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New Orleans could happen anywhere
Sep 06, 2005 12:00 am
September 6, 2005
The televised images of a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Deep South have been relentless during the long holiday weekend. Television and Internet images of the dead and the living – uncertainty, anger and fear in their faces – will be burned into America's collective conscious for years to come.
The actual death count may top 10,000 in Louisiana alone. Another certain casualty in the eyes of the American people will be our faith in government and government's ability to protect and serve our communities.
The U.S. just suffered the worst natural disaster in modern history, and government at every level – despite untold billions of dollars pumped into homeland security and disaster preparedness since 9/11 – was not ready for the challenge.
Equally relentless as the images from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama has been the mantra of defense mechanisms from Bush White House apologists. They have sought to shift blame from President George W. Bush and the federal government to the decidedly more Democratic Party oriented state and local government figures in Louisiana and New Orleans.
It is a disingenuous political strategy that can only backfire.
In truth, government at every level failed the people of New Orleans as well as the rest of the Delta. There is more than enough blame to spread around. It is not solely the president's fault any more than it is the New Orleans mayor's fault.
A system of preparedness for such disasters – rivaled only in their scope globally by acts of war – implemented by politicians from the White House to the U.S. Senate to state legislatures and local boards of aldermen failed the South.
That means these same preparedness measures whether responding to another hurricane or to a terrorist attack can fail anywhere in America. FEMA under our post-9/11 federal government's guidelines is attached to the Department of Homeland Security. They are part and parcel, working parts in a massive infrastructure of people and resources designed to respond when Americans need them in times of disaster.
The rest of America appears to be missing this point, not realizing the next New Orleans Superdome debacle could happen anywhere.
Much has been made of the race of those trapped in New Orleans, with many African-American leaders and other national figures questioning whether the federal government's response was so apparently slow because most of New Orleans is black.
That is a hard allegation to quantify and prove. An equally convincing argument is regionalism – not race – slowed government's response to this tragedy. Ridiculous comments like those from House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois about the possibility of not building back New Orleans demonstrates the kind of bias much of the rest of the country has against the South.
However, the television images are impossible to ignore – mostly poor Americans stranded and left for days without supplies or medical treatment in the wake of a catastrophic disaster in a modern city.
Once many Americans outside the South think past their provincial disregard for the region where Katrina hit, they may start asking "Could that happen here?" The answer is a terrifying "Yes."