Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pondering Katrina's Aftermath

I am finding it difficult to fathom all the death, destruction, and chaos on the Gulf Coast. I can’t imagine an entire city under water. An entire city made unlivable for months or years to come in less than a day. People stranded on roofs and law enforcement personal torn between search and rescue efforts and looting prevention. I can’t imagine people dying of exposure, starvation, and dehydration on a large scale in America. Dead bodies floating and lying the streets. Snipers shooting at hospitals. Citizens shooting at rescue helicopters. People taking refuge in high places so they can to escape not just the floods, but the violence. Families splitting up in the hopes that at least some of them will find help. This is the kind of thing that happens on the other side of the world or in a horror movie. Not here. Not for real.

The desperation of survivors still stranded makes the situation even worse. It is one thing to lose everything. It is yet another to lose everything then die slowly with no way of knowing if help will come in time. When your life is in danger, your instinct isn’t exactly to sit around and wait for someone to tell you what to do now. Normally, after a disaster like this, you would start to clean up and either rebuild or move on. These people can’t even do that. The disaster is still going on for them.

When there is an emergency, the states often turn to the National Guard. But the concept of the National Guard as reserves and emergency help has been demolished by the Iraq war. They were called up as a first, not last, resort and sent across the world to “take the war to the terrorists”, only now our troops are over there, and we need them here. Yes, some troops are in LA, MS, and AL. And more are on the way. But many more could have been there much sooner.

If it takes this long to respond to an emergency we at least had some idea was coming, how prepared are we for an unexpected emergency? Natural or otherwise? Perhaps a terrorist attack could not impact this large an area, but what about an earthquake? Or a volcanic eruption? Or another hurricane? I recognize that this is an extreme situation, but it’s been 5 days and the death toll is still rising.

Even if the situation is only 20% as bad as the media makes it out to be, it is still overwhelming. It is still mind-boggling. And it’s still not over.

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