The real cost of the disaster

The situation in New Orleans continues to deteriorate. It will probably get much worse in the coming days and weeks. Many hundreds if not thousands of people will die from hunger, dehydration and disease. Although there is water everywhere, there is nothing to drink. I keep hearing about all the looting going on. However under the circumstances, no power, no food, no transport, no drinkable water, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to just call this trying to survive? After all, the bulk of the people who stayed behind were the poor and hand no way to get out of town even if they wanted to and nowhere to go. The following post was on Boing-Boing this morning

Email attributed to NOLA rescue worker; economics of disaster
My friend Ned Sublette passes along an email attributed to a rescue worker in New Orleans. Ned says:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number — 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources — meaning, the political will — weren’t there to get them out.

White per capita income in Orleans parish, 2000 census: $31,971. Black per capita: $11,332. Median *household* income in B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Housing Projects, 2000: $13,263.

The email attributed to a rescue worker reads:

There are dead animals floating in the water, pets left behind. Surely people thought they would be back to collect the pets. Not so. The rescuers smell like gas when they come back in; there’s gas in all of the water that consumes the area. Fires are burning all over the place. Our teams are tired and they are thirsty and they are hungry. And they have a place to sleep and water to drink and food to eat. I can only imagine how the people without these “luxuries” are feeling right now.

Each night will be a race against time. When night falls, people can’t get picked up from roofs, the rescuers can’t chop into people’s roofs to check the attics for anyone alive or for anyone dead (sadly, there are dead). At night we can’t see power lines we can’t see obstacles, we can’t see any of the things that will bring down a helicopter or pose a danger to boats rescuers.

One of the teams came in today after having been out for hours at a time. One particular rescuer went straight to a corner and collapsed into tears. I went directly to him and just held his hand. What else could I do? I said nothing. He said it all. They lowered him 26 times and he pulled 26 people to safety. He wants to be back out there but there are mandatory rest periods. His tears are tears of frustration.

Entire teams are working on nothing but evacuating the hospitals. All four of the major hospitals are beginning to flood. Critical patients have to get out or surely they will be lost. Generators cannot run forever; that’s just the way it is. There are limited facilities to take those that are rescued and those that need to be evacuated. Anything that leaves by air leaves by helicopter. There are no runways for planes that aren’t under water. Only one drivable way in and out.

Water everywhere and more keeps coming. Until they can do something about the three levees that are broken, more water will come and more water will kill. The water poses major health threats. Anyone with even a small open cut is prone to infection. Anyone who touches this water and touches his eyes, nose or mouth without find a way to “clean” himself first will be sick with stomach problems before long. It’s bad and it’s getting worse. It’s not going to be anything better than devastating for days or weeks at best.

I wish I could tell you that I’ll check in again soon. I can’t. I don’t know when my next message will get out. We’ll be leaving where we are within just an hour or so.

The true scope of the devestation and the human cost has even been begun to felt. The destruction in places like Biloxi and Gulf Port, Miss. is bad but bulldozing the rubble and rebuilding will be a relatively straightforward process, like it was in other places like south florida and the carolinas after Andrew and Hugo in years past. The mess in New orleans may never be able to be cleaned up. My heart goes out to the people trapped in New Orleans. I hope they can get out and rebuild their lives somewhere else. It will be a shame to lose the rich cultural heritage of the Big Easy, but I suspect the New Orleans that we new until a couple of days ago is gone forever.

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