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The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

For every bad, there's a good. I keep telling myself that.

For every story about someone losing a loved one, there's someone finding out that a loved one is safe.

For every idiot saying that the people who stayed in New Orleans don't deserve to be helped, there's a story like this:


Alice Wilder,10, Elena Page, 13, Coco Wilder,12, and Mary Perot, 12, from left, call on passing cars, as they continue to collect funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in Brighton, N.Y. The money will be doanted to the Ameriacn Red Cross. AP Photo/ Carlos Ortiz

For every jackass who emails me and asks when I'm going to stop writing about this, there's someone who emails me with links to good news stories, or offers of help with the school supplies drive.

For every looter in New Orleans, there's ten people doing things like this:


photo from Washington Post

For every blogger who has spent seemingly every waking minute using this as an opportunity to drive home political messages, there are ten bloggers doing what they can to get help where it's needed.

For ever religious "leader" spouting off idiocy, there are dozens of pastors, ministers, priests, nuns, doing anything they can to comfort those who need it.

For everyone who thinks someone else will pick up the slack and help out, there's this:

We have PLENTY of room in our house to take in a few families who have survived Katrina. I don't want to put a number on it because I'm sure we can fit more than I could come up with in my head. My kids are willing to combine rooms, so we could probably take in 3-4 families of 4, possibly more.

I just heard the mayor of New Orleans crying on CNN.

The Astrodome is full and can't take any more refugees.

There has been an explosion (possibly hazmat) in the area of the Superdome.

People are dying like animals on the street.

And everywhere - in newspapers, on blogs, on message boards, on tv - there are people who, swathed in safety and comfort and not anywhere near New Orleans, are saying things like "they had warnings, they should have gotten out," or "it's their fault for living there in the first place." It's the equivalent of that absurd line from Airplane! (they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash.) which was so funny because it was absurd - ha ha, who would really say a thing like that? Well, people are.

It's easy to sit here and second guess those people (and I am not talking about those who stayed because they though the idea of a "hurricane party" a bright one) who stayed. Maybe some of them did just refuse to leave because of some sort of bravado, but I'm guessing that's not the case with the majority. There were a lot of people without the means to go or a place to go to. What about the sick, the elderly, the handicapped? What about those with no cars? Some people had no choice but to stay. And yes, some people stayed on their own accord, and I'm going to backtrack a bit on something I wrote about earlier and say, I don't blame them.

I've been thinking about this. I live on an island. If there were a warning to get the hell out (let's say a weather related potential disaster headed this way), I don't know that I would go. Chances that I would get off the island are slim to none, anyhow. Perhaps if I lived closer to the city line I'd have a chance to get over a bridge and away from here, but it's more likely that I'd be stuck in a sea of escaping cars that moved an inch an hour. I would much rather stick it out and possibly survive, or even die in my own home, clinging to my loved ones, than drown while sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, trying to get off the island. I already sat in flood waters on the LIE once, when I was about 14. We saw a coffin drift out of a hearse. I'll pass on having that experience again.

You just don't know. I don't understand the callousness of people who turn their backs on those who need help because they feel it's deserved. I don't understand the cruelty of those who are taking the looters and shooters and making them the poster children for every single refugee in the area now, as if that's what they all are.

And while we are on the subject, I don't understand those that don't understand the anger of the people down there. No, not the shooters, but those who are near rioting and yelling and cursing every one of their government officials. They have lost everything, some of them having lost people, not just possessions. They have nothing to go home to, nothing to go forward to. They are starving. Hot. Tired. Sick. They have small children, elderly parents or are sick themselves. They are frustrated and, in some cases, dying. There are tourists who are completely stranded, left to sleep on street corners. There are kids without parents, parents without their kids, people in need of medicine who are going without, people dying on the streets right in front of them, bodies pushed to the side and left there to rot in the heat. How would you react? What would you be doing? Put yourself in that place for a minute or two.

How easy it is to sit here and Monday morning quarterback a freaking hurricane, like it was some great game and now you're going over the X's and O's and figuring out who to bench the next time.

Save it. There will be plenty of time for blame later. There will be plenty of people "benched" over this. You'll get your pound of flesh eventually. For now, we should all, every one of us, be figuring out what we can do to help.

I think some people, watching from their living rooms where they can just turn off the tv and get on with their lives, don't understand the magnitude of this. We are talking more dead people than 9/11. I bet, that when all is said and done, the death toll is closer to 10,000 than not.

Maybe there is nothing we can do from here except give whatever dollars we can to a charity or send some clothes or basic supplies down. But what we should NOT do is make this into a political fight, at least not yet. There is a lot of sadness and anger in this country right now, I don't think we should be spending our days right now calling for heads to roll or making political hay out of a disaster. Yes, we should question why things have gone the way they have, if only to get it on the right track. Ok, I don't know what I'm saying, I'm talking in circles right now and probably to myself as no one has read down this far in my ridiculous monologue, but I, too, am frustrated. And somewhat angry. And sad. And I am all those things in my dry, warm living room. I just wish people would take themselves mentally out of that comfort zone for just a few minutes and imagine themselves in the situation of the people they would turn away from. Imagine being there and then knowing that there are fellow Americans sitting around discussing how you deserve to be standing there in filth, hopeless and hungry and wondering if you're going to die before you get help.

And this is why I keep doing the good news things, because I want to believe. I want to believe that humanity is good, that people are good, that things are going to be rectified, that the good souls outweigh the bad, that our government is doing all it can to help these people, that one day the affected people will have rebuilt lives and hope for the future.

Yes, I have questions. I have complaints. I want to know a lot of things about the way this was (or wasn't) handled. As Americans, we deserve to know this, we have the right to know why hospitals weren't evacuated and why this seems like one fuck up after another. But later. There is so much time for that later. Right now, we should not be stopping our leaders and politicians to answer our questions, we should just let them go do what they are supposed to be doing. Later. There is always later for the second guessing and and accusations and pitchforks and torches. And answers.

We are supposed to, as humans, be compassionate. I've seen some behavior in the past few days that make me doubt that compassion and empathy are inherent in human beings. But there are stories, the good stories, the heart warming things, the people opening up their hearts and homes and wallets, that make me believe that all the scum of the earth can never outnumber the good.

Comments

Update about the guy who sent that email Tuesday. He, along with the rest of that ragtag medical crew he's rolling with, have moved to the Ochsner Clinic. Apparently it's the only one still open in the area.

Also, the SMAT (special medical assistance team) from our hospital is heading out to NO with a NASCAR-sized trailer full of supplies to support clinic operations. They're the kind of people who'er trained in disaster management; so they know what they're doing. They're meeting in Charlotte with SMAT units from all over the state, and heading out to the LA/AL/MI region with a US Marshall/Nat Gaurd escort. They'll be there for about nine days, with smaller staff relief teams rotating in every week for six weeks. All volunteer.

What's frustrating is not the help for the survivors or the coverage of all the violence erupting... its the reality that the city is destroyed - you can't save what's there at this point and there's only more hurricanes coming... this city wil literally have to be completely re-built - it could take years (especially if its done on union time) what do you do with everyone until then?
That's what is killing me.

"that all the scum of the earth can never outnumber the good."

I don't know about that Michele... I'm try to stay positive, not just duing this but in everyday life people typically suck.

Very well said. Nothing can get done if all of our energy is spent blaming people.

I've driven along your "Coastal Evacuation Route" many times Michele and I wouldn't blame you a bit for staying in your house if something terrible happened on Long Island. Sheesh you can be moving down the L.I.E. at an inch an hour at 11 A.M. on a Tuesday. Just the same I can't blame any of those poor folks N.O. for being stuck behind. No money, no car, no way out. It could happen to any of us. I think there's a line somewhere about people in glass houses...

I am a native son of New Orleans, with generational roots deep in the delta soil, but now living in metro Atlanta. My heart is broken for my city. What you have spoken here is well-said. Thank you.

I, for one, appreciate your pressing forward in reporting the good b/c I too want to believe. Thank you.

Well stated, Michele. Thanks for saying it. Keep reporting.

AC

Great great post, Michele. I have no other words ... thank you for this.

This is a wonderful thing you're doing, Michele.

BTW, check out Babalu for a good thing Val did.

http://www.babalublog.com/archives/002179.html

For all those screaming "it's their fault for staying"...well they've obviously never lived paycheck-to-paycheck with a disaster striking their lives and wallets on the 29th of the month, two days before payday. Assuming you even have a car in the poorest neighborhood of a city that relies heavily on mass transit, well gas stations don't exactly take hot checks that you're hoping to float 'til you get your paycheck a few days later. Out-of-town/state hotels don't exactly accept the "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hotel room today" promise. Last time I checked, McDonald's didn't offer up their food on the barter system or promises to wash dishes for the meal. And now, with all of these people not only homeless -- but jobless -- because of this disaster and every structure (residential AND business) being wiped out across the South, how would these poor people pay for the lengthy hotel stays, eating out, and gas it would theoretically take to get back one day anyway? It's not like the paychecks keep on coming when the jobs, much less the business they came from, no longer exist.

I wish I lived in these armchair quarterback's perfect little worlds where people could just leave -- and afford to do so -- simply because someone told them to. Living in a hurricane zone myself, and remembering the days of our early marriage where we sold off our college CD collections one-by-one just to buy medication and keep ourselves fed every 2 weeks between paychecks...to say that kind of "they should have just left" thinking is ridiculous is an understatement at best.

But I guess it's pretty easy to flippantly say that when one is sitting on a full bank and savings account, owning check and credit cards that don't get declined when used too soon in a calendar month.

Bravo. Very well stated.

Thanks for doing this, Michele.

I would echo Politickal Animal's thoughts. My wife, a native of New Orlean's, is absolutely heartbroken. Finding that her mother was safe and evacuated was a joyous moment, but she got up this morning and turned on the news and just burst into tears, seeing the places where she spent her childhood.

I like your long, rambling posts. Maybe you need less sleep.

I think I can summarize this one, though: "Empathy. Try some."

Very well said, Michele. Your words are good to read amid this madness. I honestly feel paralyzed where I am. I live in the middle of Illinois. I have an apartment that is cool now despite the heat. I have a bed that is comfy. I have food and water. I have a friend in a men's prayer group who daily asks himself if he is thankful for the basics - food, shelter and clothing. I try to constantly put myself in the shoes of those who have lost all the above. My heart breaks for them. I am more affected by this than 9/11 or the Tsunami. I don't know, but I am. I guess, partly because all of these have little hope left, at least so it seems. For them, to move forward with their lives means to eventually confront another layer of loss - the loss of their belongings and mementos. Once they go through the trauma of reaching safety, then they will eventually have to endure the trauma of dealing with such a loss. This is what saddens my heart. When I see the pictures of the city, I see what looks like the detritus of western civilization: hollowed out McDonald's, drowned suburbs, floating cars and so many other things that remind of a prosperous, comfortable society. That could be down there. That is me down there. God, please have mercy on them.

Thank you!!! First time I've found your blog and thank you for the "good news thing".

Were mistakes made? Of course. Can we change that? No. All we can do now is help clean up. Everyone can do something. My crochet club is making blankets and baby hats. Everyone can do SOMETHING!!!

Echoing the other statements, very well said. You are doing a great thing here. This is where I come to get the good news now.

I had an idea, and maybe someone else has thought of this, but I was wondering, is there any way of using jet-ski's as a means to get to people who are trapped?

Since trucks and normal road vehicles can't be used, it seems like a jet ski would be a perfect rescue vehicle to get to people quickly in this type of water environment.

There must be marinas that sell these things in proximity of the disaster area. Maybe they could loan them out or donate them or whever to the rescue teams?

If this is a feaseable idea, how do we get it to the hands of the right people?

While I agree that now is not the time for blame, it is time, while the consequences of failure to plan for future events are impossible to ignore, to discuss how to do it better next time. And there WILL be a next time. Maybe it'll be another 40 years, but it'll happen.

1) Evacuation plans. The existing pre-hurricane plan seems to have consisted of telling people to leave. Since a lot of them don't have cars, how about a plan that says that every city and school bus driver will report to work, and run routes to pick up as many people as the bus will hold, radio back to HQ that they're full, and head for a designated evacuation location. I suggest military bases and NG armories for the job, because they typically have barracks, latrines, mess halls, some rudimentary medical facilities, and plenty of room to set up tents.

Post-flood, every vehicle that comes down to evacuate people should come in loaded with water, food, and medical supplies to be left at pickup sites like the Superdome to tide over the people who won't fit on the bus, and alleviate fights over who goes on the bus.

2) The levee system can't put the 80% of the city that lies below the level of Lake Ponchartrain in a single basket. The 'bowl' needs to be converted into an 'ice cube tray' by creating additional levees (each a minimum of 5 feet over the maximum height of the lake) within the protected area. Major streets and highways should be built on these levees, and where tunnels are opened underneath them, have easily-closed floodgates. That way, if one levee breaks, it floods a few neighborhoods instead of most of the city, and it's easier to get those people up to bus stations built atop the levees, alongside those roads, and out to places where basic services are available.

3) Some of the lowest elevations should be reserved for the drainage system to collect water from the higher elevations, using check valves that automatically close off when the water level equalizes (but can also be shut off manually as the need should arise), so as to prevent reverse flow to the inhabited areas. Pumps that take their power from the flow of the Mississippi, rather than electrical distribution systems likely to fail in the aftermath of a storm, would lift the water from these lowest points out of the city. Those pumps should be built so that they can operate when completely submerged.
Any buildings in those lowest 'ice cubes' should be concrete and steel (parking garages) at least as high as the highest possible lake elevation, because in the event of moderate flooding, those areas will be sacrificed to save the higher ones.

That's for starters. Dennis Hastert is right to say that we have to consider the probability that NO can't responsibly be rebuilt the way it was; it will have to be designed to withstand the next Category 4/5 hurricane to come along. The rest of us need to demand that our state and local governments have similar contingency plans for evacuating entire cities should the need arise. When people say otherwise, remind them of how they felt today.

"Right now, we should not be stopping our leaders and politicians to answer our questions, we should just let them go do what they are supposed to be doing."

Nonsense. The biggest reason why Bush has returned from vacation, from playing guitar, from eating cake with McCain, is because people are kicking his ass with questions. And rightfully so. Maybe they should try this with Cheney, who is still on vacation.

The stakes are way too high for anyone to trust him with any responsibility with regard to this. Blame him now and remove him. You guys want to let him make a second error? Are you insane? Or stupid?

ooookay, Vince. In the middle of this national crisis, we'll just stop what we are doing for impeachment hearings.

I heard an interesting suggestion from an structural engineer. He thinks that N.O. will be rebuilt, but in a smaller form that will take advantage of the parts of the area that are higher rather than lower. N.O. in its former form is probably unviable in the long run.

Good points The Monster and well thought out.

Hey now, obviously vince doesnt mean to stop everything right now to impeach the president (clearly saving lives is the first priority), but he is saying that we should be questioning our leaders as to why we werent better prepared? Why they were still on vacation when they knew this was coming, and didnt leave their vacation until after the hurricane hit, people were dying and N.O. was in such bad shape. This was (yet another) major MAJOR bungle on the part of our leaders, costing many lives and so much suffering. We should demand better from them, and not just let this slide.

I wonder how this would have turned out differently had our leaders made a large effort to organize and prepare before disaster struck.

"but he is saying that we should be questioning our leaders as to why we werent better prepared"

No, Kristen, he's questioning one specific leader, the President. The clear implication of that is that preparing for this sort of event is entirely the responsibility of the executive branch of the national government. If that's the case, there is no need for a State of Louisiana, Parish of Orleans, or City of New Orleans.
The LANG is still under the full authority of the governor, so complaints about how they have been (mis)used should be directed to Baton Rouge, not Washington, after we get these people to safety.

That was so damn good it was almost poetic! I know my entire family would be down there helping if we didn't live paycheck to paycheck. I definately relate to that one. I too am sick of listening to people whining about whose fault it is and all the finger pointing. Its as simple as shut yer piehole and let them do their jobs. I personally think our government was just as shocked as everybody else when this happened, the it wont happen to me syndrome, and I think they are doing all they can to play catch-up. God Bless the US citizens who are donating, volunteering, praying, even opening up their own homes for these people. And thank God for you reporting that not all human beings are jackass's.

"Bush admits Katrina response 'not enough'" ...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050902/ap_on_go_pr_wh/katrina_bush

"NEW ORLEANS - Scorched by criticism about sluggish federal help,
President Bush acknowledged the government's failure to stop lawlessness and help desperate people in New Orleans. "The results are not enough," Bush said Friday in the face of mounting complaints from Republicans and Democrats alike."

"Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called the government's response "an embarrassment."

"Asked later how the richest country on Earth could not meet the needs of its people, Bush said: "I am satisfied with the response. I am not satisfied with all the results."

Yes, I agree! I can't understand why Bush was on vacation while a hurricane threatened the Gulf coast. Shouldn't he have had the military seeding the clouds or something.... Why wasn't he simply taking over command of New Orleans and ordering an evacuation? Why didn't Bush call the Guard back from Iraq to police the city before the hurricans struck? Why didn't the firetrucks have extra armor? (oops sorry wrong crisis).

For the sake of the liberals too stoopid to get it, the previous was sarcasm.

If you'll notice, the previous article included criticism by "stoopid" liberals and conservatives alike, in fact, more conservatives than liberals. Did you even read it?