It will take months to chronicle even the most basic
events of Hurricane Katrina, years to sift through every story. So
as tempting as it is to jump to conclusions, a little caution is in
I, for one, admit to being sucked in by grim reports of
massive death. Ten thousand at least, we were told. Discovering
who first threw out that number is like trying to find the inventor
of the wheel but it quickly became an article of faith.
I bought it, though Associated Press reports the known
loss as of September 14 is 710, about the same as the Chicago heat
wave of 1995.
Based on the initial reports I blasted those
politicizing the disaster – rightly – and noted the missteps of the
state and local finger pointers – also rightly. But in truth it now
looks like there was relatively little loss of life compared to the
physical destruction, which may indeed be the greatest in our
history. If one parcels out blame when the loss looks enormous it
is only fair to eat a little crow when it turns out remarkably low,
and I’ll take my slice.
I noted in my earlier column that Katrina knocked Cindy
Sheehan off the front page, but she’s not gone altogether. With
news crews no longer seeking her she went to them, touring storm
damage around Louisiana. In a piece posted on both Michael Moore’s
website and HuffingtonPost.com, Sheehan savaged the troops she
claims to love, saying of the young military rescuers “I wanted to
ask one of them what it would take for one of them to shoot me.”
She urged the president to “pull our troops out of occupied New
If you didn’t see that in a headline it’s because it
shows Sheehan as something other than a grieving mother. She’s
that, but she has also lost whatever grasp on reality she may have
had if she can’t see the military brought aid, order, and
organization no other agency could.
There are precious few humorous moments in a disaster
like this; ABC reporter Dean Reynolds unwittingly provided a few
when he tried to put words in the mouths of evacuees in Houston
after President Bush’s televised speech from Jackson Square in New
“Did you harbor any anger toward the president because
of the slow federal response?” Reynolds asked one storm victim.
“No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state
government should have been there before the federal government was
called in,” she replied.
“Was there anything (in the speech) that you found hard
to believe that he said (sic), that you thought, well, that’s nice
rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?” Reynolds
asked another. “No, I didn’t,” responded a woman identified as
Reynolds tried a third: “Did you feel that the President
was sincere tonight?” “Yes, he was” came the reply. In all,
Reynolds made six attempts to get one evacuee or another to mouth
the criticism he longed to hear, with little success. (See the full
transcript and a video clip at www.mrc.org).
The most critical question now, at least to the
displaced, is who will rebuild the Gulf Coast and how. The Los
Angeles Times reports officials of Louisiana’s state Office of
Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness were under indictment
regarding $60 million in unaccounted emergency aid before Katrina
hit, dating back to 1998. It has also been widely reported that at
least some of the $2,000 federally-funded debit cards distributed to
evacuees (assuming they truly were) was used for Louis Vuitton bags
and other luxuries, including more than a few Houston strip clubs.
Neither story builds much confidence. But like the
disaster itself, it is likely not as bad as reported. We’ll just
have to wait and watch – closely and carefully.