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No GOOD Deeds: Katrina, Rita, and Barbara
by Preston L. Shumaker, MSW
2005-11-01

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'It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.' — Pablo Casals, Spanish Cellist

These were the days of our tragic lives. The disenfranchised Gulf Coast citizens, mostly of African decent, were promised humane treatment and offered refuge from the impending storm waters. And the people waited as Katrina exploded and made landfall. An 18-foot storm surge came, and in a flash, most victims were immediately destitute, dependent upon the kindness of strangers. New Orleans, home to more than 300,000, was mostly submerged by nearly 40 billion gallons of water from Lake Pontchartrain in the north and the Mississippi River in the south. Not since hurricanes Betsy and Camille had the Gulf Coast been so devastated.

Three levees broke and the river overflowed with flies, feces, and human bodies. In the end, affected families lost everything—their homes, loved ones, and their way of life, suffering indignities many Americans cannot fathom. Scientists had warned for years that the levees could not withstand any storm above a category three.

After days of dehumanizing living conditions, nearly 200,000 traumatized Louisiana natives not only sought safety from the hurricane but refuge from the New Orleans Superdome, doubling as a den of horror. Other countries of color gave their own opinion regarding America's slowed response to aid its own citizens, and offered to assist. The federal government refused when Greece dignitaries offered the temporary use of their cruise ships. The Argentinean periodical, Clarin, offered 'Katrina had more than the power of the wind and water, because now when they have subsided, it can still reveal the emptiness of an era, one that is represented by President George W. Bush more than anyone.'

Unfortunately, the atrocious devastation is just the beginning of a tedious reconstructing process as evacuees start to reclaim various aspects of their lives. Families were relocated and scattered around the country without a second thought, busing thousands of people to Houston. The chaotic disorganization and separation of families resulted from a lack of effective federal, state, and local planning as well as improper evacuation implementation. Many neighborhoods were left uninhabitable and must be rebuilt from the ground up. And the citizens waited.

As the Gulf Coast survivors boarded the buses and left the chemical-sewage filled waters, the victims believed that they could move forward with their lives with some glimmer of hope and maintain some level of dignity. But the ever-changing American apathetic attitude continues to permeate throughout the land quicker than festering mold on Dixieland waterlogged houses. Soon, the late-night tasteless jokes began to air, to 'ease' the racial tension, adding insult to already injured families. Seemingly, the question became, are the destitute really seeking good or just merely attention? And the people still waited.

In Katrina's aftermath, the ravaged survivors were finally taken from the East and relocated to a nearby land in the West—only to be greeted with disdain by the Bush matriarch. 'So many of these people in the arena [ the Houston Astrodome ] , you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them. What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas ... .' We can thank the former first lady, Barbara Bush, for this comment; the former first lady of the world's sole superpower, the land of milk, honey, and plenty, and mother of our president. As such, no good deeds for the undeserved shall go unpunished.

Meanwhile, President Bush made another empty fly-by plane visit to the devastated lands. At a press conference he proclaimed that the United States government was still doing everything it could to assist the hurricane victims. He took the opportunity to announce the appointment of R. David Paulison as the new acting Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ) Director, a post he had held previously in 2003-2004. This sudden appointment quickly commencing after former director Michael Brown's sudden 'resignation.' The President seized a photo opportunity to declare he would take responsibility for the federal government's poor hurricane Katrina response, hoping to improve his national poll numbers. The wonderful Svengali of D.C. was at work spinning again. And the survivors waited.

As the evacuees settled into their temporary residence, another storm was brewing. Just as much of the Lake Pontchartrain waters were pumped from New Orleans streets, here comes Hurricane Rita, a category five turned three. As when aiding the state of Florida, the federal government acted with quickness to provide aid, food, and shelter. The unwelcome guest struck Port Charles at Category three strength with a storm surge of at least 10 feet. Once again, survivors boarded buses and were evacuated swiftly, believing they could move forward with their lives, but with a more diminished glimmer of hope.

As Hurricane Rita struck an already vulnerable Gulf Coast, Katrina-impacted families were re-traumatized by the new storm. Did the families have further coping assistance for their children as they sifted through the rubble of their lives? How can they ensure that the world can be predictable, safe, and good after two hurricanes struck? Typically, after such trauma strikes, a child's shield of invincibility has been broken, fully exposing them to the harsh realities of life. As a result, children may be forced to become independent beyond their years.

Although New Orleans did not suffer a direct hit, Hurricane Rita's winds impacted the industrial canal levee in the ninth ward, causing another breech. However, a temporary repair occurred and stopped the flowing sewage within two days. Again, other nations expressed their outrage regarding recent Hurricanes' fury. The Ireland Times conveyed, 'this is a defining moment for President Bush, just as 9/11 was. So far his reputation for prompt and firm crisis management has fallen far short of what is required.'

Various relocated families wondered if their loved ones, especially their children, had escaped the two storms alive while others looked to give their deceased a proper burial. A conservative radio address also prepared to offer advice on the 'Mornings in America' program. Former Secretary of Education and self-proclaimed values czar, William Bennett, rendered his opinion regarding solving crime and improving morality in America.

He stated, 'I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every Black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.' The uncompromising, brazen truth was that vilified Black children were not considered valuable, nor worth saving. And the people waited.

Many Americans have donated millions of dollars, supplies, and volunteered time to assist in the relocation effort. Survivors could now pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Sadly, we, the people, eased our temporary guilty conscience a bit knowing that the apathetic nation allowed this unfortunate and preventable tragedy to happen. Some Americans can now give themselves a nice pat on the back for a job well done and move on to the next big catastrophic news story. We continue to avoid what are that proverbial issues—race and poverty still matter in America.

Until we begin to embrace our racial and economic divide, the states cannot stand united as a nation. As we Americans give thanks for our continued blessings this holiday season, Pablo Casals believed that each of us has a basic goodness within us, which directs us to do what is just and honorable. We must listen to our hearts, embrace it, and allow the goodness to direct our path. But, the fact is that our silence has cost countless lives. How many people will have to perish before we do what is honorable and not what is easy?

Meanwhile, the American apathetic attitude churns about and rises like festering mold on a waterlogged house ... while the people waited.

PrestonLCSW@aol.com


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