Image: Hurricane Katrina

Technology and wealth are no match for the forces of nature. I had originally decided against writing anything about the Katrina hurricane disaster that hammered the US Gulf coast. I tend to write and put a satirical or humorous twist on things, but I find nothing at all humorous about the disaster or the events as they have played out during the past few weeks.

And even if this is devoid of things mirth worthy, there is plenty of irony and “funny hows.”? Funny as in sad, tragic.

Isn’t it funny how a city of half a million people within the richest, most technologically developed country in the world, and existing mostly below sea level, didn’t have an effective and extensive emergency disaster preparedness plan? Is it not reasonable to suspect that at some point in time, a major storm could hit the area and generate enough havoc to warrant a resource bursting response? I am not a structural engineer, but it seems common sense that a severe storm would likely damage such things as buildings and water retaining devices. Would it not have been better to have developed and maintained a protocol for disaster readiness and response in the hope of NOT needing it rather than just playing Russian roulette and hoping disaster never strikes?

Image: Hurricane Katrina

Still pockets of survivors are waiting for rescue

As I write, it is now a week after the massive storm hit the coast and still pockets of survivors are waiting for rescue. Isn’t it funny how there seems to be more posturing and finger pointing and “who didn’t do what soon enough?” rather than people dropping their silly everyday agendas and jump in with both feet in aid of those who desperately need it? Shouldn’t this be instinctive for a public servant? Shouldn’t this force an action which precedes all thought of political career and career repercussion? Television crews with their satellite dishes were up and running within hours. Some even before the storm struck land. Perhaps journalists should be trained in rescue procedures? Or better yet, be assigned the responsibility of identifying names and locations of those rescued?

Image: Hurricane Katrina

Isn’t it funny how a most heinous act against a community in crisis – looting – hasn’t been dealt with from the beginning with a strong handed, shoot first, asking questions later approach? I have no problem with people acquiring food, water, and emergency items by whatever means available. I am seriously offended by people using catastrophe as an excuse for a personal windfall or to acquire new pairs of shoes or an MP3 player. Isn’t the purpose of martial law to protect the innocent and relief workers from those pitiful excuses of human existence by enforcing a strict set of rules with serious, if not fatal, consequences for breaking said rules? And what about those folks who have stolen guns and ammunition and are taking shots at rescuers and passing aircraft! Perhaps we should give fleets of Apache helicopters carte blanche as they escort and participate in the various rescue efforts. Let’s see them trade shot for shot with the idiots on the ground. No doubt it would be seriously a one sided game of deadly dodge ball. What does it say about a culture who forces humanitarian workers and volunteers braving the dangers of unsanitary conditions, chaos, and unforeseen hazards in order to offer aid while also worrying about becoming the target of small arms fire? Or worse yet, get them to pause and second guess altogether if it is worth the risk? Now, I cannot say I have ever been in an emergency crisis situation of this caliber, however, I can say with confidence I would not shoot at the very people who are trying to rescue myself and/or those around me.

Image: Hurricane Katrina

Isn’t it funny how a country with the resources and psychological fortitude as the people of the United States are helpless in their desires to jump in to save their fellow countrymen while the powers that be are trying to find fault and cover their own asses? The bottom line here is that people need help. Likewise, people need to help. That is the way we are wired. We don’t care right now whose fault the poor response time was or what could have been done differently. Let’s just do what needs to be done, and now for pity sake! Let’s focus on those victims in need and those communities that have been devastated. There will be plenty of time later to pick up the usual political propaganda, finger pointing, and posturing after people are out of harm’s way and headed back into some direction of normalcy. Public service is like that. During the day to day routine the focus is on looking good and navigating for one’s best interest. But when push comes to shove, we expect our representatives to get down to business. As is all too typical these days, our expectations have met with familiar disappointment.

Isn’t it funny how a local group of doctors and nurses in my own home town of Phoenix became fed up with the fray and took matters into their own hands? As soon as they learned that medical assistance was sorely needed they, along with other locals, amassed resources and created their own means to go directly to the affected areas, bringing along medical skills, medicines, and survival supplies. They left for New Orleans this past Monday. When asked why they dropped everything to help, they said that they just wanted to make a difference. One RN volunteer replied, “After seeing all those people dying, hurting, crying – all you can do is give what you have”.

Isn’t it funny how the media has focused more on who did what wrong than the stories of individuals who have placed their life on hold in order to assist others in need? I am sure that many other communities around the globe have groups similar to these “heroes”? in Phoenix who have taken it upon themselves to make that difference.

Moving into the future

Perhaps we have learned a valuable lesson here. Albeit a lesson we seem to be taught over and over again. We cannot blindly depend upon our leaders to insure that our country’s… strike that! that our world’s citizens are being well served. Now that push has come to shove, it is apparent that the people chosen to act in our best interest have indeed dropped the ball. We have come to expect a certain amount of grandstanding and poor resource management, but what we see here is a dreadful dereliction of duty.

Image: Hurricane Katrina

What we see here is a dreadful dereliction of duty

The mayor can point to the governor who can point at the president who can in turn point elsewhere – but that isn’t accomplishing anything other than stalling in hopes the heat will cool down before people get to the bottom of things. We had advance notice of this disaster, and yet turned a blind eye to the potential for tragedy. Why weren’t buses provided a day or two in advance to evacuate those without transportation? Why information wasn’t made more obvious regarding the potential of an almost complete flooding of a city? Until the levees were breached, how many people realized that New Orleans was below sea level and that those same were the sole barriers between hundreds of thousands and the sea?

And on a note of lesser urgency, but still to ease people’s suffering, we need to have in place an international disaster identification and notification system in place. To this day, all too many people have not heard from their loved ones; have no idea if they are dead or alive. This is another form of assistance that can and should be provided by any crisis victims and their families and loved ones. This would add a capital “H” to humanitarian relief effort.

While we cannot predict all possible disasters, the climate of today’s world, both weather and social, force us to look at some very real possibilities square in the face. At any time, any place, a devastating disaster can strike and leave a large population, dying, wounded, hungry, and in urgent need. We have the ability to have ready at short notice sufficient resources to evacuate, house, feed and care for any community tragedy that could possible strike anywhere on the planet. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for creating a workable, flexible network of available resources that can be called upon in a moment’s notice. These plans need to be scrutinized by structural engineers, logistics experts, and seasoned relief specialists to insure they are in fact, plausible, appropriate, and kept up to date to answer the cry of a changing world.

Karl’s Sub-Editorial Comment

For the people of Great Britain it is impossible to fully comprehend the sheer devastation Hurricane Katrina has created and so we rely on the media to convey this. I was particularly saddened today to learn that many people had complained that the BBC news network had made the tragedy a ‘Bush bashing’ excuse. I cannot agree with this. The reporters who were in New Orleans a day or so after the hurricane witnessed first hand the absolute desperation of it’s remaining inhabitants – no food or water, looting desperate for food (some people taking advantage of the situation), no hospital facilities, children raped in the Superdome, corpses in the streets, 80% of the New Orleans police fleeing resulting in the anarchy we saw, the list is almost endless, so of course it’s going to get a little personal when reporters witnessed all this with virtually no serious federal aid until 6 days after the hurricane.

I am observing from a British view-point but many major American news networks have also (uncharacteristically) shown a sense of outrage and questioned the federal government’s response. A rare occurrence indeed as to do this in the past has been deemed unpatriotic. To see Fox News ‘on the ground’ reporters pleading for help to arrive is a revelation, even though the Fox News anchors tried to put a positive spin on the relief efforts. I found the Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera segment in New Orleans on September 2nd’s edition of Hannity & Colmes deeply moving. I think their despair at the early lack of relief spoke for everyone.

While the focus is 99% on New Orleans let’s take a moment to acknowledge the forgotten towns of Hurricane Katrina: The epicentre of this hurricane was Biloxi, there was a high level of devastation also in Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Diamondhead, Bay St. Louis, and Waveland. Many of these regions lost everything, these people lost their homes – the hurricane took away whole neighborhoods leaving just the foundations. Flooding was also a major problem with many of these communities close to the sea.

Are these reporters being fair and balanced? Sure they are. The politicians always have the right to reply but to see American senators back-slapping each others efforts is particularly nauseating.

Many say there is a time and place for the blame-game but ‘this catastrophe is a failure at all levels and an extensive review of official actions in the days just before and after Katrina’s landfall August 29th reveals a depth of government hesitancy and a ‘not-my-job’ attitude that likely cost many lives’, Mississippi’s Sun Herald reported.

The United States is still struggling with how to respond to catastrophe – even when it is preceded by days of public anticipation and warning

The Sun Herald added: ‘But what’s clear is that four years after terrorists, on another late-summer day, flew hijacked aircraft into buildings in New York and outside Washington, the United States is still struggling with how to respond to catastrophe – even when it is preceded by days of public anticipation and warning’.

The President is a consummate demagogue, happy to pose for photographs that appeals to the emotions such as the shots in Biloxi hugging young African American children but not quite audacious enough to visit New Orleans.
The President’s approval rating currently at 39% but many will fall before the President. Already the head of FEMA – an American government department to protect the USA in case of an emergency or catastrophe – has been moved from on-site head of hurricane relief operations. Amazingly this man, Michael Brown’s main qualification was that he ran horse shows!

The reconstruction of the Gulf Coast will take months and possibly years so it will be interesting to see who the White House award the contracts to. Any lobbyist with ties to contractors?

I’m getting angry so here are some news clips from the major US news networks that tell it like it is, quality is not great but essential viewing. You’ll need windows media player to view these.

Some American Cable News Clips

Karl Bedingfield

Jay-Z Addresses Katrina in ‘Minority Report’

The searingly political track ‘Minority Report’ goes someway to addressing just what happened, with Jay’s voice cracking as he rails against President Bush’s inaction in Katrina-struck New Orleans. Over a sonic background of rain, intercut with news reports, Jay raps about women and children on rooftops, and Bush’s much-derided fly-past in Airforce One. The media also come under scrutiny, as Bush’s attitude is juxtaposed with press attempts to get a better shot of the misery.

Original Comments on this article:

  1. Jesse Ramirez says:

    Our government has completely failed us Americans time and time again. George W. Bush has showed the world how incompetent he really is as a leader of a so called Super Power. He’s shown the world that America is a redneck country not willing to stand by there people but instead to push that of the corporations that sponsor these morons.

    Instead of being a Super Power, America which I love has become “National Lampoon’s Barely Competent.

  2. Karl Bedingfield says:

    We have added a track to our ‘The Hurricane Katrina Aftermath’ story we wrote back in September 2005.

    Rapper Jay-Z rails against President Bush’s inaction in Katrina-struck New Orleans.

  3. Karl Bedingfield says:

    While I applaud the individuals that have traveled far and wide to assist in the relief effort I also agree that at government level this has been a national disaster. I understand that State has to declare an emergency first before it becomes federal but I heard that the Louisiana Governor, Kathleen Blanco, phoned the White House almost immediately asking for it to become federal.

    Its also interesting to note that the levees themselves did not fail but actually the flood walls. This is what 60 minutes (an american news show) had to say:

    ‘Despite what you’ve been hearing, not one of New Orleans’  levees failed. All of the massive earthen levees survived. The failure was in flood walls like the one on the 17th Street canal. The flood walls are miles long, but only two feet thick.

    Al Naomi is the man who manages them for the Army Corps of Engineers. He was probably the first to understand what was about to happen to New Orleans.

    “Flood walls are unforgiving. They’re either there or they’re not,” Naomi says.

    The walls were designed in 1965 to withstand a Category 3 storm. Category 4 Katrina pushed her surge over the top.

    “It just was overtopped and the water started pouring over the support for the flood wall, failed and it just pushed out and toppled over and that was it,” Naomi explains.’

    I have also noticed racial tensions starting to build, especially in Baton Rouge where it’s population has just doubled since ‘welcoming’ the influx of New Orleans residents.

    Sales of firearms has also been brisk in Baton Rouge. One outlet that was featured on Newsnight went from selling 15 firearms a day to 1000!
    This story was featured in an online edtion of the newspaper ‘The Globe And Mail’: Baton Rouge welcomes refugees with open arms — and firearms

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