One week after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, with aftertremors still rolling in, the scope of the damage remains difficult to grasp. For journalists in a lot of places (the Atlantic being no exception), the handiest reference point has been Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which produced similar accounts of destruction, panic, and loss. Journalists have been comparing the two catastrophes and the US government's response. Newsweek's Howard Fineman declared that that Haiti is Katrina "writ large." But others have observed that the analogy is far from perfect, and the result of a limited natural-disaster vocabulary.

  • Simple Geography Makes the Comparison Ridiculous CNN's Kathleen Tierney reminds us that in a country the size of Haiti, all tragedies are local. "Imagine that all of the U.S. west of the Mississippi were to be destroyed or extensively damaged by some immense catastrophe in one minute, with absolutely no warning. That is the situation Haiti faces. As horrific as it was, Katrina was a region-wide catastrophe, not a national one." 
  • A Failed State? Haiti lacks the kind of infrastructure that was available in the wake of Katrina, The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum believes; it's about one more bad day away from becoming a failed state. "Parliament, churches, hospitals and government offices no longer exist. Haiti's archbishop is dead. The head of the U.N. mission is dead. There is a real possibility that violent gangs will emerge to take the place of leadership, to control food supplies, to loot what remains to be looted. There is a real possibility, in the coming days, of epidemics, mass starvation and civil war." 
  • No Bush-Bashing, Please  John Cole of Balloon Juice notes (and The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen echoes) that "Haiti is not an American state. Louisiana is." So? So "Earthquakes, unlike hurricanes, happen with minimal warning. Hurricanes move along trajectories that allow for action prior to the devastation, which is part of what made the slow response [to Katrina] galling." If you're looking for analogies, how about the Tsunami of 2004? "President Bush and our military did a very impressive job in response. If I remember correctly, we had a large naval contingent that was on the scene quite quickly. Which is probably why Fineman didn’t want to use that example."
  • No Obama Bashing Either  At Daily Kos, Connie Manes reads the Haiti-Katrina comparison as a slight against the president, as though Obama will suddenly spring into action after months of indolence: "This is not 'a test' of President Obama's reactions to disasters. It's just one more terrible disaster that he and his administration will likely handle with the same deeply thought out reaction as the previous ones."