Saturday, July 01, 2006

Orphans Of The Nation

Ten months later and the place still looks like Baghdad in America, but it gets less press.
Flooded and forgotten | Salon News: "But, of course, the partying is subdued these days in New Orleans. The French Quarter is open for business, music cascading from open bar doors, the smells of spicy food mingling with shouts and laughter. The city is so grateful for this convention that welcome banners hang everywhere, saying, 'We're jazzed you're here!' (And in many souvenir shops, newly printed T-shirts proclaim, 'Librarians Do It by the Book! ALA 2006.')

Other T-shirts serve as reminders of last year. 'FEMA Evacuation Plan -- Run, Bitch, Run!' And 'Girls Gone Wild -- Katrina and Rita' printed over two swirling hurricane images strategically placed on the chest.

And nearly a year after Katrina, many parts of the city are still utter wastelands, streets full of cars and boats and debris but completely empty of people, and even the historic shutters that once shielded windows from hurricanes are being scavenged and stolen and sold from houses where no one expects to return. It was true -- unless you've seen it, and smelled it, you can't truly understand.
Many Americans, focused on the devastation of Katrina, have forgotten that Rita bashed the rest of the state with equal force. Trying to explain to me how Cameron and Calcasieu and other parishes were devastated by Rita, and now feel forgotten, Andrea, an executive for Budweiser, gave me a stark sentence. "I had 110 accounts in those parishes before Rita. Now, nearly a year later, I have one."

Of all the restaurants, markets, liquor stores, bars and groceries she served, only one has reopened -- the Hackberry Market, she said, incredulous.
I am from a state where fault lines run everywhere -- where earthquakes have destroyed cities that were then rebuilt, where wildfires obliterate communities nearly every year, where mudslides take out houses in upscale beach towns again and again. In California, people are reimbursed by insurance companies, and then they rebuild in the same places, over and over. La Conchita, buried by mud in a horrific slide in 2004, will see new homes on the same slope. Scripps Ranch and other San Diego neighborhoods erased by wildfires in 2004 have already risen from ash. The Oakland hills, devastated in 1991 by one of America's most costly and destructive fires, are covered with houses again.

All over America, people rebuild homes that lie in tornado paths, on fault lines, near levees and rivers and dams, in forested areas prone to periodic wildfires. How can it be, these Louisianians asked me, with fury or fervent prayer or sighs of resignation, that our state and people are worth less to the country? "We don't feel like Americans," I heard again and again, and I was reminded of the plaintive cries to television reporters during Katrina's floods -- "I'm a citizen of America! Not a refugee!"
Now, why do you suppose that is? I suggest you check out parts of Watts and downtown Oakland for the answer. They didn't get rebuilt right away. Or 40 years later.

America as a nation suffers from attention deficit disorder. Katrina and New Orleans are old news. Heck, the Iraq war is old news. They sit there fat, dumb and not so happy, but too lazy to do anything to change the situation because they don't want to get involved. Let somebody else do it, they have to concentrate on their life. As if outside influences won't affect their lives. Since science isn't important anymore, the concept of the butterfly effect is just something they heard Jeff Goldblum mention in Jurassic Park. Heaven forbid that they should take it to heart, or mind.

Speaking of heart, what happened to all that Christian stuff about helping your neighbor? Being a Christian isn't all about forbidding gay marriage and preventing abortion. If we can run around the world helping other countries out of disasters, why can't we help the people on our own continent? They are Americans and deserving of every effort that we can make to rebuild their lives. We do it for every other section of the matter how many times the trailer park gets blown over. Or the hillside falls down. Are the people in the Northeast going to be abandoned and told that it is too dangerous to rebuild or clean up? If Washington D.C is devastated by a hurricane are we going to refuse to rebuild it? It is populated by predominantly brown people and crooks. Just like New Orleans but without the music and culture.

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