You know what was Katrina? Katrina
It'll be the largest American spill since the Exxon Valdez went down in 1989, and it may well top that in the coming weeks. Most tragically, 11 people are presumed to have lost their lives at sea. Closer to land, the Gulf Coast's fishing and tourism industries may not recover for years. The environment may not recover for even longer than that. It's another major economic blow to a region that still hasn't really bounced back from the crippling devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
There's that word again: Katrina. Almost five years later, it's on the tip of people's tongues again. Mobile's Press-Register today analogized the federal government's abysmally botched response to the hurricane to its present response to the oil spill. The Drudge Report was more direct, suggesting in a headline that the oil spill could become "Obama's Katrina."
The oil spill is a horrible thing. I get that. But to treat it as somehow the same as Hurricane Katrina is to forget the depth and breadth of the horror that was Hurricane Katrina.
The oil spill's death toll is 11. Katrina's death toll was more than 1,800. The oil spill will hurt the Gulf Coast's economy and could wreck its environment. Katrina did all that and then some, displacing tens of thousands of people from the region, many permanently. The oil spill will destroy the homes of many animals. Katrina destroyed the homes of hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, many of whom still are waiting for rebuilding help to this very day.
An analogy between the federal responses to each incident also doesn't hold up. The oil spill was a sudden, unpredictable incident whose magnitude was unclear until several days afterward, due in part to BP's repeated assurances that it had things under control until it became clear that the company did not. The Obama administration kicked its response into high gear as soon as scientists ascertained the scale of the spill. It also put the brakes -- at least temporarily -- on plans to expand offshore drilling after seeing a crystal-clear illustration of its down side.
Katrina, on the other hand, was forecast in advance to be one of the worst catastrophes ever to strike the United States, and its magnitude was clear immediately to anyone who had a television. Even so, the Bush administration took several days to fire up major federal relief efforts while thousands of people begged in the streets for help. Years later, many people are still waiting for the assistance they've been promised.
I understand the frustration and desperation on the Gulf Coast right now. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who will be affected in the years to come. But just because something is bad and happens on the Gulf Coast, that doesn't mean it's Katrina.
The oil spill is a disaster. But Katrina was hell on earth. No one should forget the difference.