Friday, September 2, 2005

Katrina

The sufferings of millions of people in southern Louisiana, Mississippi and coastal Alabama from the passage of Hurricane “Katrina” these past several days fill all of us with despair and sadness. Seldom has more disaster, ruin and misery followed in the wake of a Gulf storm. Hurricane “Katrina” has inundated not only poor flooded New Orleans, and flattened not only Biloxi and Gulfport, but has drowned and crushed the collective heart of the Nation.

“Katrina” fouled a wide swath of the coastal South with its presence, but all eyes are now on New Orleans. Not since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 has such utter devastation been visited on a major American city. In the space of a few hours last Monday morning, modern high-tech civilization on a densely populated coast ended. Cell-phones, television, Blackberries, fax machines, radio - the whole panoply of the wired world became as useless as buggy-whips.

The mayor of New Orleans has expressed his understandable frustration and rage at the speed of aid for his city and people. We must sympathize with his anguish and that of his citizens; but very real suffering and pain, and everyone’s desire for its prompt relief cannot assemble or move the needed supplies, rescue the trapped, or restore order. The sheer size of this calamity clearly overwhelmed the readily available means of coping with it.

Surely all is being done that can be done. Help is on the way. But the broken highways, flooded airports, blocked river ports, and the vanished or fled local labor force; even without the complete breakdown of law and order all make for delays in the help’s arriving.

Even more than aid and evacuation for the suffering, ending the carnival of rape, murder and looting unleashed by the criminal element on the vast majority of law-abiding people just trying to survive and escape is the most urgent immediate task. Neither rescue nor relief can proceed if thugs are shooting at doctors, rescuers and aid workers. This is America, not Somalia, Haiti or Iraq. New Orleans is not Baghdad. Americans have a right to expect order in their streets, and the military forces now entering New Orleans should make plenty of summary examples out of the barbarians exploiting the sufferings of others.

Looters and similar scum in the wake of natural disaster are an old story. So, unfortunately, are politicians who exploit the dead to advance their causes. Jesse Jackson today chided President Bush for his “lack of sensitivity and compassion” and questioned why the President has not named blacks to top positions in the disaster relief effort. “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership and trapped in the suffering?” Reverend Jackson conveniently overlooked the fact that the U.S. Army Lieutenant-General commanding the Joint Task Force overseeing relief efforts, is black.

No doubt Reverend Jackson and other carpers will locate television cameras to caper in front of without difficulty, but the adults have work to do. Jackson and the other politicians battening on the afflicted to promote themselves should be ashamed.
There is no doubt that New Orleans, along with Biloxi, Gulfport and all else devastated by this storm will be rebuilt. New Orleans, in particular, is too bound-up with the national story, and too important to the national commerce, not to rise again. But that is for later. Now we must beat down the lawless, console the bereaved, comfort the sick and pray for the dead.

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