When it comes to hurricanes, the U.S. can learn a lot from Cuba - Mikael Wolfe

photo for Mikael Wolfe WP article

A man kayaks down Route 51, which was flooded and impassable to vehicles by Hurricane Ida on Aug. 31 in LaPlace, La. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington...

As Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, knocking power out to the entire city of New Orleans and beyond, many people nervously wondered, “Will Ida be another Katrina?” Katrina, of course, struck the city 16 years ago to the day that Ida hit. The disastrous federal response to Katrina by the George W. Bush administration combined with the failure to act on the long-standing knowledge that the city’s levees probably would be unable to resist an intense storm surge. Both failures contributed to the death of 1,833 people in the majority-Black city, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and more than $100 billion in property damage. Katrina was a national catastrophe that revealed an appaling lack of govermental disaster preparedness rooted in systemic racism.

Unfortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s record since Katrina, particularly under the Trump administration, has not improved much, as Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico in 2017 tragically reinforced.

This failure to learn from past mistakes stands in stark contrast to Cuba, which is also regularly battered by the same powerful hurricanes that, like Ida this past week, eventually reach the U.S. coastline.

After the 1959 revolution brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba became a U.S. Cold War enemy — something made clear with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. But there was another event in October 1963 that is little remembered in the U.S.: Hurricane Flora, the first major hurricane to strike the island nation after Castro assumed power. One of the worst in Cuba’s history, its catastrophic effects prompted Castro to establish a civil defense system in 1966 that became a global model, according to the United Nations and the charitable development agency Oxfam International.