There are a lot of things that the U.S. doesn't do very well. One of them is prepare for large but distant threats -- particularly those from natural causes (of course, Bush is doing a disastrous job at treating human-made threats such as terrorism as well, but that's another story). One looming disaster is an avian flu pandemic -- a possibility for which the U.S. is grossly unprepared, and which some experts now estimate as having a 100% possibility of occurring. I don't know why we're so bad at this -- I think that the U.S.'s increasing disdain for science is one reason; I think that simplistic free-market ideologies which attack the very notion of government planning is another.
But I'm horrified to note that another concern that has been long foreseen -- a hurricane making a direct hit on New Orleans -- may be about to occur. Hurricane Katrina is now a category 4 storm, and is heading straight for the city. People are evacuating, but of course not everyone can afford to. (The AP is reporting that at least 100,000 people lack transportation out of town.) I'm terrified to think what could happen.
(Less immediate, but also worrying, is the possibility of major oil disruptions from the storm, and economic havoc that would result. And yes, peak oil is yet another large and distant threat we are horrifically unprepared for.)
Weather is unpredictable; perhaps recent efforts to make preparations will have been adequate. But I'm very worried.
If you're the praying type, now's the time.
Update (Sun 11 a.m.): Katrina is now a Category 5 hurricane -- as high as they go. (Only three category 5 hurricanes have hit the U.S. since they began keeping track.) The Mayor of New Orleans has issued a mandatory evacuation order.
Chris Mooney published a good article warning of this possibility a few months ago in the American Prospect for anyone looking for a little background.
Update (2:15 p.m.): "So basically the part of New Orleans that most Americans, and most of the world, think of as the city could disappear, under the water." "Some scientists think that 40,000 people killed is a conservative estimate." Those are quotes from an 2002 NPR story on the possibility of a disaster should a hurricane hit New Orleans. It's well worth a listen. (I'm just assuming that anyone reading this is safely out of the way...) Part one is here, part two is here. (Via a comment on Daily Kos.) Daily Kos also has a thread of people offering help and shelter. It is heartening to see people reach out, horrible though the necessity is...
A thought occurs. I wonder how much of the Louisiana national guard won't be able to help with the emergency because they're in Iraq?