DEALING WITH THE SECOND DISASTER
“UNACCEPTABLE,” INDEED. After a tragically delayed and seriously flawed Federal response to the Gulf Coast catastrophe, the President finally toured the devastation late in the week and called his own appointees’ responses to the disaster “unacceptable.” He pledged more troops and more aid. By then the city of New Orleans had experienced its second disaster.
A MAN-MADE DISASTER. It was a natural disaster that caused the physical devastation of the city last Monday. It was a human disaster that caused the spiritual and civil devastation that followed. The first disaster was not avoidable (though repeated Federal denials of funding requests for long-sought-for levee upgrades must now haunt White House budget decision-makers), the second was surely avoidable.
CRIMINAL NEGLECT? Whatever the cause, to whomever the responsibility falls, it appears that average U.S. citizens are ready to hold public servants accountable for the unnecessary loss of life, days of unnecessary suffering, and the indignities that were experienced by innocent people. It is now clear that our Federal government capacity did not act in the will of the citizenry--which was calling for immediate and unprecedented compassion, rescue, and relief. What our elected government gave us, while people died before our eyes for lack of water and medical assistance, were days of delays. Congressional investigations should determine if the hesitations reach the criminal level.
IN SPITE OF. Make no mistake: heroic rescue efforts have occurred--and will occur--at the hands of dedicated and selfless workers and volunteers. When all is said and done, this will have been an unprecedented rescue and recovery effort--the greatest in U.S. history. It will have occurred, however, in spite of unacceptable Federal delays, FEMA leadership incompetencies, and with hundreds--perhaps thousands--of unnecessary civilian deaths.
OF EMPTY OR FULL GLASSES. This is not a matter of looking at the glass half empty or looking at it half full. It is not a matter of caring for rescue and recovery now and assessing delay responsibility later. It is not a matter of appreciating that the President and his people are pedaling hard now to make up for tragically lost time. We must choose to look at both aspects of this catastrophe and relief effort at the same time, together, and now.
CARE FOR THE DEAD. While efforts to rescue the living abate and the task of recovering the dead comes to the fore, another issue arises: why have dead bodies been unattended for so long? Some bodies have been floating or lying in the streets for six days. Tell me it was not important or possible for someone--just a small task force, perhaps--to care for these bodies. People remember--for generations--how you treat their dying and dead loved ones. I am afraid the second wave of widespread resentment and grief from living victims and relatives of those who died after Monday’s hurricane is just beginning.
HOSPITALITY ON THE LINE. At this point, hospitality is the call of the day. The state of Texas, in particular, has opened its arms wide to refugees (some of whom have indicated they want to stay permanently). Hundreds, if not thousands, of American households have made room for homeless victims of Katrina. We are seeing from our citizenry and communities of faith an outpouring of compassion and desire to help. These actions of hospitality will need support and encouragement as the weeks and months move on.