Friday, June 20, 2008

Killer Katrina vs the Mighty Miss

Another Spring (technically, it really feels like Summer) has brought record flooding to the Mississippi river valley. This is the most extensive river system in the country, covering the middle of the country, reaching to the mountains east and west. Even the Ohio River, the southern border to the great state for which it is named, and its tributaries, which almost reach north to my home in New Bremen, feed the behemoth that is the Mighty Miss. So when the river floods, it really floods. And the historic floods we are seeing remind us of a few years ago, when New Orleans (also in the crosshairs of this flood surge) was sunk beneath the waters from busted levies after hurricane Katrina delivered its smackdown to the Big Easy. So let's contrast the disaster of Katrina with the current disaster of Mississippi flooding.

First, New Orleans. Evacuations of the threatened areas were sporadic, and far too many people remained in the flood area. When the flooding began, the shelter of the Superdome became a nightmare, as there were insufficient supplies and no control of the situation. The mayor of New Orleans failed to act. The governor of Louisiana failed to act. And the federal government was slow to act, leaving people to fend for themselves for several days before Washington finally came to the rescue.

In Iowa and Illinios and Missouri and the other parts of the flood plain, as the warnings came through, people moved efficiently from the lowlying areas, the mayors and governors put plans into place, and brigades of people wielding shovels and sandbags fought the river. With waters already receding, people have already begun the cleanup. And the federal government is moving in now to supply the aid needed to rebuild.

The similarities are obvious. Here are entire cities overwhelmed by water, which will have to be rebuilt. Levies will have to be replaced. And the waters will come and destroy again.

But it's there that the similarities end. In New Orleans, so many people, including an idiotic mayor and an unresponsive governor, were waiting for the government to come and solve their problems. Thus a mass of humanity suffered greatly. Upriver, the people have moved to fight the river, and have gotten out when the battle was lost. So they only must clean up. Now the water heads toward New Orleans.

If you choose to live in a flood plain, or below sea level, you run a distinct risk of being flooded out. And while help will come, you have the first responsibility to be ready when the waters come. This is a part of personal responsibility that, if neglected, costs lives. And dependence on faceless entities will never prepare you at the critical hour. Have those in the Big Easy, who failed when Katrina visited destruction upon them, learned the lesson in time to face the Mighty Miss?


Beth said...

I'd like to think people would learn from history (and it being rather recent, it should be fresh in their minds) but sadly I predict they will not. Some people are just entrenched in the entitlement mentality.

doctorj2u said...

90% of New Orleans evacuated in the 48 hour warning period. That is an amazing statistic. NOAA itself says that they know 20% of an urban population will not or cannot evacuate. The most difficult to get to leave are the elderly. They have never evacuated for a storm in their entire lives and they were not going to do it now. Do you desert grandma or stay together as a family? I know personally a family that this happened to. My 80 year old mother lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by the beach. I had lunch the other day with a very close family friend. (He is a hard headed WWII P-52 pilot, Europeon theater). He was going to stay. At the last minute he finally listened to his son't PLEADDING to come and stay with them in Dallas. The 30 foot storm surge distroyed his lovely 2 story home. He told me the story of seeing another WW II veteran and his wife right before he and his wife left. This couple lived in home that did not flood in Camille. He would be safe. My friend said the wife was white as a ghost, scared out of her mind, but she would not leave her husband. They were both killed in the surge. The last contact they had was by phone with their daughter. The water was up to the doorknobs, they were putting on their life jackets and going up to the attic. I often think how helpless that daughter felt, knowing what her loved ones were in danger and not being able to do a thing about it. She had to identify their bodies when they were found two weeks later. This was an American TRAGEDY. I can't tell you how disgusted I am to have my fellow citizens use it as a political "talking point". Is this what this country has become? The people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans know better than anyone what the people of Iowa have ahead of them. It is a hard, frustrating tear filled road. Support them. They will need it. But cut the critism of things you truly know NOTHING about.

Beth said...

Whatever happened to taking personal responsibility? Sure, the stories of people who are unable to get out, that is tragic, and they needed help. But those who make decisions to stay run the risk of hurting themselves, and possibly putting a person who would need to rescue them (or try to rescue them) in danger. That is selfish. I am not using talking points and expoliting a tragedy for political reasons. I am simply expecting people to take personal responsibility. If they chose not to, then they need to pay the price.

doctorj2u said...

Well Beth, I would say they paid dearly for that failure in judgement. Some with their lives, , some with watching their children and elderly suffer from the lack of water and medicine. Sure, they made the wrong decision, but some had no means to evacuate. It is expensive to evacuate. It costs hundreds of dollars. I guess you don't have poor where you live, but we have a lot of people that simply cannot afford it. They are also many that are human and bull headed. So, tell me, I am curious. Is your answer to sit and watch these people suffer? They did it to themselves, why not? Or is it just because you want to vent because you are tired of supporting "those" people. I am really curious as a person that watched the suffering first hand, month after month, year after year, while the country worried itself with dead girls on spring break.

Beth said...

As I said, the tragedy was for those who could not evacuate. If resources could have been utilized solely for those who could not (not for those who would not) then perhaps most could have been saved.

Then again, some resources were never even tapped into, which also was a tragedy.

Matt said...

Beth said... "Whatever happened to taking personal responsibility?"

Hog wash, peole don't just get up an run from their homes that easy.

You can sit there in your fat home and criticize everyone else about taking personal responsibility. But you never faced the type of threats that these poor people did.

Patrick M said...

Doctorj: I'm not the one who turned this whole thing into a talking point. And I understand there are people who will choose to stay in the path of a storm, risking death. But it's not that part that I criticize.

It was the looks of hopelessness that were on so many faces while they waited for their local and state government to help (they didn't). It was the usual partisan bitching that the federal government (Bush specifically) didn't do enough. It was the fact that those who stayed didn't take care of each other.

Look at the coverage. People of all situations and incomes were affected by both floods. But how the story was covered and how the people reacted was very different.

And the people of Iowa have seen this before, though not as badly. I'm talking about mentality, not what we as a people should do. Because we need to be helping all those affected by these disasters. And we will. But at the beginning, there is no help. There's only you, your family, and your neighbors. And therein lies the difference.

Finally, in the end, the reason these things become talking points is so we learn and become better. That's the reason we look at these things.

Beth: It's really amazing how people expect more help no matter how much is poured in. Doctorrj2u said "as a person that watched the suffering first hand, month after month, year after year....". Year after year? And he wonders why we get frustrated with the dependent mentality?

Those parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri (and others) that were flooded will be back up, probably in a year. And while we will help (and pour in the money as we always do), at some point you have to step up and make things happen.

Doctorj: Additional question: As someone who has watched the suffering, what have you done to help? Besides criticize someone you truly know NOTHING about, of course.

doctorj2u said...

What have I done to help? I have donated money, I have donated thousands of dollars in free dental work on victims and soldiers, I have picked up debris in 3 communinities in two states, I have volunteered in schools, I have volunteered in churchs, I have gutted homes out, I have supported businesses struggling to stay open while America decides it is OK to visit New Orleans again, I have written politicians and journalists about the plight on the ground, and I have called out ignorant people on the internet that DON"T HAVE A CLUE what the people of the Gulf South have endured. I also send on average $1000 a week to a government that abandoned us. What have you done Matt?

Beth said...

Here's food for thought, don't you think Doctor that terrorists look upon our country during times of crisis to see how we handle it? Recall the response and the bravery and the sacrifice after 9-11, a national tragedy but also an inspiration during the tragedy. What do you al Qaeda thinks when it sees Americans who don't help each other let alone help themselves during natural disasters? I would think they would imagine the damage they could do, the chaos they could create, if they thought the people they attack are helpless.

It's not about being selfish, it is about rugged individualism, and also unity when the situation calls for it. But it seems much easier to point the blame at someone else.

doctorj2u said...

You obviously don't follow international news because the abandonment by America of their own citizens hurt America internationally more than any Jihadist plot could. And, just so you know, it was not Jihadists that destroyed an American city, my home, but my own government. My attitude changed that day (8-29-05) on the global war on terror. We are neglecting our own citizens. We are neglecting our own infrastructure putting Americans at danger. I just did dental work on a National Guard unit going on its third tour in Iraq. These are people that lost their homes and businesses in Katrina. Have not these men done enough to serve their country?

Beth said...

Correction, a natural disaster destroyed an American city, not the U.S. government. Truly, it is that way of thinking that is hurting America as it was intended to be.

doctorj2u said...

Educate yourself on the subject. New Orleans got the weaker west side of the hurricane. The levees failed under a force they were designed to withstand. The Corps has admitted there fault calling it the largest civil engineering failure in history. And the citizens of New Orleans paid the price of that failure.

Beth said...

It was the hurricane that caused the water to rise, not the engineers. And it was individuals who decided to stay in their homes and not heed the warning to evacuate. Again, you can't blame the engineers.

Beth said...

I should clarify that as a Christian I do feel it is a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. However, I do not see the government as being the ones who should be handing out charity.

Just as I wouldn't expect a person to think just praying for something and sitting back and expecting God to answer their prayers without making any efforts themselves is wrong, so too just sitting back and expecting the government to take care of your every desire is also wrong. We need to take action, we need to accept some responsibility for ourselves.

Also as a Federalist, I believe that local governments should take responsibility primarily for its infrastructure. As a Constitutionalist, I believe it is the role of the federal government to protect and defend our national interests, therefore the war on terror is a legitimate function of the federal government.

Doctor, you are one who sees a need to help others and you do it, you are to be commended. I can't understand why you don't see where others need to be more like you and be a person of action instead of a person who expects others to act for them.

Patrick M said...

Doc: First of all, I was the one to ask what you've done.

In answer, you've listed a commendable effort. I can say I have not done much, as I have been struggling with other issues in my life since Katrina that have left me in a position where I could not help.

I don't know all the specifics on the ground. That is true. But your description of the failures of people and governments confirms everything I suspected.

Let me clarify why I put up this post in the first place.

This country faces natural disasters every year. Every month we hear of an area flooded or burnt or sucked into oblivion. I know of towns that have been wiped off the map not far from here.

In the end, there are always some places that bounce back, many that limp back, and some that don't come back.

Have you ever considered why that is the case?

Have you ever considered that depending on the government to take care of things is the worst thing you can do?

Have you considered that sometimes all the money, all the support, and all those who seek to heal the damage, yourself included, is not enough to reverse the destruction to infrastructure and life nature can bring?

And have you considered that, maybe, New Orleans wasn't meant to rise again?

So keep up God's work. But also look to the people who have to make it work, not those of us who have the advantage of distance.

Patrick M said...

One other thing, Doc:

If you have a preferred charity for people to donate to, I can add it to my blog somewhere and get the word out.

Just post whatever you think is best and I'll see what I can do.

doctorj2u said...

I personally give to The Salvation Army. They are heads and tails better than the Red Cross. They are on the ground FAST to help the people. They are not chained to bureacracy. I just have to laugh when I hear this stuff about government dependence. What government! I always knew that the state and city government was useless but it was a REAL eyeopener to me how ineffective the federal government is also. It made me understand completely why things are such a mess in Iraq. It is all about getting money to powerful friends with no accountability for results. It would make you sick to see how little of the emergency aid money made it to the ground. FEMA is unbelievably bad. It is so tied to bureacracy that it is hamstrung. The people of FEMA were good people, they just didn't have the power to make things happen. The truth is that the people of Iowa have not even begun their journey and by the time they find that out, the news people will be LONG gone. I pray the government has learned some lessons from Katrina but I am not holding my breath.
And Patrick, I am sorry if I got snappy in my last posts. I get very angry at the misconceptions out there in America sometimes. Ask any question you have and I will answer the best I can based on my knowledge.

doctorj2u said...

But Beth,
Don't you see what I am telling you. People of action were all over New Orleans. How do you think the city was rebuilt? It certainly was not government on ANY level. Government got in the way more than it helped. You are on your own. Now I do depend on government totally for one thing - protecting the citizens. The federal government FAILED New Orleans completely in ignoring the federal levees. New Orleans had a bad hurricane followed by a devastating flood. It was the flood that caused the true destruction. It was found out forensically that the design of the levees was substandard and they failed under forces they were designed to hold up under. That is where much of the anger comes from. It did not have to happen. It was preventable. In fact, I don't know if you remember, but it took months for the government to decide they were not going to abandon the city. (I, of course, will NEVER forget this. It changed my outlook on what it means to be an American FOREVER.) Well, I truthfully believe they changed their tune when they discovered that the disaster was their own fault. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska actually said it. He is an absolutely AWFUL human being, but he understood the theory of "You broke, you fix it."
As to infrastructure repair, you have inadvertantly stumbled upon one of the lessons the government has learned from Katrina. (Though it took then 2 years to change the law.) There are 2 types of disasters - regular ones (Contained disasters like tornadoes and firestorms) and catastrophic ones. The normal rules work fine for the regular ones. They don't in catastrophes. The hurricanes of 2005 basically devastated the entire southern half of LA. To get federal aid communities have to put up money up front. When a commnity is wiped off the face of the earth, there is no money. When a community is protected by levees that are proven substandard, tax incentive don't help. So how do you rebuild? You have no infrastucture. No electricity, no sewarage, no gas, no garbage pickup, no US mail (which is a real problem, more than I ever thought possible.) It is all a chicken and an egg thing. How do you get a tax base to pay their part when there is nothing there to work with? What comes first? It wasn't until the Stafford Act was recinded that the recovery really began in MS and LA.

Patrick M said...

Doctor: I understand the frustration of seeing things impeded by government. It's one of the themes that I echo almost daily here on SPD. It doesn't surprise any of us here that the federal government wouldn't come through. Our expectation was that the state and local governments would spearhead things. And as you expected, they didn't.

I think if you and I and Beth all sat down to look at the problem, we'd come to the same conclusion. One of the downsides of the blogosphere is that it tends to be really divisive. So read on and see if I come up with more ideas than complaints.

What I'll probably do with your preferred charity is a full post on funding private charities, with extra focus on the Salvation Army. I'll probably post it on Friday, because that will give it 3 days of headlines. And if I ever get my kids grown up enough and in the mood to travel out of the great state of Ohio, we might have to swing down that direction to see a city reborn.

Obob said...

pretty good thread going here. I'd chip in, but most words have been said.

Beth said...

I do believe in the end we agree that the government is not always going to be helpful to us in times of need.