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Katrina in Progress

Week of September 19, 2005


            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 order.

            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 Orleans.” 

            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 Orleans. 

            “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 Brenda Marshall.

            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. 






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© 2005 Brent Morrison