New Orleans - An American Catastrophe

Edmonton - Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - by: Ron Thornton Marriage, Be It Same Sex, Same Family, Same Harem


An American city has been lost to a natural disaster. Thousands of its citizens are dead. The hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast was ferocious enough in its devastation. What followed turned a disaster into a catastrophe, not only in terms of property loss, but more importantly in the loss of human lives. How could those who lived there been bettered prepared or protected?

To begin with, forget about rights. The only rights you have under such circumstances is the right to die, if that is your choice. Everything else is about responsibilities, your's and the authorities. Maybe we can start by putting people in charge who have a clue. We have known for years, decades, that New Orleans was vulnerable to being hit by a storm such as this, with a result such as this. Yet, people chose to live in such a city, chose to continue to develop such a city, and chose the leadership on every level that apparently ignored the lessons of hurricanes past.

By the way, to give everyone a head's up, one day the city of San Francisco, which lies on a fault line; even possibly the city of Vancouver; will be destroyed by an earthquake. Please plan accordingly.
  Hurricanes in New Orleans, earthquakes on the west coast, freezing temperatures in the north, terror attacks just about anywhere; these are just some of the scenarios each of us and our authorities should be aware of and to have developed contingencies for. Evacuation and rescue operations should be fully co-ordinated, a plan developed outlining who is in charge and who is responsible for what and when. Battles have been lost due to poor communications, with alternatives established as to the courses of action that should be taken if the first-line communication systems fail. In short, expect that if anything can do wrong, it will. We need to clearly answer the question, "Then what?" The responsibility to do so is in the hands of the authorities, though as the lives in question include our own, it would be prudent to accept some of the responsibility ourselves.
  If you can get out of harm's way, then it is your responsibility to do so. If you can not, then it is the responsibility of those in authority to provide this transportation. When you see hundreds of school buses under water in a flooded compound, it would seem that civic authorities were not motivated or not mobilized enough to fill those vehicles with people, instead of water, and to get them out of town to some predetermined destination point. We are talking about evacuating folks who for whatever reason can not otherwise escape, and taking them to refugee camps and doing the utmost to minimize their suffering. That is the responsibility of the authorities. Those who refuse to leave are exercising their rights, though it may only be their right to die.
  If you are offered sanctuary from the elements in what is termed a "shelter of last resort" and told to bring your own supplies, this should be an indication that it is a place you do not want to be if you can find any other way to get the heck out of Dodge, so to speak. It will keep you out of the storm, but promises nothing more than that. Of course, if anyone had a plan as to what would happen in case a large hurricane were to threaten a city in a bowl surrounded by water, then no one would have been surprised such a facility might be jammed to the rafters. What were the plans to aid such a known, concentrated mass of survivors? Then again, if this was a shelter of last resort, what about the shelters of first resort for those who had no place to go or the resources to get there if they had? With knowledge that such an event could, and probably would, take place one day, where were those locations? Apparently, no one knew. Seeking shelter if you can is the responsibility of those who wish to live. Providing shelter to those who have few or no other options is the responsibility of the authorities.
  When you stuff thousands of people into a shelter, especially one of last resort, expect some of those folks to be less than civil to their neighbours. As part of their every day character, some do and will carry weapons, prey on the weak and vulnerable, and demonstrate some other traits that seem to fly in the face of scripture. Simply put, when such unsavory types are stuffed in among good people bad things are liable to happen unless there is order. Though 50 police officers for 15,000 souls might have been a reasonable ratio in the best of times, these were not the best of times. People packed together with failing utilities and little privacy should have clearly demanded stronger measures. It might be too much to expect individuals to be responsible for their individual security unless we wish to see our civilized society transform entirely in the rule of mob. To avoid this, it is the responsibility of the authorities to be farsighted enough to secure those areas to which they have invited the people to gather.
  Okay, you've transported your refugees to the predetermined shelters and provided them with some security. Now, feed them, provide them medical support, and then take care of those other sundries required to allow them to feel more civilized. If they are able, the people should attempt to look after their own needs as best they can. However, as we've witnessed, if they are evacuated through means other than their own, time and space considerations force most to leave behind what they can not physically carry. It is then the responsibility of the authorities to provide for them.
  Natural and man-made disasters have and will happen. If we had the will, each community at every level would plan how to defend against such dangers, as well as figure out the steps necessary to deal with the challenge and how to move toward recovery after it occurs. Unfortunately, there was not enough done to insure, through forward planning and in rapid response, on the personal, civic, state, or federal levels to avoid the catastrophe that has hit New Orleans, indeed much of the entire Gulf Coast.

It was known that thousands would be unable or unwilling to flee such an impending disaster, but too little was done to address this. Some have charged that racism was partly to blame for the slow evacuation of the survivors. Nonsense. Anyone with means to get out, regardless of race or creed, did so. Even the mayor of New Orleans got out. We have not seen helicopters and boats going around picking up the rich. They left. Those being rescued, or who died, are those who ignored the call to get out and those who were denied transportation to safe haven.

Over a million people have been evacuated from New Orleans and surrounding area, through their own efforts or with the assistance of others. That is a mind boggling number. There have been reports of more than 100,000 people rescued. That is also a mind boggling number. Yet, we still mourn the loss of 10,000 souls, or more, who were caught up in the storm and its aftermath. With proper planning and timely action, the casualty count could and should have been less.

Who is responsible? Local authorities failed to evacuate, state authorities failed to prepare for such an eventuality, and federal authorities have been left to clean up the mess. Citizens who lived in this region, and knew of the potential danger, and did not give some thought as to "what if" failed to protect themselves, leaving themselves to the mercy of authorities who simply did not plan for their well being. Few took on the responsibility, and that is the problem.

The sad thing is that history does, and will, repeat itself. It is to our shame that we usually fail to learn the lessons of the past, only to repeat our mistakes in the future.


Ron Thornton



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