day; this is not expected to be as severe, but you’ll see “odd behavior” all day around Hawaii. After 7 a.m., foot-size waves are expected to reach California.

Michelle Malkin:

Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of the country has caused devastating loss of life and destruction. Readers in Hawaii e-mail that they have prepared for coastal flooding as well. Be safe, friends.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable.  My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage.  The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.

Jack Spencer at Heritage:

Reports coming from Japan say the quake caused millions of people to evacuate buildings, and the government ordered people near several of the country’s nuclear power plants to leave. Concerns about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor, one of Japan’s 11 nuclear reactors, led to the precautionary evacuation. The biggest concern is that the electricity shortage at the plant is making it difficult for crews to operate the plant’s reactor cooling system quickly.

It is important to remember that the evacuation efforts are cautionary measures rather than indicative of any certain danger posed by the nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear power plants, like our own, are built to withstand earthquakes. Plants are engineered to shut down the moment an earthquake hits. Beyond that, each nuclear power plant is fitted with numerous and layered safety mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the facility.

Indeed, even if all of those systems fail, which has not been the case in Japan based on current information, the physics of light water reactors (the type operated in both Japan and the U.S.) make them inherently safe. The same water used to cool the reactor is also necessary to sustain the nuclear reaction. Should the ability to cool the reactor be lost because of an inability to pump coolant to the core, as is the case with the one Japanese reactor, the nuclear reaction will cease. However, it is much too early to even assume that has happened.

Digby:

I was watching the live coverage of the tsunami in Japan last night and could not believe what I was seeing. It was something out of a movie — a movie that I would have thought was somewhat ridiculous until I saw this surge from the birds eye view. Unbelievable.

I’m sitting here now, six blocks from the beach in California, waiting for the wave to hit the west coast. Luckily it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to us at this point.

The good news is that if the Republicans have their way, when one of these things does hit us in this earthquake zone, we won’t have warning:

Thursday night’s massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami warnings that have alarmed U.S. coasts, seem likely to ignite a debate over a previously little-discussed subsection of the spending bills currently being debated in Congress.

Tucked into the House Republican continuing resolution are provisions cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, as well as humanitarian and foreign aid.

Presented as part of a larger deficit reduction package, each cut could be pitched as tough-choice, belt-tightening on behalf of the GOP. But advocates for protecting those funds pointed to the crisis in Japan as evidence that without the money, disaster preparedness and relief would suffer.

“These are very closely related,” National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien told The Huffington Post with respect to the budget cuts and the tsunami. “The National Weather Service has the responsibility of warning about tsunami’s also. It is true that there is no plan to not fund the tsunami buoys. Everyone knows you just can’t do that. Still if those [House] cuts go through there will be furloughs at both of the tsunami warning centers that protect the whole country and, in fact, the whole world.”

The House full-year continuing resolution, which has not passed the Senate, would indeed make steep cuts to several programs and functions that would serve in a response to natural disasters (not just tsunamis) home and abroad. According to Sobien, the bill cuts $126 million from the budget of the NWS. Since, however, the cuts are being enacted over a six-month period (the length of the continuing resolution) as opposed to over the course of a full year, the effect would be roughly double.

I realize that the productive wealthy can’t be taxed but I hope they’re all thinking ahead and employing their own natural disaster experts or they might suffer right along with the rest of us.

Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:

I grew up in Japan from Kindergarten through high school, so when I learned about the earthquake that struck the country this morning, I immediately had flashbacks to the many disaster preparedness drills I had gone through growing up. The images on the television of the aftermath of the earthquake are undoubtedly extreme and the level of damage from this natural disaster is more than any that I can remember from my lifetime. In addition to the news on television, a glance at facebook shows that many of my friends from Japan are scared as well. It seems that many phone lines are not working and I am sure the mobile phone networks are over-saturated as well. I’m also learning interesting pieces of news, apparently the roof of an ice skating rink my friends and I used to go to as a kid has collapsed.

However, only Japan could be hit with an 8.9 scale quake and come out of it with only hundreds dead. Similarly large earthquakes in less prepared countries have killed tens of thousands almost instantly. (A 7.5 earthquake in Bangladesh killed 90,000 people within minutes in 2010).

When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Japan does set the gold standard. In addition to strict building codes, a concerted effort is made to train and drill the entire population. Schools regularly practice evacuation routes, classrooms keep enough helmets in stock for all students, and reminders about where the safest place to be during a quake (under tables or in doorways) are constantly reiterated. I have vivid memories of an earthquake simulation truck that would travel around to educate people about what a large quake would feel like. The truck would be cut open to reveal a diorama of a living room. A series of springs would be activated to shake the diorama at levels up to and beyond the scale of quakes that Japan would normally be hit by.

Just as important as the civil preparedness, the security of Japan’s infrastructure is also a high priority. Its nuclear power plants have managed to be controlled despite initial concerns of a cooling problem.

Earthquakes are also excellent times to remember that Japan’s architects and construction companies are some of the best and most thorough in the world. Web video is already circulating of Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically.  This video may look shocking to the uninitiated, but it is actually a very good thing: it is much better for a building to move and sway with the earthquake as opposed to resisting it.

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More NYC Snow Posts, More Use Of Simpsons Songs To Explain NYC Snow Problems

Sally Goldenberg, Larry Celona and Josh Margolin in NY Post:

These garbage men really stink.

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

“They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.

Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department — and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan — at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.

J.P. Freire at Washington Examiner:

I reported yesterday how well compensated these people are:

…[T]he top salary of $66,672 is only the tip of the iceberg for active sanitation worker compensation because it excludes other things like overtime and extra pay for certain assignments. For example, one worker in 2009 had a salary of $55,639 but actually earned $79,937 for the year.

Sanitation workers don’t pay a dime for premiums on their cadillac health care plan, which includes prescription drug coverage along with dental and eye care for the whole family. Many continue to receive the full benefit upon retiring after only 10 years. And then there’s the matter of their pension:
…Nearly 180 retired [sanitation workers] make over $66,000 year — in other words, over and above the maximum salary of currently working employees. In fact, 20 retirees make upwards of $90,000 in retirement, up to $132,360.

Keep that in mind when reading lines like this:

…[M]ultiple Sanitation Department sources told The Post yesterday that angry plow drivers have only been clearing streets assigned to them even if that means they have to drive through snowed-in roads with their plows raised.

And they are keeping their plow blades unusually high, making it necessary for them to have to run extra passes, adding time and extra pay.

One mechanic said some drivers are purposely smashing plows and salt spreaders to further stall the cleanup effort.

Sure, Mayor Bloomberg planned poorly and should have announced a snow emergency. But this story makes it clear that even if he did, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The question is whether Bloomberg will do anything about it.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Among the victims of this crime: A newborn baby died after waiting nine hours for paramedics to arrive.

Doug Mataconis:

Assuming this is true it’s likely to provide much more ammunition to the arguments of those on the right who have started speaking out against the very idea of a public employees being allowed to unionize. Personally, I don’t think it would be appropriate to ban people from voluntarily associating just because they’re public employees. However, situations like this do raise the legitimate question of whether public employees in certain positions should be legally permitted to engage in some of the tactics that unions in the private sector engage during work disputes. When you’re a position where your job is one that is essential to the operation of the city — like a policeman, fireman, or sanitation worker — I think it’s highly questionable to concede that you should the right to go on strike. Essentially what happens in that situation is that the Union has a huge negotiating advantage over the city because leaders would not want to deal with the backlash that would result from the fact that garbage hasn’t been picked up in a week.

Ronald Reagan set the precedent for this in 1980 when he fired every air traffic controller in the country for going on a strike that they were not legally permitted to call. Of course, no American city would be able to do the same thing with it’s police force for fire department, which is why forbidding essential public employees from going on strike seems to me to be an entirely reasonable idea.

Megan McArdle:

On the face of it, it’s not implausible–it wouldn’t be the first time that New York City unions chose the worst possible time to show their displeasure with working conditions.  (Two of the last three transit strikes, for example, have taken place during the holiday season.)

Nonetheless, the charges are serious, and I’d like to see some better backup than a politician claiming he has secret union informants.  If it is true that the trucks were driving around with their plows up, refusing to plow any but the streets they were specifically directed to plow, presumably there will be witnesses who saw this.  Similarly, I assume that people noticed if their streets were plowed with the plows set too high, requiring a second pass.
In individual cases, that won’t tell you whether it was an organized plan, incompetent individual workers, or workers who were simply trying to score a little extra overtime for themselves.  But in aggregate, it should be possible to detect a pattern.  Couldn’t the Post find anyone in Queens or the Bronx who claims to have seen this misbehavior?
Hopefully, Bloomberg will appoint some sort of investigative committee–after all, it’s his political price to pay.  Of course, even if it turns out that the sanitation workers did make things worse, that won’t absolve the mayoral administration that apparently decided to ignore the storm warnings rather than pay the sanitation workers expensive overtime for working the Christmas holiday.

Don Suber

Mike Riggs at Daily Caller

Ed Morrissey:

I’m a little skeptical, but mainly because the primary source for the conspiracy theory is an elected official who can expect to be held accountable for the poor performance thus far in the Big Apple.  Also, the Twin Cities had the same level of snowfall a few weeks ago, and snow removal was a problem for us, too.  Minneapolis/St Paul and the first-ring suburbs have a large amount of infrastructure to deal with heavy snowfalls and about a fifth of the population, and we still have huge piles of snow blocking sidewalks downtown.  Heck, we can’t even get the Metrodome fixed; now, the estimate for repair and reinflation is the end of March.  I’m not sure that NYC could have done better, with its relatively smaller snow-removal infrastructure, lack of places to put the snow, and population density.

Is it possible that this was a coordinated slowdown effort by public-sector unions to make Bloomberg and city officials look incompetent?  Sure, but the simpler answers are usually closer to the truth.  The simpler answers here are that this was freakishly heavy snowfall in a city not used to such things, and, well, it has a mayor more interested in salt use in restaurants than on the roads.

 

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It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A Tweet From Cory Booker!

Cory Booker’s twitter feed

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair:

Newark mayor Cory Booker is now taking requests from snowed-in constituents. Since the East Coast blizzard hit on Sunday, residents of Newark have been tweeting appeals for Booker to dispatch snowplows and rescue vehicles to specific streets and neighborhoods. “I need street names and patience,” he told one cold and concerned tweeter. We simply cannot wait for the graphic-novelization (and subsequent Zack Snyder movie!) of Booker’s post-blizzard Twitter feed. (@CoryBooker, can you make this happen?) Let’s review his 10 most heroic moments thus far.

10. “will get someone to your mom’s street, tell her to stay put RT @sexylp40 my mom stuck on 9th ave and 12th that whole block wasn’t plowed”

9. “Can u DM me his phone #?RT @NewNewark: @corybooker rec this text Tell mayor, Mr Lou Jones 224 Richileu ter. He’s disabled needs help.”

8. “I seriously had that fantasy today RT @papistorz: wouldn’t it b easier 2 get a flame thrower n melt the snow?”

7. “God Bless the 5 guys who just stopped to help me dig a van out. I am so grateful for all of Newark’s heroes today.”

6. “I’m coming on the scene now RT @Cutiepie27: come on orange st. and help this truck get out the snow he been stuck for like 30 minutes now”

5. “Sending team immediately back there 2 ensure hospital is clear RT @Babihead: still has yet to clean my street & I live across from hospital!”

4. “I just doug out ur car. All the best RT @MsXmasBaby: Is there NE city volunteers 2 dig some1 out? I’m going 2 have medical procedure done”

3. “Just doug a car out on Springfield Ave and broke the cardinal rule: ‘Lift with your Knees!!’ I think I left part of my back back there”

2. “Just freed a med transport van here at Cottage Place in Central Ward. Private contractor needs 2 be arrested 4 leaving these folks stranded”

1. “Thanks 4 asking, back killing me: Breakfast: Advil and diet coke RT @itsmywayRob Hows ur back from lifting car last night? I hope u’re OK”

Jen Doll at The Village Voice:

A hero has emerged from all the snowflake rubble and ice, and that hero is Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Yesterday Myles (who’s out shoveling as we speak!) mentioned that Booker had been delivering diapers to babies, patroling the streets with his trusty shovel, and even helping kids understand the strength-in-numbers beauty of a snowflake, all the while Tweeting his aid to those who need it

Sam Gustin at Wired:

But Booker’s Twitter clinic wasn’t the only innovative use of social and web-based media during the Snowmageddon of December 2010.

By Tuesday morning, tech-savvy citizens were using Ushahidi, a crowdsourced mapping tool, to collect reports of various problems around New York.

Snowmageddon Clean-Up: New York had more than 100 reports by midday Tuesday, detailing such issues as: “Multiple elders on this block as well as a disabled young adult. Should an emergency arise, the City will have a lawsuit on their hands.” And: “Entire apartment complex snowed in. We cant get out. running out of food…” (That one’s from Highlands, New Jersey, but you get the, uh, drift.)

David Freedlander at The New York Observer:

At Mayor Bloomberg’s Bronx news conference today, The Politicker asked Hizzoner if he had been peering over the river to check out his friend Cory Booker’s efforts to deal with the snow clean-up. Bloomberg after all has been swamped by criticism for suggesting that New Yorkers take advantage of being unable to get out of their homes the Snow Day by checking out Broadway shows.

Booker, on the other hand, earned the nickname “Mayor Plow” for delivering diapers to a housebound mother, digging out snowbound seniors, and for responding to residents’ pleas for snowplows personally via Twitter.

In response to our question, the mayor replied, “I think Cory Booker is a great mayor. And what’s appropriate for Newark and for his people, I am certainly going to take a look and see what he is doing. I am going to call him this afternoon and say, ‘Hey, you know, what are you doing?'”

When pressed by another reporter if Booker was being lauded for presenting an image of working hard to help his constituents deal with the blizzard, Bloomberg said, “I’d like to think that we have that image as well. I can’t work much harder.”

Now Booker has weighed in (via Twitter, of course) writing, “People far 2 rough on @mikebloomberg – still fighting 2 clear snow in NWK & we are 1/29th size of NYC.”

Doug Mataconis:

Nonetheless, Booker’s hands-on approach to digging his city out of the snow has garnered international attention. It’s not a gimmick either. Since becoming Mayor, Booker has been active in turning Newark around after decades of being governed by mostly corrupt Mayors, and he’s allied himself with Governor Christie on issues like education reform even though the two of them come from different political parties. And on that note, there has already been talk among New Jersey Democrats of nominating Booker for Governor in 2013, although nobody seems to know if he’s actually interested in running for that office. If he does run, though, Booker may find that just as snowstorms have been the downfall of politicians like New York Mayor John Lindsey,Chicago Mayor Michael Blandic and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Cory Booker could be proof that actively responding to constituents and helping them through a crisis works to a politicians benefits.

Credit for The Simpsons reference must go to Jake Tapper. But everyone would have thought if it eventually.

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“Good Morning America How Are You? Don’t You Know Me I’m Your Native Son.”

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

I was in Toyko, my first and only trip to Asia, when Katrina hit, and rather than wander that exotic place I spent many hours in the hotel room, watching CNN and monitoring Web sites, rapt and horrified like everyone else. The hurricane was awful enough, but the aftermath was shattering — the incompetent response, the rapidly deteriorating conditions at the Superdome, the people dying in wheelchairs. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One, a politically fatal fly-over. There were those rumors (untrue) of roving gangs of rapists, as ugly racial fears surfaced. We all saw poverty and desperation like we hadn’t seen before. This can’t be America, is what a lot of people thought.

I remember we had a lot of great commentary on the Achenblog during the crisis. Unfortunately, they’re no longer live on The Post’s Web site, though maybe they’re stored somewhere. Here’s what I wrote, filing from Japan, one week into the crisis:

Katrina has become a story about race in America. Most affluent and semi-affluent Americans rarely see poor people — they live on the other side of town. The poor of the Deep South, largely black, haven’t been front and center in American consciousness since the 1960s. Katrina has changed that. Even though it’s a painful and rancorous issue, maybe some good will come out of it (predictable upbeat happy note). [A minute ago I caught myself on the verge of using the phrase “well-meaning whites” and had a Dave B. thought: “The Well-Meaning Whites” would make a great name for a rock band.]

There are many types of racism, including the type that says there’s no racism in America anymore, and the situation would be precisely the same if the victims all looked like Macauley Culkin. Then there’s institutional racism: We have to ask whether the government would have been better prepared for this sort of situation in New Orleans if the most vulnerable communities hadn’t been, for the most part, black neighborhoods. (Like, were the levees considered good enough for “the black part of town?”) [The Chicago Tribune ran a graphic showing elevation and demographics in New Orleans; to a striking degree the areas below sea level are predominantly African American.] This will likely wind up in congressional hearings — full-blown postmortems, with testimony from folks high and low, the rescuers and the not-quickly-rescued, that will be far more dramatic than the Supreme Court confirmation hearings (now plural).

In the meantime, there are a couple of good stories in The Post today on the racial dimension of Katrina and the slow response by the government. One is by Wil Haygood, who has been filing daily from the scene of the disaster, and who explains today why so many poor people didn’t evacuate before the storm hit. The second is an essay by Lynne Duke and Teresa Wiltz in the Style section, and one passage jumps out:

“In the Chicago Fire of 1871, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, minority groups (Germans, African Americans and Chinese) were rumored to be preying on white women by chewing on their fingers to steal their jewelry. It’s not such a stretch to see parallels in the unconfirmed reports of roving bands of rapists in New Orleans.”

In Japan, at the Memorial Hall for the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, there is a separate monument to the Koreans who were killed because of rumors that they had caused the quake and were poisoning the water supply. There was no truth to it, of course. But in times of crisis, people turn on minorities. It will be interesting to see if some of the early news reports about gangs of armed thugs, about people shooting on rescue helicopters, hold up. Rumors are thick in a whirlwind.

I’ve been to New Orleans a few times this summer, and it still shows the effects of the Big One. At least that’s my impression, for what it’s worth. Bourbon Street is as rowdy as ever (the destiny of all iconic American locales is to become parodies of themselves), and the Garden District has charm to burn, but I still had the sense of a place damaged not just by water but by an exodus of people and capital.

Howard Steven Friedman at The Huffington Post:

I was working in Accra, the capital of Ghana, when the Katrina disaster occurred. The immediate reaction of one of my Ghanaian coworkers was to state, “America will rebuild New Orleans in no time!” With my natural cynicism, I asked, “Why are you so confident that American will react quickly?” My Ghanaian coworker countered, “America is the richest, most powerful country in the world. You even put a man on the moon. If America can spend billions of dollars on wars in Iraq, it can certainly rebuild a city in no time.” He then proceeded to challenge me:

Of course, America is a very corrupt country with a dirty history of oppression, injustice and slavery. While America likes to lecture Ghana about corruption, every African knows all about Halliburton’s no-bid contracts and their connections to your vice president.

He then qualified his initial statement by saying, “America could rebuild New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

When our conversation ended, I walked away with many thoughts spinning in my head. I remembered how outside the United States, people are often more aware of other countries, cultures, history and news than Americans. Perhaps this is a reflection of America’s educational system, America’s embedded self-perception of exceptionalism or merely a negative side-effect of America being so powerful. I remembered the launching of the 2003 Iraq invasion and how pathetic Colin Powell appeared trying to defend the upcoming invasion with “evidence of weapons of mass destruction” that wouldn’t convince most schoolchildren, let alone the rest of the world. I remembered the feelings of helplessness as the American government insisted on waging a war, with virtually no debate or discussion in Congress or in the media, while public protests were actively suppressed. Finally, I remembered my grandfather’s collection of newspaper cover pages. His favorite was the 1969 moon landing as he insisted that the manned moon landing was the greatest event in all of history, not merely U.S. history. Mankind, he argued, had been staring at the moon throughout history, and America will always be known as the first country to place a human there.

Five years later, I dread running into that same Ghanaian coworker. He would undoubtedly remind me of the government’s poor response to those suffering during Hurricane Katrina. He would point out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failures, FEMA’s issues, the needless death and the slow recovery of many parts of the city. He would soon swing the conversation to talk about more recent events. He would cite how the US government can find so many billions of dollars to support banks, bankers and other financially and politically elite, as well as pay for wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan but how America is torn apart arguing about providing basic health care to all its citizens. He would point out that the ugly reality of American inequality raised its head in the government’s reaction to Katrina. He would remind me of the media’s obsession with race-based stories about chaos and hooliganism, prominently displaying images of armed national guards. Lastly, he would conclude that “A person, group or even a country’s priorities are reflected in how they spend their time and money. America could have rebuilt New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

Michael D. Brown at The Daily Beast:

This still “minor” Hurricane Katrina struck Florida at 7 p.m. All responders were prepared yet there were still nine Floridians dead almost immediately. The next day would be worse.

August 26, 2005: As we expected from our exercise involving Hurricane Pam, Hurricane Katrina’s wind speed momentarily dropped to 75 miles an hour by 9 a.m. The change was not as encouraging as it might seem. It was like a long-distance runner slowing briefly around the curve before increasing speed for an all out race to the finish, in this case Louisiana. And as our experts predicted, eight hours later, the storm had regained its momentum and become Category 2. Hurricane Katrina was now ripping along the gulf at 100 miles per hour.

Hurricane Katrina swept through Florida, traveled along the Gulf Coast, and continued picking up speed. Unless it shifted direction, it would strike New Orleans with a minimum speed of 115 miles per hour—Category 3. The mayor knew this. The governor knew this. The city’s first responders, along with first responders in those nearby communities that maintained mutual assistance pacts, all knew this. That was why we expected the same call for assistance Jeb Bush had made. That was why we also expected a mandatory evacuation order within New Orleans. Instead I felt we were confronted with denial, delay, and poor choices.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, a central figure in the botched response, then-FEMA administrator Michael Brown, says the Bush administration made a “fatal mistake” in churning out facts and figures about its efforts instead of explaining the wider picture and the obstacles the government faced in dealing with the catastrophe.

All of the numbers “were factually correct, but weren’t in context,” the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN Thursday. “We’re moving all of this stuff in. We have teams here. Rescue teams are doing this. But we never explained to the people that it’s not coming as fast as we want it to, and it’s not enough, because of the number of people that were left behind in the aftermath of the storm.”

Brown said he winced when President Bush told him on Sept. 2, while chaos reigned in New Orleans, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Ten days later Brown, who had little experience in dealing with natural disasters, was out as FEMA chief. He now criticizes his boss at the time, then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, for his handling of the situation. Chertoff was an avian flue conference during part of the unfolding catastrophe. “Whether it’s a natural disaster or man-made disaster, you need to have one person in charge. And that person needs to be on the ground with the team, understanding what’s going on,” Brown said.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

I do recommend Spike Lee’s two-part HBO documentary, which touches on this. There, you see public housing projects in New Orleans torn down despite having no flood damage. You see Charity Hospital, one of the largest in the country and servicing the poor, unopened, while a new sprawling medical campus that would cater to a higher-class clientele gets planned. You see the racial and ethnic makeup of the population, and particularly the socioeconomic makeup, change. And you see a Republican Governor in Mississippi get much more attention and funding at the outset of the recovery, with the Bush Administration in office, than a Democratic Governor in Louisiana.

That said, there are bright spots, particularly Brad Pitt’s home-building project. But the disparities exist, as they have always existed. And, the money was available to reduce those disparities.

More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds that were earmarked for Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader who’s eager to spend it elsewhere.

(Sen. Tom) Coburn suggested some of these funds could be used to help cover federal budget deficits and said that “serious questions need to be asked about whether this money was appropriately designated as emergency funding.”

Officials in Mississippi, however, said that the unspent money is earmarked for needed recovery projects and that they are moving as fast as federal red-tape, litigation and arbitration and other hurdles will allow.

I think you can call the recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast uneven and unfinished. And driven, as ever, by money.

Ron Futrell at Big Journalism:

Since we are now five years beyond the hurricane, let me tell you what the true disasters of Katrina were, and these are the things that the media will likely intentionally miss in their anniversary analysis. Some of us spotted these at the time, but now that the media now has the advantage of hindsight (which is supposed to be 20/20) so they only way they get it wrong now is if they want to get it wrong.

1) Government cannot save us.

The American left and its media believes that it is government’s job to save us all. I don’t care whether we’re talking about local, state or national government—it rarely has the power to save us. This is the most devastating fallout from Katrina, the fact that people think government is there to save us. The message was loud and clear from the media—“it is government’s job to save us.”  Yes, I think Mayor Ray Nagin should’ve used the buses to save his people, but he didn’t. Yes, I think Governor Kathleen Blanco should’ve called in the National Guard sooner, but she didn’t, and yes, I wish Bush would’ve responded faster with the recovery days after the Coast Guard was called in to pick people off their roofs, but he didn’t. Wait for government to save you, and you may never be saved.

2) Failure of the Welfare State.

Three generations of Democrat promises to the people of New Orleans were exposed when the levees broke. Democrat “leaders” in New Orleans had promised these good people that they would care for them from cradle to grave, just vote Democrat when you are bused to the polling places (the buses worked fine on Election Day.) The Democrat Welfare State was exposed on those rooftops that day.

It took at least 70 years to falsely teach those Americans that government would save them (see #1.) When they needed government most, it was not there for them. Imagine that? The media missed the real story behind those on the rooftops. Why were they still there? They were waiting for government to save them as promised.

3) Failure of the media to be accurate.

The media got as many stories wrong with Katrina as it got right. The headlines of the day shouted “Tens of Thousands Dead, Thousands Dead in the Superdome, Superdome Destroyed, Toxic Soup Floods New Orleans, Bush Hates Black People” (Oh, that was Kanye West, but the media helped him spread that message.) The tragedy is that more than 1,800 people died,  1,400 of those in New Orleans. Of those who died in New Orleans the large majority died because the levees (promised to be secure by all levels of government—see #1) broke. Had the money dedicated to the levees been spent where it was intended, they would’ve held and perhaps the number dead would’ve been in the dozens, not the hundreds. It was the levees’ breaking that caused the major damage, not the hurricane itself—the media seemed to blow by that fact in 2005.

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No Telethon, No Tweetathon, No Nothing

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up. Fisher:

The United Nations has warned that the biggest challenge in the ongoing relief efforts for the millions displaced by flooding in Pakistan is the lack of money and supplies. Over a million Pakistanis lack even a tent to sleep in, and as many as 13.8 million have no access to clean drinking water, threatening outbreaks of serious diseases such as cholera, particularly among children. In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, agencies and individuals around the world were far more generous, donating $1 billion USD within days. Why has the world been so much more sparing with Pakistan?

Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy:

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi presented the U.N.’s members with a stark challenge: Help Pakistan recover from its most devastating natural disaster in modern history or run the risk of surrendering a key front in the war on terror.

“This disaster has hit us hard at a time, and in areas, where we are in the midst of fighting a war against extremists and terrorists,” Qureshi warned foreign delegates, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a U.N. donor’s conference on the Pakistani flood. “If we fail, it could undermine the hard won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

Qureshi provided one of his darkest assessments to date of the political, economic and security  costs of Pakistan’s floods, which have placed more than 20 million people in need of assistance, destroyed more than 900,000 homes and created financial losses of over $43 billion. “We are the people that the international community looks towards, as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism,” he said, adding that Pakistan “now looks towards the international community to show a similar determination and humanity in our hour of need.”

The blunt speech was part of a broader effort by Pakistan, the United Nations, the United States and its military allies in the region to goad the international community into stepping up funding for the relief effort, which has been severely underfunded. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged an additional $60 million to the U.N. flood relief in Pakistan, bringing the total U.S. contribution to $150 million. Britain’s development minister, Andrew Mitchell, pledged an additional $33 million, saying that the pace of funding for has been “woefully inadequate.”

Tunku Varadarajan at Daily Beast:

All of this leads me to offer a few socio-cultural and political observations on the floods in Pakistan, and their possible consequences.

1. An obvious reason why so little private money has flowed to Pakistan from the West, and from America in particular, is the absence of Christian charities working in Pakistan. In the event of a natural (or other) disaster abroad, American Christians are the most generous donors of aid: Witness the response, for example, to the earthquake in Haiti. “Americans who practice their faith”—and an overwhelming majority are Christian—“give and volunteer far more than Americans who practice less or not at all,” says Arthur Brooks, the author of Who Really Cares. These Christian Americans often take their cue from their churches; but if these institutions have little or no presence in Pakistan (as they don’t in most radical Islamic countries), a reliable and generous conduit for charitable donation is, quite simply, missing altogether.

2. But what of the “ummah,” the Muslim brotherhood of nations, whose people have given virtually nothing to Pakistan in its time of despair? According to The New York Times, “although the disaster has fallen in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when charity is considered a duty, Muslim states have donated virtually nothing via the United Nations and relatively small sums on their own.” One is hardly surprised: Most Islamic charitable giving is ideo-theological, designed to consolidate the Muslim faith, particularly in its Wahhabi manifestation. If money is given to alleviate poverty or distress, it is most often given in the donors’ own neighborhood, and almost always with ideological strings attached.

3. By far the biggest giver of emergency succor to Pakistan is the U.S. One trusts that the Muslim world, as slow to give aid to its brethren in Pakistan as it is reliably unhesitating when it comes time to anathematize America, is paying heed to the immense American contribution. And yet, radical Islamist sections of the Pakistani media have been deranged enough to blame the floods on manipulations of weather patterns by the U.S.

Daniyal Noorani at Huffington Post:

The US media is at least partly to blame for the lack of response from the US public. Instead of spotlighting the plight of the Pakistani people, the media have been focused on how Islamist organizations are stepping in to fill the void in the relief efforts. Their performance is all the more disappointing when compared with the inspiring media campaigns waged to raise awareness – and funds – for victims of other, recent natural disasters.

Take, for example, media coverage of the Haiti earthquake, which set a gold standard in how the media can really drive fundraising efforts. The call-a-thons, TV commercials, and extensive use of social media to drive outreach allowed relief organizations to raise some $1.3 billion in donations. Given the magnitude of the Pakistani floods, it is shocking that similar efforts are not being undertaken on behalf of victims there.

The lackadaisical response is also in part due to the lack of organization among members of the Pakistani diaspora.  Instead of reaching out to the general public, the diaspora has kept its fundraising efforts narrowly focused on the Pakistan-American community. This is a mistake. Now is the time for Pakistani-Americans to step up, get organized, and channel the generosity of their fellow Americans in support of their compatriots back home. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a Pakistani Wyclef Jean: someone visible to champion the cause and raise awareness. Media indifference to the situation in Pakistan – and the Pakistani diaspora’s failure to get its act together in this grave time – cannot persist.

Of course, the ultimate responsibility for helping Pakistanis rests with the Pakistani government. But the US does have a golden chance to kill two birds with one stone. Americans can help out the victims of one of largest natural disasters in recent history and in the process change Pakistanis’ perception of the United States in the long term – something that the US has been struggling to do for many years.

Robert Reich at Wall Street Pit:

This is a human disaster.

It’s also a frightening opening for the Taliban.

Yet so far only a trickle of aid has gotten through. As of today (Thursday), the U.S. has pledged $150 million, along with 12 helicopters to take food and material to the victims. (Other rich nations have offered even less – the U.K., $48.5 million; Japan, $10 million, and France, a measly $1 million. Today (Thursday), Hillary Clinton is speaking at the UN, seeking more.)

This is bizarre and shameful. We’re spending over $100 billion this year on military maneuvers to defeat the Taliban in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Over 200 helicopters are deployed in that effort. And we’re spending $2 billion in military aid to Pakistan.

More must be done for flood victims, immediately.

Beyond helping to prevent mass disease and starvation we’ll also need to help Pakistan rebuild. Half of the nation’s people depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and a large portion of the nation’s crops and agricultural land have been destroyed. Roads, bridges, railways, and irrigation systems have been wiped out.

Last year, Congress agreed to a $7.5 billion civilian aid package to Pakistan to build roads, bridges, and schools. That should be quadrupled.

While they’re at it, Congress should remove all tariffs on textiles and clothing from Pakistan. Textiles and clothing are half Pakistan’s exports. More than half of all Pakistanis are employed growing cotton, weaving it into cloth, or cutting and sewing it into clothing. In the months and years ahead, Pakistan will have to rely ever more on these exports.

Yet we impose a 17 percent tariff on textiles and clothing from Pakistan. If we removed it, Pakistan’s exports would surge $5 billion annually. That would boost the wages of millions there.

That tariff also artificially raises the price of the clothing and textiles you and I buy. How many American jobs do we protect by this absurdity? Almost none. Instead, we’ve been importing more textiles and clothing from China and other East Asian nations. China subsidizes its exports with an artificially-low currency.

If you’re not moved by the scale of the disaster and its aftermath, consider that our future security is inextricably bound up with the future for Pakistan. Of 175 million Pakistanis, some 100 million are under age 25. In the years ahead they’ll either opt for gainful employment or, in its absence, may choose Islamic extremism.

We are already in a war for their hearts and minds, as well as those of young people throughout the Muslim world.

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy:

As everyone knows, the United States is widely despised among broad swathes of Pakistani society.  Some of this hostility is unmerited, but some of it is a direct result of misguided U.S. policies going back many decades.  As the U.S. experience with Indonesia following the 2004 Asian tsunami demonstrated, however, a prompt and generous relief effort could have a marked positive effects on Pakistani attitudes.  Such a shift could undermine support for extremist groups and make it easier for the Pakistani government to crack down on them later on.  It is also the right thing to do, and the U.S. military is actually pretty good at organizing such efforts.

The United States has so far pledged some $76 million dollars in relief aid, and has sent 19 helicopters to help ferry relief supplies.  That’s all well and good, but notice that the U.S. government sent nearly $1 billion in aid in response to the tsunami, and we are currently spending roughly $100 billion annually trying to defeat the Taliban.  More to the point, bear in mind that the United States currently has some over 200 helicopters deployed in Afghanistan (and most reports suggest that we could actually use a lot more).

So imagine what we might be able to do to help stranded Pakistanis if we weren’t bogged down in a costly and seemingly open-ended counterinsurgency war, and didn’t have all those military assets (and money) already tied up there?   It’s entirely possible that we could do more to help suffering individuals, and more to advance our own interests in the region, if some of these military assets weren’t already committed.

Of course, Obama didn’t know that there would be catastrophic flooding in Pakistan when he decided to escalate and prolong the Afghan campaign.  But that’s just the point: when national leaders make or escalate a particular strategic commitment, they are not just determining what the country is going to do, they are also determining other things that that they won’t be able to do (or at least won’t be able to do as well).

Thus, another good argument for a more restrained grand strategy is that it might free up the resources that would allow us do some real good in the world, whenever unfortunate surprises occur.   As they always will.

UPDATE:  Doug Mataconis

Reihan Salam

UPDATE #2: More Fisher at The Atlantic

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Tear Your Eyes Away From The Gulf Coast And Times Square For Just One Moment

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

In one of the most shamefully underreported stories so far, the fatal flooding in Nashville, Tennessee, continues to get worse as the river approaches its crest.  The entirety of downtown Nashville had to be evacuated, including 1500 people from the Opryland Hotel.  The flood waters from the storm system have caused the deaths of 17 people in Tennessee alone, plus more in Mississippi and Kentucky (fortunately there’s been little flooding in Louisville, just storms).  The entire Middle Tennessee area is paralyzed by massive flooding, mud slides, and general destruction.  It’s awful.  The best coverage, though, is the local coverage, as compiled by Nashvillest.

When riots for democracy hit Iran, Twitter was an invaluable resource.  Over the last day, as I struggled to slay the technical demons besieging PopFi, Twitter was the most useful resource for all my friends and family in Music City to keep abreast of the situation in real time. Fortunately, they’ve all made it out safely, though I had a couple of sleepless nights in the process.

Jen Doll at Village Voice:

Add to our End Times Watch record rains and 50-feet-high-and-rising waters in Tennessee. The flooding has led to evacuations of downtown Nashville, including some-1,500 guests at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, and caused 21 or more deaths in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

The Cumberland River was expected to crest Monday afternoon at more than 11 feet above flood stage, and officials worried they may find more bodies in the rising floodwaters, reports the AP.

Electric power has been cut off to about 14,000 customers, and one of the city’s two sewage treatment plants has been submerged, requiring residents to minimize water use except for drinking and cooking. One shopping center employed boats to do rescues in the parking lot yesterday.

Many homes were flooded to the rooftops, and although the rain has ended, officials anticipate weeks of cleanup.

“The news accounts of the Cumberland River rising today, with such bright blue skies, are quite disturbing,” reports one Nashville resident. “We’re watching on television as the huge Opryland mall and convention center (plus the Grand Ole Opry house) become flooded by the rising river. It’s that eerie Katrina-like sunny day after the storm where the rising waters cause even bigger problems.”

Claire O’Neill at NPR:

On Facebook I’ve seen an outpouring of photos from friends and family, and it really is unbelievable. Weekend storms poured more than 13 inches of rain in two days, resulting in a swift rise in the Cumberland River. By Tuesday, the death toll has reached 18 in Tennessee.

People have lost cars and homes – and Nashvillians watched waters inundate their beloved Grand Ole Opry. Fortunately, the Ryman Auditorium and the Station Inn were not flooded. But as Nashvillian RJ Witherell wrote on Morning Edition‘s Facebook page, “Doubt Bob Dylan ever thought Nashville’s Skyline would look like this.”

A flooded Nashville skyline

Randy Lewis at The LA Times:

I just rang up country musician Marty Stuart, one of the mainstays of the Grand Ole Opry, to find out how bad the flooding in Nashville is to the Opry’s home of the last 36 years. He had two words:  “It’s biblical.”

An Opry member since 1992, Stuart said he hasn’t been through the facility yet — “The river just crested last night” — but was told by Opry officials that water is chest deep. “They’ve just been through it in a canoe. I think that tells you all  you need to know.”

“It’s a profound sense of loss,” said Stuart, who took over the dressing room assigned to Porter Wagoner after the longtime Opry star died in 2007. He said he doesn’t have high hopes for recovering a rhinestone-bedecked tapestry he kept in that dressing room. The tapestry was fashioned out of what was to have been a new Nudie Cohn-style suit that was being made for Wagoner when he died.

“There was plenty of artwork, lyrics, artifacts, Nudie paraphernalia, Nudie boots and belts — we will test the power of the rhinestone against the mighty waters,” Stuart said.

OpryStageDoor

“We’ve all been affected by it,” singer and songwriter Dierks Bentley told the Associated Press on Tuesday, after canceling performances over the weekend to deal with less-serious flooding at his own house. “There’s devastation all over the city. But to see the Grand Ole Opry affected, that just really hit home for me, even more than having water in my house.”

The Grand Ole Opry show itself, however, “will go on,” Stuart said. Tuesday night’s performance is being shifted to Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium, a former home of the Opry, and on the weekend, it will move to its historic home at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, where the show originated for decades before the current Opry House opened in 1974.

Huffington Post:

Nashville is struggling to recover from a massive flood that has inundated historic areas of that historic city. A record-breaking storm caused flash floods, forcing residents to flee the city as quickly as possible. They are now returning to survey the devastation and look for survivors. So far there have been at least 29 fatalities. Read more on the flood here.

One YouTube user made a montage of photos of the destruction throughout the city, overlaying the Johnny Cash song “Five Feet High and and Rising” on the montage. It’s quite moving.

UPDATE: Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters

Andrew Romano at Newsweek

Ed Morrissey

Michelle Malkin

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