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Fire and Water

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw     Permalink
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Prior to Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 was the largest disaster to strike the U.S. Now Katrina has brought us a natural disaster that could ultimately result in a death toll far greater than that of 9/11. Unfortunately, while the hurricane was an "act of God", its horrifically high death toll was at least partially man-made. No act of God could be so cruel.

I know a little bit about disasters. I can relate, to some extent, to what the flood victims are going through. After all, I learned what it's like to lose everything when my apartment building burned down four years ago.

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But that's where my comprehension of their experience ends. After all, I was lucky. While I lost all of my material possessions, I still had a job to go back to. I still had my loved ones around me. And I still had a warm bed to sleep in, even though I had to spend a few nights in hotel rooms and other temporary settings. Not so bad, all things considered.

When my apartment building burned down, the fire department appeared within minutes. As a result, there were no human casualties, and many pets were saved as well. We did not have to spend endless days and nights trapped on a roof, in the rain, in the dark, not knowing when - or if - help might arrive. In New Orleans last week, many died while waiting for their heroes.

When my apartment building burned down, the Red Cross appeared within hours, and they ensured that we all had comfortable shelter for the night. We did not have to spend a week in a crowded, leaky stadium with thousands of strangers, with no electricity, no air conditioning, no soap, and knee-deep in backed-up sewage.

Now here is where someone has some explaining to do:

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My fire was determined to be accidental. Nobody could have predicted it. It broke out suddenly, without warning. Yet help arrived almost immediately, and everyone survived.

Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, gave us ample warning. Everyone with a TV knew well ahead of time that she was gaining strength and heading straight for New Orleans. In fact, warnings were issued far enough ahead of time that all of the affluent white folks were able to pack up their SUVs and head for higher ground. They could afford to.

The area's less fortunate folks were warned as well. Eventually, the whole city was ordered to evacuate. But how?

Those who stayed behind didn't all have a choice in the matter. Many were too poor to buy a bus ticket, or rent a hotel room upstate. They were ordered to evacuate, but they didn't have the means to do so.

Why weren't they rescued?

Why wasn't every military vehicle within a 500-mile radius deployed to the vicinity on the Saturday before the storm hit, to stand by for rescue operations? Heck, the Philadelphia area fire truck that came to my rescue probably could have made it to New Orleans faster than it took FEMA to get there.

Why weren't Greyhound, Amtrak, and other public transit services given federally-funded incentives to transport all New Orleans residents away from the danger?

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Why did George W. Bush - Mr. Religion - go golfing while New Orleans was drowning, once again demonstrating his complete lack of Christian values (along with his complete lack of true strength)?

And what the hell would happen if al-Qaeda were to strike within the U.S. tomorrow?

Osama must be loving this.

 

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
 

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