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September 23, 2005

Dancing on Good Friday

Roy Meachum

The priest stood in the pulpit of New Orleans' St. Francis de Sales Church. He preached for the need to have reverence for holy days. He warned of the consequences if we did not.

Leaning over the rail he thundered: "Remember Grand Isle! They danced on Good Friday and God sent the hurricane to punish them."

He did not say which hurricane; in the event the storms had no names in those years. My native state's southernmost presence in the Gulf of Mexico was leveled more than once.

The year after the 1900 Galveston catastrophe killed 6,000 Texans, another 2,000 died in Louisiana. That might have been the hurricane the preacher meant.

So-called men of God ever try to cash in on the fears wrought by Mother Nature. They had an easier time before television presented innumerable experts to explain what had once been unexplainable.

Unfazed by modern science and technology, an Israeli rabbi told his faithful that Katrina was a punishment visited on the United States for American insistence that occupied Gaza should be restored to the Palestinians. Presumably his faithful believed him; nobody else did.

Contemplating the destructive force due to write another terrible chapter in Gulf Coast history sometime tonight, it's safe to bet Texas, the Bible Belt' s fiercest daughter, is in for a round of sermonizing that will rival the hurricane for tempestuous hot air.

The intention here is to make fun of no one's faith, but to point out Shakespeare was right. In "Julius Caesar," the verity appears: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves."

Whatever pain and suffering wrought by this newest hurricane, they cannot be fairly attributed to either God or Mother Nature, the divine accomplice. The fault, dear reader, lies in the way man has defied both nature and common sense by failing to recognize the obvious.

As ancient Greeks splashed a little wine on the ground to acknowledge their gods, Bacchus in particular, modern society must recognize the great gift posed by the sea, including the Gulf of Mexico. The splash of wine's counterpart should be accepting the constraints demanded by safety.

Gulfport, Biloxi and the entire Mississippi coast developed at a frantic pace in the latter half of the last century. The great climax arrived with those floating casinos. They were forced to tether their splendid bulks in the water in order to conform to some hypocritical notion that they might be more immoral if plopped down on land.

Considering the investment they represented, for the state as well as their owners, the absurdity of their "barge" status should have been extinguished long before Katrina came ashore and reduced all 20 casinos to little more than trash.

If you are unmoved to shed tears for the gambling crowd, then weep a little for the state's poor treasury, losing a half-million dollars a day, as I recall. Think of all the medical services and milk that cannot now be paid for.

Whatever the aftermath along the stretch that sweeps from Corpus Christi east, we can be sure the deluge will wash away an abundance of similar examples of how man and government insisted on defying Mother Nature.

Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center produced evidence this week New Orleans' flooding did not result from a powerful surge in Lake Pontchartrain that topped the seawall. Instead, the scientists said, sections gave way to water pressure. They said at its tallest the wave fell several feet below the wall's top.

At this writing, mighty scrambling prevails: Does the blame belong on the Army's Corps of Engineers or on the construction company paid with taxpayer money?

It does not matter to friends who landed in Frederick this week; they evacuated two nights before Katrina converted their Lakeview neighborhood into a Pontchartrain estuary. Still, they hesitated as people do, arguing whether to go or stay, until they dashed out of the house leaving their worldly goods (and necessities) behind.

Secure in Maryland, the native New Orleanians confront the reality of FEMA, which had taken their premiums for flood insurance but shows little sign of willingly paying off their loss.

But two Septembers after Isabelle trashed lives over toward the Chesapeake Bay, there are families still waiting for delivery on government promises their lives will be put together again. They now face eviction from the mobile homes feds brought in before 2003 turned into an election year.

If he were still alive and possessed of a grasp of the current situation, I can but wonder if the St. Frances de Sales priest would still find hurricanes are God's means of punishing sinners, especially those who dance on Holy Days. Maybe not.

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