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After Katrina: Many Still Not Prepared

Hurricane survivors and health experts discuss whether Americans are prepared for the next big storm.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

A year has passed since Hurricane Katrina – one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history – struck the gulf coast. But, as America heads into the peak of another hurricane season, there are signs not all that storm's lessons have been learned.

In the wake of Katrina's devastation, which put 80% of the city of New Orleans under water and claimed an estimated 1,400 lives, there was much talk of how America and the Americans in harm's way could have reacted better. Thousands of evacuees fanned out to distant cities, with other Americans watching their plight on TV screens and debating why some had waited so long to leave, and why basics like food and water took so long to reach those trapped after the flooding came.

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To find some of the answers, WebMD spoke to Katrina survivors -- and preparedness experts – about how well Americans are prepared to handle the next big storm.

Ready to Evacuate?

A Red Cross survey in May showed that 60% of Americans have no specific evacuation plan. In 2005, 45% said they had a disaster supply kit. This has increased to a little over half now. But 73% have not practiced their family disaster plan and 69% have not set up a place for family to meet if a disaster strikes.

In the hurricane-prone areas, a Harvard study showed that only two-thirds would leave if told to.

Why? Some reasons given for all of these decisions include:

  • Can't afford to prepare, this stuff costs money
  • Waste of time
  • It won't happen to me
  • Hate the way the administration tries to stir up fear
  • My home is safer than going on the road
  • Won't leave my animals
  • My things would be stolen

View of a Katrina Evacuee

Michael Tisserand was the editor of an alternative paper in New Orleans. His wife is a pediatrician. They have two small children. When Katrina bore down on New Orleans, they left to stay with friends in Illinois. He has blogged his progress for WebMD.

He and his family found themselves living in the child's bedroom of a friend, with their three cats in the bathroom. "A friend who is a therapist," he writes, "suggested we were all learning Zen and how to live in the moment. I wouldn't put it that way. I'd say we were just learning how to beat our heads against the wall and keep on going."

Tisserand tells WebMD he has many days when he wishes to go back to New Orleans, but his wife has set up a new practice and does not feel that way.

He is wistful and cannot imagine living in a place that does not celebrate Mardi Gras, his favorite holiday.

Having gone through all this, is Tisserand now hyper about disaster with a pantry of water, first aid kits, and supplies?

He seemed surprised at the question. "We have our cellphones," he muses, although we know those may not work. He says his in-laws, the older generation, do have food supplies on hand. They went through the Depression, he adds.

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