The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men
If the December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster got the world's mighty thinking about what would happen to their economies should such disasters happened in their backyard, where ever that may be, Hurricane Katrina certainly hammered the nail home, proving once and for all that such disasters may happen anywhere and everywhere. On a more positive note saw the enormous, unprecedented surge of planetary solidarity and a real wish to help a developing region in need of help.
With Hurricane Katrina the world watched, perhaps with no little schadenfreude, as one country showed its inability to anticipate a homeland crisis, not because of lack of funds or material but simply because of an uncoordinated bureaucratic machine with a strategy issue. We saw an immense media circus and we saw an American President arriving after the disaster, a long time after... but what we didn't see was the same surge of planetary solidarity that accompanied the Dec 2004 Tsunami disaster, and no real wish to help. The mighty had been touched and was more than able to fend for itself!
(* The FEMA, in charge of managing internal emergencies, had just found itself enrolled into the newly formed Homeland Security Department whose specific mandate, as stipulated by a post 9/11 federal order, was to prioritise security against external aggression rather than making contingencies for Homeland emergencies)
Chronicle of a Disaster, Announced
Experts had been announcing the disaster for years but the warnings had been ignored. Hurrican Katrina hit land just east of New Orleans as a category 4 cyclone, downgraded from category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Some say fortunately it did weaken because the winds over 160 MPH and the deluge that immediately hit the streets of the"Big Easy", ripped out windows and roofs but the worst was still to come. Lake Pontchartrain's levees broke and the disaster that had been announced, but studiously ignored by successive Federal administrations for years,happened swamping the city with water reaching up to the roofs of 2 story houses, forcing the sewage up out of the underground canals and driving those that could flee away leaving the poor and the weakened to fend for themselves. Abandoned!
Policemen walked off the job, armed groups roaming the streets, raping and killing, New Orleans Superdome was no man's land and the French Quarter off limits. One Congresswoman asked why the Federal administration couldn't get assets in as fast as CNN got their TV crews in?
...one week afterwards the city was one enormous military camp with over 30 000 National guards, Marines, and other battle units just back from Iraq, there were even US Air Force Special forces to help restore order.
When you think that the administration at the time was contemplating reducing the federal budget for Levee maintenance by ± 80%! Well now Katrina's left them a hefty 26 Billion $ tab. Not to mention the death toll, which no one seems in a hurry to want to calculate. One Louisiana Senator estimates the loss of human life at ±10 000 and New Orleans authorities announce an official death toll of... 59 but expected to rise. That was announced on the Sept 05. One week, day for day, after the Hurricane hit!
We know it's not easy for the World's 01st super power to have to ask for international aid, especially when certain central American governments were offering to send 1 100 doctors into the disaster zone as if to say that the Americans couldn't cut it. But people, Americans, were asking if this was really happening in the USA? They couldn't believe it. CNN couldn't believe it! Newsweek couldn't believe it! These were the sort of images they were used to seeing in Bangladesh, Banda Aceh, Somalia, Ethiopia... anywhere but not in their own backyard. Some CNN talking head mentioned that the newsreels only showed Afro-American people but that's not really unusual when you think that 65% of New Orleans' inhabitants are of Afro-American origin and 30% live under the poverty threshold.
Post Scriptum. I'm not forgetting the other places impacted by Katrina and certainly not the folks in places like Biloxi Bay, Saint Louis or Gulfport, Mississippi, cruelly affected by the Hurricane Katrina, it's just that after having visited New Orleans in 2003, for a nephew's marriage, I have a certain affinity for the Big Easy, especially after having had to go through a tornado, over Dallas/Forth Worth, to get there.
© N.Richards 09/2005 & 11/2007