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As Long as We Remember...

September 6, 2005

Death of a City

Edward Lulie III

New Orleans did not dodge the bullet this time. The city that gave birth to Jazz and defied fate for decades fell beneath the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.

Tall buildings still stand, as does the Superdome; but in fact the city has been dealt a mortal blow. It may recover as a smaller, less populated town. But the city we knew is dead. The destruction that ravaged the Gulf Coast is a painful reminder that civilization is more fragile than we admit and that man, despite all of our culture and science, does not control nature.

There was no excuse for the town to degenerate into looting and violence. Where was the National Guard? Where did the police go?

The very people responsible for maintaining order (mayor and governor) were quickly blaming the federal government. While they may have a case to argue, where were they when it came to planning and preparation? How can you ignore the lack of preparedness in New Orleans? Should not the city government have the most responsibility?

My own political thoughts about this is that anyone who stands up and seeks political gain from this should be promptly placed down in New Orleans for a first hand look at what disaster really means. I would not let them leave until the last remaining pet was evacuated.

This is a time when there should be no Democrats, no Republicans, nor Independents. Just Americans. Yet it already seems tragically obvious that too many of us have completely forgotten what that is supposed to mean.

Can you rebuild a city that never should have been built in the first place? Where do you put the survivors until they can relocate? My own thought is that the families and friends of many will most often be the ones to give shelter and help; long before the federal or local governments. It is an immense disaster, staggering to contemplate.

The media has been focused on the survivors and the devastation. Yet few are reporting what happened outside the city. Where are the reports about the 350,000-plus residents who did evacuate? Are they expected to live in shelters and motels until Christmas? The truth is that almost all of them have no homes or jobs to which they can return.

The French Quarter, located on higher ground, will certainly be restored and provide a tourist attraction and jobs. Entire neighborhoods will never be rebuilt.

The truth is that many surviving property owners will never get to go home because their homes will be condemned. Insurance companies will not insure against future disasters. Many will come home to find a debris-covered site where their home once stood and discover that they will not be allowed to rebuild there.

The actual extent of this disaster is still unknown. We still have no idea how many people have died; many were trapped inside their homes, unable to get out. We still do not know how many buildings remain or how many were destroyed. You can not tell just by looking at a structure from outside whether it is stable or about to collapse.

The power grid is largely destroyed. The water system requires a source of clean unpolluted water to function; even if they find clean water the network of pipes is damaged and must first be repaired.

We have no memories to which to compare this disaster. The worst hurricanes in our lifetime destroyed small areas of cities, not a whole metropolis. The politicians out to avoid blame will point fingers and some will (and have) tried to seek partisan advantage from the tragedy. That is just another form of "looting" and even less understandable than what has happened in New Orleans.

This is a national tragedy and you would hope that every state would pitch in without being asked to send help.

Yet help must be organized and coordinated. It takes time; that is something the survivors - hot, hungry and thirsty - cannot understand.

How do you accept that there is no help when you need it the most?

When your family has lost everything and may be looking for missing family members?

It tugs at our hearts to hear of kids being torn, in tears, from their pets when being packed on buses to leave the city. How do you tell a child who has lost his home that the pet he loves, and that he has sheltered and protected, can not be saved with him?

What of the families? Can we even begin to understand what it means to be homeless and not knowing if your daughter, son, brother, sister, husband, father or mother is still alive?

Can you imagine how hard it must be to go looking for food and water instead of continuing to search for family members who are missing?

In the days ahead there will be little time to mourn the death and destruction as we seek to save the survivors. It is impossible not to feel numb by this tragedy else we just stand paralyzed by shock and grief.

Yet life will go on and the rebuilding will begin. This major disaster has touched all of our lives. That we can affect climate and weather seems likely; but we lack completely the power to control it.

In our conceit and ill placed faith in science, we pretend that we have control; we do not. Nature still rules this planet, not us.

Yellow Cab
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