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Katrina: Worth Remembering
9/2/2015 4:11:13 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

It was ten years ago that Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans with a vengeance. As I reflect on the series of devastating tragedies following the storm, I still find it hard to believe. Some once said “pictures are worth a thousand words”. As the nation reflects on the storm ten years later, the pictures tell a story of an ugly American response to the worst natural disaster to wash up on its shores.

The citizens of New Orleans were warned of the Category 4 storm that was fast approaching. So much attention had been focused on New Orleans that one might forget that Katrina struck Florida as a Category 1 before moving on into the Gulf and picking up speed. Forecasters warned that a Category 4 storm was headed to New Orleans. The Category 4 storm turned into a Category 5 with winds upward of 160 MPH.

Ray Nagin, former mayor of New Orleans, ordered a mandatory evacuation. Evacuate!! Evacuate!!! And, in the aftermath of the storm, he implored federal officials to get off their “do nothing” and do something. As in any storm, there are going to be those who leave and those who remain. Thousands of residents heeded the warnings and left with what little belongings they could carry. However, there were the poor and homeless with no way out. With no money and no transportation, they casually and fearfully awaited the storm. The decision not to evacuate turned out to be wrong, costly and deadly. When it seemed like Hurricane Katrina was going to spare the City of New Orleans its wrath, the inevitable happened. The storm struck with a vengeance that will go down as one of the worst ever in the history of the United States.

On Sunday, August 28, New Orleans realized its greatest nightmare, the storm struck. The levees that kept the water at bay for years suddenly gave way and flooded the city. Safe havens and shelters soon became death traps. People were trapped inside their homes and on roofs. Highways buckled from the weight of the water and resembled jigsaw puzzles. Convention goers were trapped in high rise hotels with no means to get out. Patients were trapped in hospitals without electricity leaving little hope of survival.

Katrina did not stop until she had destroyed many coastal cities in Mississippi and Alabama. The statistical data of the number of deaths were in the thousands after the water subsided and more of the homes checked for victims.

In light of all of the devastation, let’s not forget former President George W. Bush was vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He was completing a month long vacation when Katrina struck and he remained on vacation. Vice President Cheney was vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming and he, too remained on vacation until questioned why he had not responded to the tragedy. So, who was minding the country? President Bush was obviously detached from the Katrina tragedy. He showed no urgency in mobilizing rescue efforts and providing assistance to the people of New Orleans in wake of horrendous reports coming out of New Orleans and surrounding cities of deaths and people stranded in deadly heat on top of buildings.

A news report that White folk “found” things in the aftermath of the storm while black folk were accused of “looting” is proof of how blacks are portrayed. There is a difference between looting and survival. No one in New Orleans that took clothes, food or medicine should be prosecuted or labeled “looters”. Now, I say lock the fools up who took jewelry, television sets and electronics. If the brothers think they can find an outlet in 25 feet of water, I say fry on my brother.

Even after the storm, there were two sets of rules. Blacks were referred to as “refugees”. I took exceptions to the label. Afro Americans have more sweat equity in this country than any other nationality. Their blood runs deep through the farmland. How in ham sandwich can black folk be refugees in their own country? Webster defines a refugee as “a person who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere, as in the time of war or of political or religious persecution.” Black folk in New Orleans pay taxes and vote just like the rest of the nation. They were forced from their homes not by war, political or religious persecution but by an act of God. And the last time I checked they were transported out of the city to surrounding states that are a part of the USA.

I am still trying to make sense of why food was not dropped at the Convention Center, Superdome and other locations within hours after the disaster? Why were school and transit buses not used to evacuate the poor who wanted to leave? It’s a shame that so many had to die. There were pictures of hundreds of school buses parked side by side flooded by storm waters when the buses could have provided a way out for those who did not have the resources or transportation to leave.

Hurricane Katrina should be a learning lesson for America. Once again, it was a tale of Black and White. Even during this disaster, the quick response was seen in white communities while the 9th Ward went unnoticed. One needs only to visit the 9th Ward and see how slow recovery efforts have gone after 10 years. Many families left the only home they knew and never returned.

Commemorate or celebrate! I say recognize the anniversary so history does not repeat itself but what’s there to celebrate? Are y’all listening?

Labor Day! Enjoy your day off. And, be safe; see ‘ya next week.


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