Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Lies Beneath

"This city has been destroyed, completely destroyed."
- W. J. Riley, New Orleans Police Official

I have avoided the topic of New Orleans because I have been uncomfortable with the situation. It’s not the actual storm damage that has shocked me, but rather how quickly New Orleans, a major american city, descended into the depths of hell. People, instead of coming together to help each other face the crisis, turned against each other. In a time of severe tribulation society broke down and we became our own worst enemies. I’m not sure how to react to that.

People shooting rescuers, raping children, looting, setting fires, killing... killing babies! The disabled and elderly dying in their wheelchairs, Doctors watching patients dying within meters of equipment that could normally save their lives...

It’s a nightmare of biblically epic proportions.

All the things we take for granted – clean water, food supplies, shelter, sanitation, civil order, police and fire departments, protection of property and self, communication, transportation, electricity, hospitals, burying your dead... it’s all gone. Like Pompeii, nature has laid waste to New Orleans.

I have problems wrapping my head around the obscene monstrosity of it all – I mean, do you know what it means to lose New Orleans?

My fear is that the worst has yet to come. They say there are thousands of bloated, decomposing bodies in the water. Thousands! They say it will take months to drain the water. Months! No one knows how long all the repairs will actually take, although I have heard estimates of a year or more and Bill Clinton suggested creating job incentives for all the people who have been forced to relocate. Bush said "recovery is going to take years." Years!

Questions swim in my head. Mostly all begin with "Why."

Like, why has it taken so very long for aid to come to people who live in one of richest countries in the world? Why didn’t some people leave (socio-economic arguments aside here, some people chose to stay). And why did the government abandon those who couldn’t leave themselves – like the poor and the people in the hospitals? Why are these people still there even now?

Why, in a city famed for its tolerance, inclusion and community, did the people so easily turn against each other?

What does that say about all of us that share the same western culture? Do we know who we are? Did we know who New Orleans was? Do we know what we would do, faced with the same forces of destruction? Are we sure?

Sure they will rebuild and fix New Orleans, eventually, and it may even be the promised new and improved version of itself. But it will forever be a changed city, there’s no way to avoid that. We will all be changed.


Jon said...

I have had a couple of people say to me "wow, I wanted to go to New Orleans because it is such a fun and outspoken city". Unfortunately, I think that this view only go surface deep and the rest of the city and area is an incredibly poor and marginalized place.

Although I would like (well, like is a relative term) to think that the shocking things that have occured there outside of the actual storm are due to the situation, I believe these types of behavoirs have been occuring probably everyday for the last few decades or so...

I guess the equation is given a tragic situation, some will dissapoint, a few will shock, and just many will shine and become heros.

Allie said...

I have actually read some accounts of New Orleans itself being very much like this even in it's best moments. People that say that the crime rate in New Orleans is normally high (it is apparently considered the "Murder Capital of the USA as it's murder rate would have to DROP 87% just to come inline with that of New York City). Seems like this may just be, well, what happens in New Orleans without police.

Anonymous said...

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