Thursday, September 01, 2005

My heart hurts. 

I've been watching the coverage of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I'm incredulous that such a situation is occurring within the United States. We may end up with more dying after the storm than during it.

I can understand that there was no way to protect the Gulf coast of Mississippi. Very little will withstand sustained winds of 150mph. The areas hardest hit were simply leveled by the storm, and there's no escaping that. New Orleans should have received the funding to strengthen the levees years ago, but I'm not even certain that fortified levees could have held up in this situation. So the flooding was inevitable. Sad, yes, but inevitable.

And I greatly admire the efforts of the search and rescue teams, risking their own lives to fly amongst downed power lines and hacking through unstable rooftops to get to those who needed help. And the medical staff who stayed behind to take care of critical patients without electricity or running water and now are running out of generators. And the two men, residents of New Orleans I saw on the news going door to door in their neighborhood with a boat to transport the elderly and ill. And the woman frantically searching for food or juice for diabetics.

What I cannot understand, however, is 20,000 people stranded outside a convention center with no supplies, no transportation and no leadership. Stranded for THREE DAYS. During the news coverage, two dead bodies were discovered amidst the crowd, and one of the woman they interviewed said she seen five people die waiting for help. And one woman went into diabetic shock on camera because she had no insulin. Or the critically ill patients who had been taken to a hospital rooftop in wheelchairs and beds to await rescue helicopters that never came. One died during the news coverage, and others were on the verge of death.

Yes, I know it's difficult to get to those stranded in flooded homes, but where are the buses to transport the people at the convention center? Three days is enough time to get them relief. Where is the help promised the hospitals? The medical staff cannot hold out much longer. And, most important, WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP??? Why is no one organizing the hysterical, desperate masses who just want to know what they should do? It would go a long way toward alleviating the panic that has set in. Of course there is looting. The help promised has not come, and there is danger of people actually dying of dehydration if they don't locate nourishment someplace.

Our president says there should be zero tolerance for looting. Is he insane?? How can anyone with a conscience fault a mom with hungry kids for trying to find food for them? Or someone with bleeding feet for trying to find some sturdy shoes? Yes, I know some people are resorting to lawlessness of the worst kind with no genuine need as motivation, and I hope they can be dissuaded, but let's not start shooting people who are only trying to survive.

I am hearing that racism is at work here, that the powers that be are dragging their feet because the majority of those stranded are poor African Americans. Deep down I feared a situation like this but dismissed it thinking that surely the US government was above acting that way. But I cannot help but wonder as I see thousands and thousands of people crying for help, and most of them are indeed African American. So many in wheelchairs or trying to push a walker through deep water, elderly people so very weak in the hot sun, babies crying from hunger. I don't give a damn about their ethnicity. They are humans needing help.

The American public at least has not been stingy: $93 million has been donated toward the relief effort in just the past three days. The local colleges are accepting students from Mississippi and Louisiana and are offering them free tuition until their home state colleges are up and running again. Local families have taken in indefinitely friends and relatives who managed to evacuate. The Dave Matthews Band and our local concert promotion company have announced a fundraising concert to take place in a few weeks with all proceeds to go to the relief effort. And the local news has shown the national guard troops, the FEMA crews, and civilians who wanted to help. Most left by Tuesday and are hard at work already assisting where they can.

I visited New Orleans and Mississippi as a teenager. My dad had friends in Biloxi. I remember being amazed at how beautiful it was, but I was also a little unnerved about how close to the water everything in southern Louisiana seemed to be. I couldn't help wondering what protection they had from hurricanes and waves. It breaks my heart that 80 to 90 percent of that beautiful area is gone and/or uninhabitable.

The saddest part of all is that those who had the least to start with are the ones most likely to pay with their lives. Most of the people stranded had no transportation with which to evacuate, or they were disabled and couldn't leave their homes. Chronically ill people probably not so different from me except that they are now cut off from their valuable meds, who cannot withstand more than a day or two without food or water. People with young children, desperate to help them. And so many babies. I can't get over how many babies.

My heart hurts. And now my head does too.

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