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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Death by the Mississippi

My last entry hoped for a prompt and effective aid reaching the victims of the hurricane Katrina. Very unfortunately that was not to be.
From this side of the Atlantic we have been watching in disbelief the unfolding of a tragedy that only the well informed could foresee: how bad a hurricane can be, the orographical situation of the Gulf coast and that of New Orleans specifically, the social situation of the population in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi states and least of all, the striking difference between the United States enormous might and resources and their ability to provide effective aid to the victims of a major natural disaster.
My, and I would dare say, most people culture of naturals disasters comes from the disaster movies. Most movies deal with the rescue that follows the disaster and the heroics around it. Thus it seems incredible that now it took more than 5 days to get help to the refugees in New Orleans Superdome and a whole week to restore some sort of law and order.
That New Orleans is below sea level is well known. It is even mentioned in touristic brochures. That the levees would or not hold in case of a water surge must be a consideration continuously present when building levees.
The song by Don McLean about the demise of Buddy Holly “The day the music died…” talked about a levee that was dry.
So bye-bye, miss american pie.
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

Dry to rhyme with “die” and “rye”
The first time I heard it, new to the South, I had to ask what a levee was. I have not been across any levee ever since, until last Sunday when I watched on the satellite TV a diagram depicting a cut of New Orleans and the differences in levels of lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river with the ground level of the city.
So the flood was predictable.
The Census Bureau said that 12.7% of Americans were living below the poverty threshold in 2004. The three states with the highest poverty rates were Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana.
That poverty includes lack of all kinds of resources, and thus that of transport, could easily bring to the conclusion that even though an order of evacuation was in effect, a good whole lot of people would stay behind. And that most would be poor and handicapped. With a large number of people, poor, abandoned to their fate in an empty city, looting, violence and lawlessness were also foreseeable. It’s all right to get people out of harm’s way but law enforcers should stay put, shouldn’t they? Someone has to mind the shop.
As for why it took so long to get rescue efforts underway is a question meriting a federal investigation. Fingers may point to a variety of directions but mine points straight to GW Bush and his pathetic appearances in the media more than three days after the magnitude of the catastrophe was quite obvious.
I would not take issue with the comments of Rev. Jesse Jackson and some members of the Black Democratic Caucus as to whether race was o was not a matter in this terrible mess. Misery has many faces. Sometimes that of comments. But this time around won’t be Weapons of Mass Destruction to blame, nor could anyone justify the invasion of Cuba on the grounds that two million Cubans were blowing in the wind at the tail of Katrina which wouldn’t be any more preposterous.
Still, a Spanish TV crew showed how three consecutive police cars with white officers refused to evacuate two black persons that were walking by them on one of the highways overpasses. Then another police car came by with black officers that carried them away. So there.
When I see water I think of Navy. Seeing the flurry of helicopters flying around over New Orleans downtown skyline I cannot but to wonder that shouldn’t be easier to get there by boat? The LC’s that landed in Omaha beach at Normandy or Guadalcanal are not around anymore?. Flood waters are shallow alright, but there should be plenty of low draught vessels or dinghies to navigate a flooded city.
The same with the levee breaches they try to plug up with helicopters carrying sand and cement blocks. Wouldn’t it be easier to pull a couple of large loaded barges and scuttle them right there? With all due respect for the Army Corps of Engineers… isn’t there a Navy one?
Let’s hope that this nightmare will pass and that restoration of cities, towns and peoples’ lives will get underway effectively, and the dead can get not only rest but recognition.
Sunday, 04 September 2005

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