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Philip Duncan: Isaac delivers message on political callousness

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As New Orleans folk fled, Republicans cheered Mitt Romney's nomination. Photo / AP
As New Orleans folk fled, Republicans cheered Mitt Romney's nomination. Photo / AP

It was a cruel anniversary present for the people of New Orleans to receive yet another damaging hurricane on the 7th anniversary of hurricane Katrina this week.

The collective wishful thinking of the Republican Party, holding their conference in Tampa, Florida, this week, perhaps helped shift the storm's track - if you're superstitious. Isaac had been expected to hit Tampa but, the fear everyone has had for seven years came true: New Orleans was in the firing line.

Isaac was no Katrina - it only reached Category 1 out of 5. Katrina reached 5 and broke a number of records.

But if Isaac wasn't the most powerful hurricane, it was still a big one. The air pressure tumbled into the 960s - alarmingly low for a Category 1 hurricane. Most of all, Isaac was always about the rain.

Paint this picture in your mind: a city the size of Auckland stands on a flood plain at the end of the Mississippi river. Parts of it are two metres below sea level. Large levees protect the city from the river, lake and sea. But a four-metre storm surge - on top of the high tide - inundated houses again.

Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart highlighted the inward-focused character of US politics when some Republicans complained that "liberal media" were "split-screening" their Convention coverage with the hurricane. The Republicans' celebrations of Mitt Romney's nomination to run for president were counterpointed by grim news about the killer storm.

In America, for public safety reasons, 24/7 news channels run a small live satellite map and rain radar in the corner of the screen as a hurricane approaches.

One Republican, interviewed on MSNBC, expressed his unhappiness about the Convention sharing space with Isaac: "Reporters are very quick to wanna do a double box with what's happening in New Orleans," he said, looking at the monitor, where a small satellite image showed Isaac about to hit New Orleans. He sighed.

Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W Bush, said: "The worst thing in the world for Republicans, though, would be that split screen of partisan speeches as people are being evacuated."

That, sadly, was exactly what happened. Sad, not for the politicians, but for the 5000 people forced into shelters as the hurricane pounded New Orleans.

- Herald on Sunday

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