Blogs > Cliopatria > Katrina ... Greatest Natural Disaster in Our History?

Sep 17, 2005 3:51 pm

Katrina ... Greatest Natural Disaster in Our History?

By HNN Staff

... The reality is that America has faced and successfully overcome a disaster that was greater than the New Orleans flood in almost every dimension. It was one that took more lives, left as many people homeless, and destroyed more wealth than Hurricane Katrina. And it involved all the same “unprecedented” incidents of civil violence, failures of first responders, government incompetence, and racial undertones.

It was the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, almost exactly a century ago. It’s proof that everything that’s old will one day be new again.

When the earthquake struck San Francisco at dawn on April 18, 1906, the city held about 400,000 people — not so different from the 485,000 in New Orleans a century later. The quake, and the fire that followed, left from 225,000 to 300,000 homeless, which likely exceeds the number that will turn out to have been left homeless in New Orleans by Katrina.

The official death-toll in San Francisco in 1906 was 478. But a century of research puts the number far higher. Gladys Hansen, retired chief archivist of the City of San Francisco, who has spent a long lifetime studying the quake, puts the verifiable death-toll above 3,000. Despite early fears that the New Orleans death-toll could reach 10,000, it now appears, thankfully, that the actual count will be only a fraction of San Francisco’s.

Damage from the San Francisco quake and fire is estimated at $400 million, not adjusting for inflation. That represented 1.4 percent of America’s gross domestic product at the time. To exceed that fraction of present-day GDP, damage from Katrina would have to reach $170 billion. Given the current frenzy in Washington, that much money may end up getting thrown at New Orleans over the coming years. But it well exceeds even the wildest estimates of actual damages.

Another indicator of relative economic impact is that the stock market fell 10 percent immediately following the 1906 earthquake. It rose following Katrina....

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Lorraine Paul - 12/27/2005

What surprised and saddened me was that for days none of our Australian government representatives were allowed into New Orleans to help our citizens. It was left to our journalists to help Australians where they could...