Thursday, October 25, 2007


During Hurricane Katrina, rumors were rampant about what was going on in the Superdome and the Convention Center. I must admit, I was too busy dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in my hometown of Gulfport Mississippi and it wasn't until months later I was able to learn what occurred there.

But the inaccurate news reports of rapes, murders, and gunfire aimed at rescue helicopters exacerbated the problems. Unfounded rumors may have led to help being delayed. Who was spreading the unconfirmed rumors? The news media were broadcasting these unconfirmed reports and those reports may have slowed down much needed help.

Contrasts are now being made between the emergency response to the wildfires in California and the emergency response in New Orleans. Confederate Yankee, in his post, Pink and Gray lists some of them. He also links to Bill Whittle's Tribes which was written immediately after Hurricane Katrina. Below is an excerpt:

That has nothing to do with me being white. If the blacks and Hispanics and Jews and gays that I work with and associate with were there with me, it would have been that much better. That’s because the people I associate with – my Tribe – consists not of blacks and whites and gays and Hispanics and Asians, but of individuals who do not rape, murder, or steal. My Tribe consists of people who know that sometimes bad things happen, and that these instances are opportunities to show ourselves what we are made of. My people go into burning buildings. My Tribe consists of organizers and self-starters, proud and self-reliant people who do not need to be told what to do in a crisis. My Tribe is not fearless; they are something better. They are courageous. My Tribe is honorable, and decent, and kind, and inventive. My Tribe knows how to give orders, and how to follow them. My Tribe knows enough about how the world works to figure out ways to boil water, ration food, repair structures, build and maintain makeshift latrines, and care for the wounded and the dead with respect and compassion.

There are some things my Tribe is not good at at all. My Tribe doesn't make excuses. My Tribe will analyze failure and assign blame, but that is to make sure that we do better next time, and we never, ever waste valuable energy and time doing so while people are still in danger. My Tribe says, and in their heart completely believes that it's the other guy that's the hero. My Tribe does not believe that a single Man can cause, prevent or steer Hurricanes, and my Tribe does not and has never made someone else responsible for their own safety, and that of their loved ones.

The thing is, Bill Whittle wrote that in September 2005. This is after digesting all the horribly inaccurate news reports being broadcast about New Orleans. If the news media had just gone and talked to Major Bush of the Louisiana National Guard, they would have found out the truth. Far from the Superdome being a jungle of violence, there was control and even in the Superdome, neighbors were helping neighbors.

We would hear stuff from the Convention Center, too, and we were like, "Ah jeez, it must be really really bad down there, because it's not like that here. I mean it sucks here, but there's certainly not babies being raped...."

I mean, can I unequivocally say that no woman got felt up by some other man in the Superdome? No. I think it's reasonable to think that if you cram that many people off the street together, someone's going to push the envelope, someone's going to cross the line. And I'm sure that there were rapists and child molesters in that group of people.... Anytime you're going to bring in everybody off the street you're going to bring some pretty unseasonable characters. But in all the screening we did of everybody coming through, I think they only confiscated like forty-some weapons. Which is I don't think anywhere near what you'd expect....

But for the most part this was 19,900 people who were just devastated, and desperate, and tired, and scared, because they probably had lost family or didn't know where some family was, and faced with the unknown of not knowing what tomorrow's going to bring. All they knew was that the New Orleans Superdome was a horrible place to live. But they also kind of knew it was the best place around, at least right now. And they knew that they just kind of had to suck it up and endure it with us. I told them every day, you know, "We're still here folks. You saw us here on Sunday, and we're not leaving until y'all are out of here." And they kind of believed it, they hung on.

But New Orleans, I guess my last point is, I kind of feel upset. Because I have some pictures of a Dad reading stories to his kid. I have a picture of a lady who—I don't know what the hell she was thinking when she brought it—but she brought her clown suit, and make-up, and she's in full clown garb, and she's got a wig on, and a nose and everything, and she sat there for days and painted kids' faces all day long. I have 20 amazing stories of people taking care of each other for every one incident of someone stealing, or someone taking somebody's stuff, or someone trying to get into somebody else's business, or someone laying their hands on somebody.

The people in New Orleans were not the lawless thugs the news media tried to portray. Like in Mississippi, ordinary people rescued their neighbors and tried to help one another. The biggest problem in New Orleans was Mayor Ray Nagin. While mayors along the Mississippi Gulf Coast were speaking words of encouragement, Nagin was afraid to go into the Superdome and talk to people. While government officials in Mississippi and California followed their emergency plans, the city of New Orleans did not.

And the problems of leadership are still occurring in New Orleans.

If there's any good news to come out of the recovery effort it's that people in the hurricane zone have learned to become less reliant on political saviors and more reliant on themselves. In May 2007, the highly-regarded University of New Orleans Survey Research Center released their annual survey on quality of life in Orleans Parish. For "the first time in twenty years," the survey reported, "something rivaled crime as the ‘biggest' problem facing New Orleans." That problem was dissatisfaction with the local political leadership-just one-third of New Orleanians approved of Mayor Nagin's performance in office.

The people of New Orleans are resilient and are working together to rebuild. It is the rumors reported as news that lead to the perception of those in New Orleans not being resilient.

1 comment:

Karen said...

It is heartening to see the people of New Orleans coming together and learning for the horrible experience of Katrina. We were talking to an art shop owner in the French Quarter when we were there over Labor Day weekend. He was completely frustrated by the local politicans, from Nagin on down and the state that the leadership was completely incompetent. So much was still not being done, even this far out of the event.

It helps the area, too, that so many of the people living off the government just aren't there anymore. They are here in Houston and places like Atlanta and scattered about.