Aug 29 2006
07:09 am

One year ago today I was blogless, and Chris Kromm had invited me to guest blog at Facing South for a week while he was on vacation. Needless to say, there was a pretty big story breaking on my first day. To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Katrina, here is a Facing South flashback to that week.

An excerpt from Day 3:


We’re watching the reports from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. I am unable to process, much less describe, the magnitude of what we are seeing. Not much else seems very important today.

As the personal accounts start coming in, we begin to get an idea of the terrifying ordeal those who could not or would not leave have endured.

Seeing someone with the remains of a loved one they can’t even bury, wrapped in sheets, waiting by a flooded road for someone to tell them what to do with the body...

...hearing the first-hand account of a man who was stranded with his family on the roof of their home, holding on tightly to his wife’s hand, watching the storm surge approach, his wife saying “You can’t hold on to me, take care of the children and the grandchildren…” as she lets go and is swept away along with their home and all their belongings...

...watching entire families plucked from the rooftops of submerged houses, reeled into helicopters one by one...

...watching families and children and the elderly and infirmed being pulled into boats through holes chopped into their roofs and attics, embracing their rescuers, thanking them for saving their lives and the lives of their families...

...seeing families wading in chest deep water, what few belongings they could save floating alongside in plastic trash bags...

...search and rescue teams marking homes and structures where bodies are found with a red ‘X’, leaving them and moving on to the next structure, hoping to find survivors...

It’s almost more than one can bear to watch, and impossible to comprehend. Being there and living through it, or dying in it, is unimaginable.

No food. No water. No power. No medical supplies or assistance. No sanitary facilities. No communications. No roads in or out. No infrastructure. No shelter. And seemingly no hope. This is the situation this morning for New Orleans and most of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is human tragedy on a Biblical scale.

One feels helpless. And frustrated. And angry. There are many questions. Where is the National Guard? Where is FEMA? Where are the provisions? Where are the shelters? Why can’t the Corps of Engineers repair the levees and stop the flooding? Why were the poor not evacuated? What happened to the plans and preparations? Is it even possible to prepare for a catastrophe of this magnitude?

The answers will have to come later. Right now there’s no time to even count the dead. There is only time to save as many lives as possible."

Socialist With A Gold Card's picture

A year ago

God, it seems like an eternity since we all watched New Orleans die while Nero fiddled.

I'm sure a lot of people don't remember this: ten days before Katrina, record flooding hit parts of Switzerland, southern Germany, Austria, and Romania. Although the later news of Katrina pushed this story out of the American headlines, hundreds of people in Central Europe died in the floods.

Does anybody remember this?

Although the destruction in Europe was nothing compared to Katrina, it was nevertheless significant. Entire towns were destroyed, and many others were cut off from the outside world due to washed-out roads, bridges, and railways.

The Swiss town of Engelberg, as just one example, was completely cut off from the world when the only road down the mountain was washed away. Within 24 hours of the flooding, military and private helicopters were deployed to the town from Lucerne, which is 30 miles away. The 5,000 residents and 3,000 or so tourists were airlifted to Lucerne (which was itself under about 10 feet of water). The only people allowed to stay behind were those engaged in cleanup operations.

This story was repeated many times across Central Europe. The rescue operations were swift, effective, and thorough. They included a combination of firemen, police, military, NGOs, and private citizens spontaneously doing whatever they could.

A week after Katrina, I went to Europe for a few weeks on a trip I'd been planning for months. I went to Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I rented a car and drove the whole way, taking the back roads through the countryside. I saw firsthand the devastation of the flooding, taking detours where necessary due to washed-out roads. However, the reconstruction was already well under way; less than three weeks after the floods, the road up that steep mountain to Engelberg had been rebuilt and reopened, Lucerne and Basel had been cleaned out, and the roads in southern Germany were already rebuilt.

Across the afffected areas, I met many wonderful, hospitable people. During conversation, they'd inevitably ask the same questions: "What the hell has happened to your country? What the hell happened to New Orleans? Why did your government let those people die?" They weren't being accusatory; they were genuinely shocked, appalled, and completely bumfuzzled that the wealthiest country in the history of the world was incapable of evacuating a few thousand people who had been left to die in their own filth in the Convention Center.

Looking at the difference in the European and American responses to disaster, I really couldn't come up with an adequate answer.

One guy in Germany asked, "Is this what Bush means by 'small government'?" He wasn't being snarky; he legitimately didn't understand why "small government" is considered desirable by conservatives in this country.

I could only answer "Yes, I think it is."

--Socialist With A Gold Card

"I'm a socialist with a gold card. I firmly believe we need a revolution; I'm just concerned that I won't be able to get good moisturizer afterwards." --Brett Butler


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