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More Than Hurricane Ike Has Shut Electricity

HOUSTON, Sept. 24, 2008 (EIRNS)—Twelve days after Hurricane Ike passed through the Texas Gulf Coast, with a direct hit on Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, nearly 600,000 Houstonians still lack electricity, and 250,000 people are still without running water. The City of Galveston has been declared unlivable, and its residents have been told they can visit, to see if their homes survived the storm, but they cannot stay, as there is no water or power, and there is a significant danger of disease.

In the days immediately after the storm passed, Mayor Bill White of Houston issued several statements, chastising FEMA for its incompetent response. Despite ample warning, and full cooperation from city and state officials, FEMA botched the delivery of emergency shipments of food, water and ice. At several designated locations where people gathered to receive supplies, and where city and state emergency crews had gathered to help with distribution, hundreds were turned away when FEMA supply trucks did not arrive. After some sharp retorts from Mayor White, FEMA's delivery improved, but not before additional hardships were suffered.

The power and water problems, however, demonstrate that the real problem for the U.S., when it comes to emergency preparedness, is not just the incompetence of the Department of Homeland Security, but the long-term effects of the collapse of infrastructure in the U.S. In the few areas of Houston where power lines are underground, power was either not lost, or was restored immediately. Officials from the power companies said that the city as a whole was not rewired because it was not "cost effective," leaving it vulnerable to strong storms.

Further, they argue that, under deregulation, the cost for upgrading the power transmission system would be passed immediately on to consumers, which they believed would be highly unpopular. Instead, given the failure to upgrade, those same consumers will be hit with ballooning electricity costs, to pay for the repairs being done now, to restore electric power. Plans for upgrading power and water management that had been discussed after the disaster of Hurricane Rita three years ago, had been shelved, for lack of money.