Monday, August 29, 2005

Musings on Disaster

Well, the destruction of New Orleans did not happen. Hurricane Katrina, having weakened slightly and veered east, did not deliver the biblical smiting of The Big Easy that was being predicted. The Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coast is a mess with restoration of power and return to normalcy likely to take weeks. or more. I would hope that loss of life will be low, but those figures are still emerging. It could have been far, far worse.

The news coverage was as saturating as the rain with scores of obligatory reporters standing in the wind and torrential rain at 45 degree angles so as to not be blown over by the gail. I always find it a bit silly, but I guess that it does give one an idea of the conditions and I guess that is the real point of reporters.

There were reports of looters in New Orleans which, alas, is not unexpected. Looters should be shot on sight. Seriously. I'm not bloodthirsy, and I do not think that the penalty for theft of property should be death, but I've always felt that looting in the midst of an emergency such as this is far worse than theft. People who would use a natural disaster such as this as an opportunity to pillage the possessions of those who have fled to save their lives simply give up their right to live in civilized society.

There were also reports of price gouging. The penalty? Revocation of the business license, statewide, of anyone found to be profiteering off of the misery of others for a period of no less than 5 to 10 years. It would be nice of local businesses would reduce their prices for a time in order to assist the community in getting back on it's collective feet, but raising prices because they feel they have a captive clientele is simply unacceptable. A business that sees an event such as this as an opportunity to increase their bottom line waives its right to do business in that community.

These incidents though, are but anomalies. As we so often see, disasters such as this tend to bring out the best in man, rather than the worst. People instinctively extend their hand to help a stranger and strangers thus become friends. Those who weathered the storm together and will now share the grim and difficult task of putting their lives back together will share a distinct bond that they did not share yesterday.

Catastrophes such as this reveal our innate nature, for better or worse. For the overwhelming majority of us, they reveal strength and courage we did not know we had as well as compassion we thought long buried by cynicism. When whatever storm we are struggling against is over, we emerge from it as stronger, wiser people. When the clouds part, and the sun finally emerges, the warmth is felt not only on our face, but also from the depth of our soul.

Perhaps that's the point.

UPDATE 8/30 9:00 AM: Fox News is now showing the first video of the morning after in New Orleans and conditions are far worse that we had previously been led to believe. Most of the city is flooded, the mayor saying 80%, with the water continuing to rise due to levee breaks. Emergency response is nearly no-existant due to the ever rising water and martial law has been declared. There is no potable water electricity or telephone service and officials are now questioning how long they "will be able to sustain life in the city". Some 10,000 people are holed up in the Superdome and conditions there continue there continuing to deteriorate.

As New Orleans is a city built below sea level in the first place, these flood waters are unlikely to recede naturally which would lead one to believe that the situation these will continue to worsen. Mosquitos, disease and the increasing toxicity of the flood water are concerns that immediately loom large.

New Orleans seems to be descending into hell, God help them all.

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