Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I grew up in Panama City, Florida. I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes. So I had a chill go down my back last Saturday night, when I saw that Hurricane Katrina was a category four hurricane with 145 MPH sustained winds. I could only hope it would miss all of family that still live in Panama City. I got a second chill when I saw that it would probably miss Panama City, but was headed more towards New Orleans.
I have family in New Orleans as well. My uncle has lived there for around twenty years. He and his family used to live in Violet, a suburb of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. They moved to Lacombe about ten years ago. Lacombe is near Slidell, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. His oldest daughter, my cousin, lives in Metairie now, right next to New Orleans, with her husband and two children. Seeing a major hurricane headed their way concerned me, but there was something else. I knew about the doomsday scenario of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. I knew it could overwhelm the levee system and flood the city. So the sight Katrina moving that way frightened me.
You can imagine how I felt the next day when I saw Katrina’s winds reach 175 MPH as it moved ever closer to New Orleans. My wife and I were both incredibly worried. We called our family in Florida to see if they had heard from uncle and cousin. We found out that they had evacuated and were heading to Florida.
We were relieved, but still incredibly worried about New Orleans and its people. Why was not more being done to evacuate the city? We didn’t understand why there weren’t busses to evacuate the people. The doomsday scenario was no secret in New Orleans, and we knew that the people who could get out (like our family), would get out. But New Orleans is a big city and a very poor city. We knew there were tens of thousands that could not get out. We saw people going to the Superdome. That’s a big building, but could not come close to housing all the people that had no way of getting out of New Orleans.
Everyone knows what happened next. Everyone knows about the immense damage done by Katrina. Everyone knows about the levee breaks. Everyone knows about the flooding of the city. Everyone knows about the people stranded in New Orleans and the horrible conditions they had to endure.
Like so many other people, I have been distressed to see the pictures from New Orleans. I’ve tried to do what I can to help the victims, donating money to the Red Cross. My family is still in Florida. My cousin has no idea if her home is still there. Information she’s seen shows that her neighborhood was submerged in three-four feet of water this week. She’s renting a house in Florida, and her husband is trying to find a job. Her oldest son is six and she’s trying to get him in school in Florida. My wife and I are sending her new clothes for her children, since they only have what they could pack in a few suitcases before they left New Orleans last weekend.
And like so many other people, I am outraged by the events this week. I’ve seen both our President and several members of his cabinet claim that nobody could have seen this coming. It’s the biggest lie I’ve heard him tell since he claimed that we needed to invade Iraq because they had weapons of mass destruction. I’ve heard about the doomsday scenario in New Orleans my whole life. Just last summer, when Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the doomsday scenario was all over the news. Certainly just last weekend it was a major topic of discussion. The mayor of New Orleans listed it as the reason why he had ordered the evacuation of the city.
No, people knew this could happen. It wasn’t difficult to imagine it happening last Saturday. So why didn’t people prepare for it? When I say people, I mean the government. There was an imminent threat to millions of Americans last weekend, and the government did not do much to deal with it. It wasn’t until the damage was done and – most importantly – pictures of it were all over the television that the government responded.
Why didn’t the government step in and help evacuate New Orleans? Why weren’t there more busses, or airplanes to get people out of harm’s way? Why wasn’t the National Guard ready to be sent in to the city after the storm? Why weren’t they read to respond to the levee breaks? Why wasn’t there a plan in place to bring food and supplies to the people stranded in the city after the storm?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. Some have suggested that it shows the operational incompetence of the President and his administration. It is similar to how unprepared they were to govern Iraq after it was conquered. I think there’s some truth in that. Bush ruined several companies before he went in to government, and that seems consistent with his inability to manage large operations as a President.
The President toured the gulf coast on Friday. A woman there told him she needed help because she had no clothes for her children. I found The President’s response very telling. He told her that The Salvation Army would help her. I hope she wasn’t hoping the federal government would help her, because she would be disappointed.
Indeed, The President’s chief concern seems to be security. This is certainly a valid concern. You can’t help people if you’re being shot at. But when people are in such horrible conditions, then you would like to know that your President wants to do more than send in troops to shoot people stealing TVs.

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