I remember New Orleans most as a French home, a danger with our relations to her, and a harbor of many of our most natural enemies. When Andrew Jackson defended her from the British invasion of 1814 and 1815, it was a city then of decadence and economic opportunists. Today, I hear, it is still full of European and American tourists who are looking for a time of excess, with constant parties, drinking, and jubilation. They even still celebrate the French Mardi Gras, a festival I much detested as an example of the worst parts of French culture. It was a place of political complication during my time of Presidency, a place to stem friction between two great nations. Eventually it was one of the compelling reasons I took a part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Today, however, it is a disaster zone. A great hurricane is bearing down on the shore of New Orleans and the unique nature of its settlement and the proximity of the winds and rain may very well completely flood the basin on which the city is built. Being someone acute to the sensitivities of the weather, it was fascinating to see televised for the nation the building of this great natural phenomenon. Radars and satellites allow the weather scientists to outlay current images of the storm, and even demonstrate the density of clouds, the precipitosity of the raining, and the various other conditions. As the morning progresses I can only hope that the survivors are many more than the victims.
It was to my bemusement the proceedings of the day and the behavior of many of the citizens in a time of crisis. Many refused to leave the city in notice of the formal evacuations announced. In my time, if this type of storm were to strike, it would be from little to no warning except for the rumors of tired sailors, and as a result the storms killed many in its flooded paths. There were fewer people at the time in less dense cities, however I did hear many stories of men lost at sea, and floods killing people too numerous to count. It's taken for granted, I think, the securities that such accuracy in weather forecasting brings people these days. Having a full day to prepare for a hurricane, is more than most had in my time. My good friend, Benjamin Franklin, had only barely discovered the art of tracking these mammoth storms, but did discover that they moved contrary to the surface winds. I would have taken to his best guess that it would take hundreds of years of study to pinpoint particular paths to warn people of these storms, definitely was it never imagined that such surveys could be taken from space and flying planes like as are done now.
Indeed, in the summer of 1776, I heard from a French emissary that there was great destruction as far out as Martinique, perhaps 6,000 dead. Not more than four years later, I heard it recorded that in the same area a larger storm saw 22,000 lose their lives... an unimaginable loss I was convinced no storm in history could ever reproduce... stretching as far as to the Barbados islands. It was a great benefit to our nation, for 8 of the 12 British war ships in the area were destroyed by the storm. The French fleets were also damaged... but this stagnation in the conflicts at sea was as much a needed gain as any nature could have given us.
It wasn't until I watched this fascinating television station, "The Weather Channel", that I got to understand just how these storms work. Only when you sit down to see something explained to you on the television do you feel like a fool for not understanding it before. Even Daniel seemed to understand what was going on, but he was more concerned about the condition of Bourbon street than the general populace. I saw some footage of hundreds of people lined up to take shelter in a "super dome", but all Daniel could say was "20,000 people, now only if the Saints could pull in that many!"
People today take too much for granted, and take unnecessary risks. Men with "surf" boards attempting to ride the waves, others feeling "secure" in the danger zones, even if the disaster is not as large in scale as previously thought, no precaution is too great when it comes to an individual's safety. The people of New Orleans may or may not have learned that today, but I know the people in Martinique learned it 200 years ago... let us hope that such lessons are never learned the hard way.
I send my wishes and prayers for your safety and perpetuity in times of crisis whenever they may be,
- TH. Jefferson
What better time to discuss the history of Hurricanes than during a Hurricane crisis? While I hadn't intended to cover this topic, when I learned that Benjamin Franklin was the man who started the path towards scientific understanding of the Hurricane, I knew it was worth the update. The biggest problem I saw with this Hurricane was the people. Despite the logical and reasonable arguments that New Orleans was in great danger, many people just sat around on bourbon street drinking away. They did manage to escape total destruction, but that's not the point. A brave FOX New reporter, Shepard Smith, was stuck in the French Quarter, one of the more dangerous places to be if the estimates had lived themselves out. He tried to warn as many people as possible that the storm was coming, but instead he got angry responses. "It's none of your fucking business!" one man told him. Another call, out of the French Quarter, was of a man who owned a business nearby. He was in a fourth story apartment and felt that made him safe. As much of the city suffers great structural damage, I wouldn't feel safe anywhere in town. The storm even blew parts of the roof off the Superdome.
Weather is no joke. It kills thousands of people a year. This storm will kill thousands from New Orleans, the southern Mississippi coast, and parts of Alabama. And that is the sad truth of history. Many of those people who denied the intensity of the storm simply didn't want to believe it was going to happen like that. Their unsubstantiated optimism could have been the death of them, and probably was for some. It's a lesson history will have to teach the hard way, I guess.