Katrina in Vermont
Note to readers: I'll run an update at the bottom of this blog over the next few days.
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The same creeping nausea that followed the CNN 'all clear' sign in New Orleans six years ago happened again yesterday. Anderson Cooper seemed a little peeved that the lights didn't go out in Manhattan, but then the remnants of Hurricane Irene stomped up the Hudson Valley and stalled a while and commenced to rip apart the Catskills, the eastern Adirondacks, the Mohawk and upper Hudson valleys, and then almost all of Vermont, not to mention New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, and I can't even tell you much about whatever's going on in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland this morning. Connecticut, Long Island, and Rhode Island are in there somewhere, and surely there's more than a few things out of place in North Carolina.
This is nowhere near Katrina's death toll of over 1800 souls, but the damage to scores of towns, businesses, houses, and basic civic armature is going to be very impressive as the news filters in later this week and the disaster is still very much ongoing Monday, even with the sun shining bright. Towns all over Vermont and New Hampshire are still drowning. The Hudson River is still on the rise. The Mohawk River is at a 500-year flood stage and is about to wipe the old city center of Schenectady, New York, off the map. Bridges, dams, and roads are gone over a region at least as big as the Gulf Coast splatter-trail of Katrina.
That story is still developing. A lot of people will not be able to get around for a long, long time, especially in Vermont and New Hampshire, where the rugged terrain only allows for a few major roads that go anywhere. Even the bridges that were not entirely washed away may have to be inspected before people are allowed to drive over them, and some of these bridges may be structurally shot even if they look superficially okay. There are a lot of them. If you live in a flat state, you may have no idea.
The next story is going to be the realization that there's no money to put it all back together the way it was. The states don't have the money. The federal government is obviously broke, and an awful lot of the individual households and businesses will turn out to not have any insurance coverage for this kind of disaster where it was water, not wind, that destroyed the property. I don't know what the score is insurance-wise along the mid-Atlantic beachfront towns - but remember, insurance companies were among the biggest dupes of the Big Bank mortgage-backed securities racket, and when the new claims are toted up they may find themselves in a bail-out line.
This is a warning to America that the converging catastrophes of climate change, energy scarcities, and failures of capital formation add up to more than the sum of their parts in their power to drive a complex society into a ditch - no matter what a moron like Rick Perry might say. But, of course, political ramifications will follow. There will be a lot of pissed-off people in the Northeast USA. Maybe they'll even start giving the grievance-bloated folk of Dixieland some competition in the politics of the bitter harvest. Oddly, the Siamese twin states of Vermont and New Hampshire are political polar opposites. Vermont, the land of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and other squooshy culture tropes from the attic of Hippiedom, is about as Left-progressive as it gets. New Hampshire's license plate says, "Live Free or Die," and that same draconian mood defines the state's politics: hard Right. It's like a few counties of Georgia shook loose and drifted north somehow. My guess is that the political rage will be about equal on both fronts, as folks are left stranded, or homeless, or without a going business they thought they had only a day or so ago. And my further guess is that their mood will afford some insight into the extreme impotence, incompetence, and mendacity of both major political parties. As I've said before in this space, think of these times as not unlike the convulsive 1850s, preceding the worst crisis of our history.
Apart from the fact that the hurricane season is just gearing up, and that a procession of tropical storm blobs has commenced to pour out of West Africa, there is that other alternate universe of storms, brushfires, and fiascos called the fnancial system, which everybody sort of forgot about over the weekend. Well, it's ba-a-a-ck this morning, too, and the financial weather was deteriorating sharply last time I looked. You can stick a fork in the Euro Zone. Bank of America is panhandling for spare change like a dying wino as it whirls around the drain. Nobody knows what the shadow bets on all this action is, but you can bet on one thing for sure: the counterparties can't pay.
Oh, by the way, anybody remember that we had an earthquake here in the Northeast a few days before Irene rumbled in? Probably not, unless part of your building fell off. God's wrath, some might say, as we beat our path to a world made by hand.
Tuesday August 30
God's wrath, all right. Michelle Bachmann said it, wouldn't you know.
Vermont got whacked badly, as did the northern Catskills. Whole towns drowned, localities cut off from the rest of the world by road and bridge washouts. Lots of buildings of all kinds lost. As is the case with these disasters, many people out there now who have lost everything, are poorly insured, and have no idea how they are going to carry on. It will be several more days before the scope or this thing is really comprehended. It lacked a single dramatic focus, the way that the Superdome galvanized the nation's attention after Katrina struck, but I suspect the damage to the region is just as bad.
For excellent photos of flooding in upstate New York, go to the Albany Times Union's coverage here. For coverage of Vermont, go to the Burlington Free Press.
Wednesday August 31
Some official recognition of the scope of Irene disaster is filtering up.
From The New York Times this Morning:
It will be quite a while before we wake up to the long-term disruptions caused by roads and bridges that will take a long time to get fixed (some never).
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.