Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina

This past week I have watched more news programming than I normally do in a year. The images from New Orleans, Biloxi and the other devasted areas brought home the harshest realities of nature. As humans, we think we have so much control over our environment - we dam rivers, build levees to control mighty rivers, harness the wind with wind turbines, build amazing roads over the roughest mountain terrain, and construct sea walls to protect our cities from mighty storms. We think that we can plan for every emergency. But this year, our world has been confronted by unprecedented natural catastrophies - the Tsunami in the Pacific and now Katrina in the US.

We have big expectations for our government also. When a disaster occurs, we have look to our governments for protection and rescue. I can remember other hurricanes in the gulf that came near New Orleans and the fears and projections for what a large category 5 storm could do. They even ran a drill last summer to be prepared for exactly this emergency. But even the best laid plans can be impossible to execute in face of a catastrophe as large as Katrina. While President Bush declared the area as disaster even before the hurricane hit, many things went horribly wrong. The Superdome protected thousands of people during the wrath of the storm, but no preparations were made for food or water or police supervision. The Coast Guard was on the scene immediately (as were other private boats) rescuing people from flooded homes and trees. Not only was New Orleans devasted but also the Mississippi and Alabama coast areas. Initially, the storm seemed to do minimal damage to New Orleans, people (including government officials) breathed a sigh of relief . . . . . . and then in the darkness of night, the levees failed. People who had been relatively safe in their homes were now fighting a battle to live by climbing into attics and onto roofs. People left in the city - some out of fear and desperation looted to get needed food and water to survive. Others looted out of greed. The worst aspects of human nature were manifested during the criminal looting, and the attacks at the SuperDome.

Communications failed within the city - while the news crews had satellite links - and kept much of the world apprised - the emergency crews could not commmunicate and coordinate essessential services. Could we have done better - no doubt. On the other hand, this event was much worse than the other hurricanes that have hit our country. It is so easy to want to find some one to blame . . . . . . and yet in life some things just happen. Sometimes there is a strong leader in a community that can organize and keep things moving smoothly. Sometimes leaders are in place who have wonderful skills, but perhaps not the ones needed for this emergency. One reality, the local government in New Orleans and Louisiana somehow failed to take adequate action in the first 24-48 hours. But even the local police were dealing with strong emotions and terrible personal losses. Perhaps more and earlier allocations of National Guard resources and military would have alleviated some of the suffering. But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, it is necessary to do some assessment as to what is needed and how to get it there - wasting precious hours. Apparently the preplanning for what would be needed was inadequate for the reality. But humans are by their very nature imperfect creatures. We are prone to procrastination. Each hurricane that passed without massive damage lulled us into a false sense of security. And once the levee's failed, I'm not sure there were roads open for the need dumptrucks and bulldozers needed. The current was so strong that I'm not sure there was a way to repair the levee until the water had reached the level point and the current no longer existed.

Unfortunately, the most dire predictions have come true. Where there was flooding we have a toxic, bacteria filled sludge. So much of New Orleans and the surrounding area has been destroyed. Throughout the country, we grieve with those folks who have lost everything.

We've heard so much about the things that went wrong. . . . . . But I believe that there are stories of courage and human caring out there. I hope the news media will search them out so we don't lose sight of the goodness that is also a part of human nature. We've heard enough about what went wrong. Let's hear about things that are working as we assimilate the "refugees" of Katrina as they are spread throughout the United States. The volunteers who sorted clothes by size, the doctors and nurses at the hospitals that fought for their patient's lives under such adverse circumstances, the police officers who stayed at their posts during the storm separated from their families, the people who are planning how to care for the animals in distress. There are many amazing stories out there. As a people, we need to hear both the good and the bad.


Chris Nystrom said...

I agree. There are stories of heroes. We need to hear more about those.

Bettye said...

The new casters have been spreading all the news about the evil done. We will only slowly discover about the quiet heros of this catastrophy.
There are many out there doing whatever they can to ease the problems caused by Katrina and her aftermath.
God Bless and Keep them one and all.