This news is now a week or so old. Hurricane Katrina came down on the Big Easy with a gale’o’fury and, with levees breeching at multiple points, New Orleans drowned. Some 80% remains under water, and drying it out will take months and months. In the meantime its population is displaced, industries ruined, employment lost, houses gone, possessions vanished, and all sorts of other unpleasantness that happens in disasters such as this.
But the worst aspect of what happened was the people left behind. Many could not afford to leave ahead of the storm, lacking the money or a car to do so. Some 20,000 went to the Super dome and took shelter there – directed to that location by emergency workers.
Somehow they were forgotten. It was revealed today that those who sheltered there were forgotten for over four days. Four days without food, water, in mind numbing humid heat (40 degrees inside), with no government protection or assistance. It became a hell hole. A dark, fetid pit of human despair. People died from basic needs of sustenance and from violence – with murder and rape witnessed by many.
Whatever comes out of this, I’m guessing that this will be held up as the example of what can happen when society frays, and when a government lacks resources and direction.
With the population of New Orleans around 70% African American, and with black Americans being in the poorer social strata, they represented almost all the people trapped at the Super dome. 20,000 African Americans forgotten by their government.
Great mention was made of armed gangs terrorizing the submerged remains of the city. And of course great mention was made of looters, and that the looters were black. But as Jesse Jackson pointed out, many of those looting were not looting for enrichment, but looting to survive – with what few white Americans and tourists that remained, along with some of the police, forced to do likewise.
There’s this old adage that a society is but three meals away from anarchy. I’m guessing this is sort of what happened here. Many of the state’s resources were apparently in Iraq which did not help matters. There’s also tales of military assets nearby sitting idle for what of direction that did not come, and overburdened police quitting, and even two cases, suiciding by their own weapons.
Comment was made by the US head of FEMA that Katrina was the perfect storm, and that the destruction would not have been lessened by whatever modifications they had made to the levees that protected a fragile city. That may be the case, but it seems on balance to have also been a perfect f_ck up by relief agencies and those charged with protecting the public.
Heads are going to roll. Or are they? I suspect with so many fingers in the pie, no one finger will get the smack.
America rallied for those who died in S11. And the families affected received a substantial payout, with white-collar workers protected by a multiple series of insurance policies and company benefits. Their houses were left intact. Not in New Orleans.
This has been declared the worst natural disaster in US history. And I don’t doubt it. But it’s how they recover, and how they look after those that lost everything, that will define them as a great nation.
I hope they measure up. But with so many resources committed elsewhere, and with the largest budget deficit in US history, it’s going to be pushing shit up hill for a long, long time.
And Bush may actually have to reinstate the taxes he lifted off the rich.
Will he? I doubt it.
I like to think Oz is prepared for a mega-destruction event. We survived Cyclone Tracey, but Darwin was a small town. The Canberra bushfires were terrifying to go through, and I wasn’t even threatened living in the north, but our destruction was mostly at the fringes of suburbs – the wind changing just in time to prevent wholesale loss of entire suburbs. Sydney has experienced a number of fire scares in the past decade thanks to the drought, and it is only by luck that they have escaped a Canberra scenario.
If there are lessons to be gained from New Orleans, then I hope we apply them. Because I’d rather hear ‘thank god we did that’, instead of ‘I told you so’ in the days following such a catastrophe.