I’d been wanting to post on this for a while, but it’s really hard to know what to say when a catastrophe of this magnitude that is so completely devastating takes place in our own country…I’ve been listening to NPR all week covering Katrina, but there is much they do not cover there (CNN seems to do a much better job). However, I heard a very brief, yet quite touching, story on NPR that seemed to sum up some of my feelings. Going through in my mind all that I’ve heard about Katrina and the aftermath, here are some thoughts I wanted to voice and maybe get a dialogue going on:

  • Hypothetically thinking: In one of my classes we were discussing how such a disaster might have been better prepared for if we had an (“ideal”) socialist society instead of our capitalist one — large numbers of hotels could be used to move people to even before the hurricane hit, there would be a quicker delivery of food/supplies to victims since it would all be governmently-managed, not privately, and people might be able to be compensated for their loses better and would not be stealing expensive electronics, etc, just to sell them for a profit elsewhere. Or is this really too idealistic?
  • Going back to the brief article I linked to above, when aid finally arrived to the scene, it seems its priorities were off target — they were more concerned with preventing people from stealing deserted buildings than saving dieing people right next to them. I just don’t understand how our priorities became what they are — again, you could say it is because we live in a capitalistic society and it is representative of a deep-seated problem innate in this structure, where money is more important than human life. I would like to blame it on the structure, but is this too easy? Are humans so naturally driven by territorial and possessive instincts? Not to mention that many of these “thiefs” were scavenging for food and dispersing it to those who need it since the government arrived so late on the scene…
  • However, I’ve heard that there are also many who have stolen guns from Wal-mart and are creating gangs. Nothing like this have ever remotely happened in our country. There have even been reports that they have shot at people trying to give them aid. How can people go from normal human beings to complete animals in the space of a few days? Is the instinct for survival and a pack mentality really that strong? I guess we like to think that we’re better than that — that we’re evolved, civilized, but things like this show you just how unremoved we are from our roots and how over-powering the want to survive is. Sometimes I fear that most of what is separating us from the rest of the animals is our structures…

20 Responses to “Katrina”

On another forum I frequent, an Australian guy I know said the following, which is so painfully true:

bq. You lot should take a good long hard look at yourselves.
Racism. Check.
Firearms out of control. Check.
Anarchy. Check.
Looting. Check.
Murder. Check.
Rape. Check.
Fuck. Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka were hit by a tsunami and we didn’t see crazed criminals sitting on rooftops shooting at rescue chopers, and Banda Aceh was in the middle of a civil war! America is a sick, diseased beast if it turns on itself in five days to such an extent. Europe, Australia and the rest of the world has weathered storms and fires and floods and stuck together in adverse times yet the moment there’s anything at all wrong, america turns into Hell on Earth.

It really is deplorable when compared to the tsunami last year in Sri Lanka. Really, really bad. I don’t even know how to defend America– I think if a similar disaster stuck my hometown, we’d see the same behavior. There is no spirit of community alive. * sigh *

Paradoxdruid - September 4th, 2005 at 12:04 am

I think that there are definitely some american cultural problems that have exacerbated this distaster… I wonder how many people lost their lives trying to save the belonings that they define themselves by. But I don’t think that it is fair to say that people in this disaster have behaved any more barbarically than in other disasters. For example, after the tsumani I remember hearing about efforts to find young girls who were orphaned or simply separated from their families and forced to become sex slaves. Desperate people don’t feel much empathy.

And remember that humans aren’t the only ones whose behavior changes like this. To go along with the gangs of humans with guns, New Orleans is also now home to packs of feral dogs who were well behaved house pets before the disaster. Humans are really not that special… we just have invented more complecated territories to defend and more efficient ways to fend competetors off.

Laika - September 6th, 2005 at 1:12 pm

When larger social structures fall apart, smaller social structures always form to fill the void. This will happen with any creature that is dependent on group living, like humans are. We are constantly hearing about the bad reconstructions, but next to none of some of the constructive ones.

Fox news, and well, all the news organizations, are profiteering on this event by showing the human tragity to its utmost extreme. Why show the small town that was completely destroyed, and yet the towns people have banded together to keep each other alive, sending small groups to the larger relief efforts to get food for the entire town, or the people on top of their house with flash lights waving down rescue helicopters only to point them to their neighbors who don’t have a flash light, when you can show some asshat shooting at a helicopter trying to deliver it aid over and over and over again. Yes, the asshat with the gun is big news, so are the bottom feeders stealing firearms from Walmart, forming gangs and raping 12 year olds, but that isn’t the only thing 24 hour news shows should be showing.

Katrina was horrible on so many levels. THE superpower of the world, with all of its technology, lost a city that was once populated with half a million people. Thousands are dead, and the government was completely incompetent for the first entire week. What happened is mind boggling, and terrible, but I can only hope that it will show us our errors so that we don’t make those mistakes again. Some of those errors are logistical, some are more deeply intrenched in society.

We need to take a step back and ask ourselves, why are those people looting? Why do they feel so disenfranchised by society that they feel the need to take advantage to it to the extent that they are when the barriers fall and chaos insues? How can we fix that problem? Removing the firearms won’t solve that problem, they’ll throw rocks or knives instead. Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it either. Our society needs some serious readjusting if we are going to fix the problems that led to what we are seeing (including the collapsing of the levies), and that will take educating ENTIRE GENERATIONS about the problems so that they are aware and can help fix them.

Fixing New Orleans will take a couple of years. Fixing the problems that led to those situations, will take generations.

stephen - September 6th, 2005 at 3:17 pm

I heard a news report that the money to fix the levee was actually allocated for 2001, until 9/11 happened. First of all, can anyone verify this? And secondly (mainly), how do you choose between a demonstrated terrorist threat and a possible flood?

Mallorn - September 7th, 2005 at 5:40 am

Why does it have to be the people “at the top” who are responsible for the condition these people were/are living in? What happened to personal responsibility?

Regardless, playing the blame game doesn’t resolve much except for who needs to be better prepared next time. And I think everyone agrees that this was a stupid disaster to not be prepared for. It was a hurricane forecast DAYS in advance and the weaknesses in the levees have been known for years. Why the city’s public transportation system (which I hear 70% of the population relies on) wasn’t mobilized days in advance to evacuate people or more storm shelters/supplies weren’t readied, is an issue for the people of New Orleans and Louisiana to decide and (hopefully) remedy.

The real issue here is, what’s next? What kind of societal responsibilities do we have? Where does social responsibility end and personal responsibility take up?

Mallorn - September 6th, 2005 at 5:55 pm

Just as a side note, something I heard was that on around the Saturday before Katrina hit (the following Monday, I think) the mayor of New Orleans was meeting with advisors trying to decide whether or not they should have an official evacuation — apparently they were greatly in fear of being sued by the tourist industry (i.e. hotels, etc) if it was a false alarm. I’m sure that area gets lots of hurricane warnings, and they can’t have mass evacuations for all of them. I’d like to say that part of the problem with that thinking is that our country is too focused on money and profit, but I know that’s simplifying a much greater issue…

You’re right that “playing the blame game doesn’t resolve much except for who needs to be better prepared next time,” but that still means you need to pin the problem on something so you can fix it and not pretend like everything went as best it could. The reason I blamed the government is because somebody has to take care of those people who can’t take care of themselves. Or, they die. In this strain, devastatingly, many nursing homes and homes for the blind were abandoned by the staff and the patients, I think we can assume, died after days of starvation or illness or both. There are many people who are unable to take “personal responsibility” for themselves…

Teisha - September 6th, 2005 at 6:35 pm

You assume it’s a binary choice.
You choose between protecting your people from terrorist threats as well as identifiable dangers and economically devastating tax cuts.
A president really can’t say “Homeland Security” while endangering his citizens and be thought of as serious or trustworthy.

Owen - September 7th, 2005 at 6:37 am

Katrina is on everyone’s minds…. Thank you Teisha for bringing this topic up on the blog– I’ve heard a lot of interesting and insightful (and downright chilling) things from everyone. But let’s not forget that tensions can run high, and we’re just trying to discuss things here, not fight with each other. No, no one has picked a fight yet (unless it’s an extremely subtle one), but I’m doing my duty as website-guy to say “Remember to play nice with others”. Alright, enough of that.

I think we sometimes discount the problem of logistics that New Orleans faced. When I heard on the radio that there were plans to evacuate New Orleans, I laughed– how can you possibly (a) convince that many people to leave, and (b) provide means for them to do so. Even if you assume that everybody cooperates, brings a minimal amount of luggage, and has money for a bus ticket… that would be like dealing with Christmas travel times twenty or thirty… and Christmas traffic already shuts down airports and buslines. Heck, even if the government stepped in more quickly, it’s still damn near impossible to make people flow fast enough to get everyone out.

Paradoxdruid - September 7th, 2005 at 7:20 am

The blame resides at all levels, from individual to national. People should have left the area once they heard that a category 5 hurricane was approaching, and lots did. Some are unable to leave without assistance, whether it is because of illness or lack of money. Buying a bus ticket is one thing, being able to afford where that bus takes you to can be a whole other issue. Some people’s families are all in the area that is destroyed, so they couldn’t go stay with families. Once the levees broke, anyone who was alive should have fled the city ASAP since they would be taken care of after that point. The people who sit put in what is becoming a more and more toxic situation are 100% responsable for the shit that is going to befall them.

At the same time the different governments at all levels really dropped the ball. The previous four years the Mayor of New Orleans and the Gov. of Louisiana have requested federal assistance for strengthening and raising the wall of the levees and for recouping the wetlands that were converted to lakes and such, and thereby the buffer between the sea and New Orleans was gone, and the protection from the lakes wasn’t as strong as it needed to be. This funding was denied every time. Louisiana is not exactly a rich state, and therefore should get federal assistance for keeping the primary port in the Gulf, especially one that brings in 10% of the oil and natural gas for the nation, open.

People fled to the designated shelters. When the shelters were breached, and the food, water and medical needs are exhasted FEMA was no where to be seen. The Mayor was pulling eminent domain on ALL boats and large people moving vehicles to get people out of the city and to where ever they would be accepted, and yet FEMA did nothing. People started looting while the police of the city were too busy helping those who were accepting help, and yet the National Guard did nothing. What is going to become a horrible medical disaster was spotted early and a Navy medical boat was sent immediately only to sit in the bay with no orders because FEMA DID NOTHING. Perhaps the arabian horse trader (that is actually what his previous job was) that is our head of FEMA needs to step down since he is well over his head.

This was a horrible disaster. People should leave when a category 5 hurricane is approaching, and all surrounding major cities should understand what the potential conscequences are if they don’t take in the refugies. At the same time, the federal government should take some interest in major port cities that are crucial for our economy, and had they acted four years ago when the problem was spotted this disaster could have been averted, or at least deminished. And when something like this does happen it shouldn’t take DAYS for the federal government to act, when it takes them hours to send help to other countries with equal problems.

Its hard to contemplate how this could have gone worse without it becoming extremely sureal. This was a foobar on all stages.

Why I think education is needed:
1) If a major hurricane hits a city and people are in that city, people WILL die. Leaving the city should be stressed more.
2) People need to know that when they leave, no matter how poor they are, they will be taken care of until the storm abates. IF THEY DON’T BELIEVE THAT THEY WILL COME BACK AT NEAR THE SAME LEVEL AS THEY LEFT THEY WON’T LEAVE. See point 1.
3) Inner land cities need to understand that by taking in these people that they can avert a national disaster like the one we are seeing today. This will allow for quicker economic recovery.
4) We cannot let a major city that can effect our economy in a tangible fashion (ie gas lines, +$0.20 to $1.20 on gas depending on the location) get flattened to the point where it will take months to dredge and years to rebuild.

stephen - September 6th, 2005 at 7:49 pm

“You assume it’s a binary choice.”

There are certainly no absolutes to anything (even math! …unless we’re talking about absolute values :-D), but there ARE a limited amount of resources. Whether or not there were enough resouces to fix the levee AND protect people from terrorist threats is another debate. The point I was trying to make is that there are some really tough choices that have to be made sometimes, and rarely is there a “right” decision. You just have to hope that the decision you go with is less bad than any other choice.

*editorial note*
You can stop protecting me from tax cuts anyday! I’d be happy to see some of that 30% of my salary put back in my pocket to invest in the economy!
*end editorial note*

Mallorn - September 7th, 2005 at 7:52 am

Yes, don’t we all love how effective Homeland Security is? (FEMA only recently became taken over by Homeland Security, and probably soon will no longer be, judging by its recent work.)

Teisha - September 6th, 2005 at 9:11 pm

*pops out of lurker ville*

Placing blame is stupid past the extent of educational purposes (as Mallorn pointed out). When it comes down to it, there are too many things that went wrong all at the same time to say things like “It’s FEMA’s fault!” and saying it’s our society is a cop out.

I have friends in the millitary and I can tell you that deploying troops is no small process. Their response was as fast as it could be. The response that was lacking was the premptive responce and that of the federal government. I have worked on Emergency Response Plans for terrorist events and natual disasters (given, what I was doing was on a much smaller scale than New Orleans), and I can tell you that their respones was weak at best.

I really like what Mallorn and Stephen had to say about personal responsibility vs. federal responsibility. There is a distinction.

Coastal cities are dangersous places to live. People don’t always understand this. You can have the best engineering and the best planning and mother nature will still win. This tragedy was worsened by the poor infrastucture, but there is still something to be said about our attempts to hold the ocean back.

Lily - September 7th, 2005 at 12:13 pm

I guess part of my response is how worried I would be about the government’s response/actions to a natural disaster in my area (though, we don’t have a real record of them here). I don’t understand why there isn’t more of a stash of a supplies for people locally — why doesn’t the government have a stockpile of canned goods and and water in every major populated area not only in the event of a natrual disaster, but for something else threatening too, like losing electricity, or water shortages? I know it’d be expensive, but it’s like investing in something like life insurance. Or maybe there are stockpiles that I don’t know about? Just a thought… Because I think a lot of what went wrong was having emergency teams respond too late, more as an after-thought than preparing for the disaster to strike, we need a lot more constant preparation for dealing with situations like this, even if they are very rare…

Teisha - September 7th, 2005 at 1:02 pm

I can’t imagine the level of complexity in trying to store “emergency supplies” that an entire population would rely on. It’s much more manageable on an individual basis however. For instance, I have a kit and an evacuation plan put together for just a situation (granted hurricanes are rare in St. Louis ;-)). My kit is woefully incomplete, but i accept those risks ’cause I’m a twenty-something who thinks she’s going to live forever 😛

All joking aside though, Teisha has a perfect example of my previous question. I thought of a better way to phrase it last night: At what point does personal responsibility end and societal responsibility pick up in PREPARING for an emergency and where does societal responsibility end and personal responsibility pick up AFTER a disaster?

For Teisha’s specific idea, this question might be rephrased as: What does the city stockpile and what are the people themselves responsible for? Food, probably. Water, sure. Medication? What about insulin? Heart medicines?

Could part of the reason there was so little preparation for this hurricane be that everyone expected (consciously or subconsciously) the government to rush in and save them? Without that expectation, do you think more people would have evacuated?
*end surmising*

Mallorn - September 7th, 2005 at 1:27 pm

I guess part of why I am such a big-government fanatic (aside from being a raving liberal — that’s the effect, not the cause, in case you were thinking that 🙂 ) is that I’d rather give some of my money to a group that would have as its entire aim preparing for such a large-scale disaster. Sure, I prepare for such foreseeable problems, but I’m not an expect on how to deal with them, and it would time much time to figure out all the logistics so that I felt 100% sure about how I am preparing. An organization, on the other hand, is able to devote all their energies to solving these problems — it’s just one aspect, in my mind, of how the government can function to help people much more efficiently than every non-expert individual acting alone.

Teisha - September 7th, 2005 at 2:00 pm

Having lived in one of the areas that has been picked as potentially the next major disaster, and having lived through a major natural disaster, I have very distinct opinions on where person/public responsability before and after a disaster are.

A person needs to have several days of non-perisable food and bottled water. A moderate sized first aid kit including several days worth of any special medications that you might need, and pain killers. Supplies to allow for camping, ie tents, sleeping bags, stove, flashlight. Basically, enough supplies to last a couple of days until infrastructure gets rebuilt.

Society is responsable for the infrastructure that supports society, and those who are incapable of helping themselves. That includes, but not limited to, roads, bridges, levees, shelters and the like. I also believe that it is responsable for the people inside the community if it is unable to create appropriate measures to allow them to help themselves.

Larger communities are tend to be more and more resilient to disaster since it can spread the load, and tends to have the funds to do so. New Orleans was a sizable community, but its limit to provide help for its own community was breached when the levees were, so it has to reach out to a larger community, first state and then national. This disaster is a national issue on many levels.

Its like having friends. If something bad happens, you might be able to cope by yourself, but maybe you need to lean on your family, or then your close friends. If it is bad enough, maybe you need to reach out to a larger audience. Shit happens and when a support structure doesn’t exist the shit gets worse.

stephen - September 7th, 2005 at 3:14 pm

Hmm..very succinct..I like the analogy too!

Mallorn - September 7th, 2005 at 3:33 pm

I’ve heard everybody (meaning the news et all) screaming about how the federal government and the national guard didn’t show up for days after the hurricane, but does anybody know why the city and state of Louisiana wasn’t better prepared? I mean, they of all people, knew the potential disaster of the levee breaking, but where was the emergency planning? It sounds like they designated the football stadium a shelter and left it at that. Did they really think that would solve it?

The other aspect of this disaster that just baffles me is twofold: Why didn’t people leave? I’ve heard all sorts of stories where one family stops by a relative’s house to get them out, and they refuse to go. Why? And what about these families that are going back? Okay, so you want to go home, check and see if anything is left, scavenge what you can of your life, but why stay (especially with your whole family) when your walls are moldy, carpet soaked and everything reeks of sewage?

Mallorn - September 6th, 2005 at 4:34 pm

Yes, education is essential… and probably most important for those at the very top. That was one problem — just to point out one aspect, there were major issues with communication.

Also, I agree with Laika in that if you push people far enough they will resort to taking drastic measures. While a very educated person will probably tend to look for solutions more readily than other people, he/she can still be pushed to his/her limits. If society and order has crumbled around you and you have no idea when you’ll have your next meal, you might start to see the world a bit differently. However, again, one part of the solution to resorting to such thinking and actions is having the people at the top see to it that conditions never get this bad. They should have been more prepared and there’s really no excusing that kind of lack of “education.”

Teisha - September 6th, 2005 at 4:40 pm

The primary reason so many people did not leave was because they _couldn’t._ Many had no car and could not afford a bus ticket out of town. On NPR especially, the news has been covering how this reveals the largely neglected problem of the urban poor. Not only were they bad off to begin with — homeless, pennyless — but they were the ones that had to suffer most through the aftermath of Katrina.

The reason that many who could leave chose not to was, primarily, because they did not think it would be that bad. In fact, many people really weren’t sure how bad it would be — many scientists even thought it would not do nearly this much damage. You have to realize this was a huge hurricane and people simply thought they could “wait it out.” I think it’s part of the human mindset — many people have this idea that because they’re in America, or because generations of their families have lived in New Orleans and have survived just fine, that some storm won’t kill them. We like to ignore the fact of our own mortality sometimes…

Teisha - September 6th, 2005 at 4:48 pm

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