31 August 2005
The Big Breezy
I don't know where to begin. I never thought I would read a story about residents of the United States being referred to as "refugees" but I suppose that is exactly what the people of New Orleans are right now. The devastation is overwhelming. How ironic that on the morning the storm hit, I heard so many people on TV say that the city got a break when the storm turned slightly east at the last moment. They forgot to tell that to the levies holding back Lake Pontchartrain (the coolest name for a lake in the entire country; Champlagne is a close second).
I had to turn it off this afternoon, because I was suspended between states of anger, disbelief, and unmitigated sadness. I think disbelief and sadness are easily understood; I feel so badly for everyone down there. I can't imagine not being able to go back to the city I live in possibly for several months. The anger might have to be explained...
Well, first, it was so nice to see our "Vacationer-in-Chief" finally get off his brush-clearing behind and get back to Washington to actually manage a crisis. I avoided comment on the whole "let's take five weeks off" deal because it was a complete non-surprise to me (though now that I think of it, don't the French do the same thing?). I was especially touched at how the President described flying over New Orleans and Mississippi today to get a first hand look at the destruction. Perhaps someone threw some garbage on him as well, so he could get even more of a feel for it.
Since I bash him there will be those that read this who think I am blaming the president for all this. While our fearless brush-clearing leader has been responsible for plenty of shit storms these last five years, even he can't be capable of such a calamity. I do wonder, though, how many in his precious far right Christian base think these people got what they deserved, since it was New Orleans (liquor and sex) and Mississippi (gambling). I have yet to see any comments to that effect, but then I don't think Pat Robertson has made a public statement yet.
I do blame the government for something though, and this is truly a bipartisan faulting: if memory serves me correctly, there were FOUR hurricanes that hit the US last year, the most active hurricane season ever. And every forecast I saw for this year said it would be worse. I can remember my father telling me twenty years ago that if New Orleans ever got hit directly by a big hurricane, it would be a mess. He explained to me why: (it took several hours) the city was below sea level. My father was an extremely smart man, yet I doubt he was the only one in the nation who knew what would happen to the Big Easy if it got hit by a Big Breezy. Given the events of last year, wouldn't it had made sense for someone to say "you know, this is bad, but if it hit New Orleans, it would be a whole lot worse. Are we prepared?" Why wasn't there a plan for the aftermath of a hurricane hitting this city? The local, state and federal level seems to have dropped the ball on this, big time.
I give credit for the call for an evacuation ahead of the storm, but in hindsight, given that in parts of New Orleans people live in poverty, wouldn't it have been best to have a plan to get everybody out? Did anyone really think that putting 20,000 people in a domed stadium would be a good thing? It was a good thing, I suppose, in that it kept people safe from the storm, but surely, the powers that be knew that with no air conditioning or plumbing, things would get nasty there in a hurry.
One wonders what might have happened if instead of spending 300 billion to invade and (maybe) repair a country that posed no threat to us, what could be happening in New Orleans right now if perhaps a third of that money was spent on higher levees, or a new pumping system. I see know that it takes many Americans dying at once to get this administration to care, instead of a lot of Americans dying over the course of two years.
You can't prevent acts of God. I know that. And I think it is silly to ridicule or blame people simply because they live in a place where this could happen. Anything can happen anywhere. Still, there's nothing wrong with being a little prepared for extreme situations when it is likely to happen someday. Like they say, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. I can't help but think that New Orleans had about four opportunities last year to have a significant case of the "what-if" hee-bee gee-bees.
The thing that angers me the most though are the people who have no respect for the place they live in and take this as an opportunity to break the law. I was completely disgusted to see videoof people looting their local Wal-Mart yesterday. If I were seeing desperate people taking food and water, I'd think they were being resourceful. It's the electronics, cigarettes and toys that make me hope the National Guard shows up, starts shooting, and forgets to ask any questions.
Maybe that's a bit harsh. I'm a big believer in karma, and I know those people who have shown themselves to be complete savages will get theirs eventually. And that is the best thing I can think of about that.
I heard someone say yesterday that this is "our tsunami." No, it isn't. It's not even close. Have about one hundred more Katrina's hit with the same amount of death and destruction and it might be about the same as what the tsunami did last December. Why do people have to exaggerate? It's "your hurricane," and let's hope the rest of the world responds to your needs the way it did in Asia last year.
I've never been to New Orleans. A cousin of mine has always talked about us taking a trip there, but we've never been able to make it happen. I did drive through it once, in June of 2003. I was taking the scenic route back from Tampa and spent the day driving west along Interstate 10. I've seen some of the places that they have been speaking of the last few days; I drove on the bridge over Mobile Bay that is currently closed because an oil rig slammed into it. I saw some of the casinos in Mississippi that are no longer there. What I remember most about that drive is the stretch of I-10 just before New Orleans. The road turns southwest as it butts the east end of Lake Pontchartrain, and I drove this part as the sun was starting to set. The sky was clear. It was just me, the water, a deep blue sky, and a radiant red sun. It only lasted ten minutes or so, and I was in no position to pull over and take a picture (no shoulder), but the images will stay with me forever.
I chose to stay in Baton Rouge that night instead of New Orleans. It was a Friday night and I did not have a place to stay, so I figured it would be easier to find someplace in the capital. As you drive west past New Orleans towards Baton Rouge, you see quite a bit of Lake Pontchartrain. It's a lot like driving along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago-you see nothing but water. Lake Michigan, though, does not have the electrical towers rising out of it like Lake Pontchartrain does. I'm still not sure how they managed to do that.
I'm going to make it back down to New Orleans one of these days, probably not for a while now though. I'm kicking myself for not spending a day or two there when I had the chance.