Approximately four days after the levees broke and the water drowned New Orleans, its homes, land and humans; then FEMA Director, Mike Brown did a satellite interview with CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien stating the environment was too dangerous for FEMA to come in and save lives and spirits, that were being lost day after day as residents of New Orleans and surrounding areas just sat in hopelessness. I remember watching that interview with my neighbors and one of them said with the self-righteousness of ignorance with no bliss, ” Why did those people build homes in a known flood zone and not expect this if a hurricane came.” At that point, I lost ever ounce of decorum I exhibit on a daily basis and went ( pardon the expression…or not) smooth off. I asked if he asked the same question of people who build and then RE-build their homes in Tornado Alley. Of course, his answer was, “no”.
That question and answer from my neighbor was basically the sentiment of people who had never struggled through the type of complete devastation nor helplessness we were witnessing during the days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. As the nation watched people being rescued from roof tops, bodies floating down subdivision streets and thousands of people at the Superdome “living” in sub par conditions and literally starving; some completely disconnected themselves from empathy and began to criticize the actual victims. Those days for me were more than just eye-opening, they were belief system changing; soul rearranging and simply put…heart breaking.
I watched that scrolling banner on CNN of children who had been separated from their parents by hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles, when General Honore’ finally got military tanks and school buses to the Superdome to get New Orleanians to safety. I heard the multitude of debates about “who, what, when and why”. I listened to blame being passed like a game of ” Hot Potato” between the Mayor, Governor… residents and I listened to Federal Officials telling blatant lies and making excuses for why people were dying in the chairs they had sat in for days and the constant wails of hungry infants permeated the air.
At this point, I questioned what kind of country did we really live in. We’ve always been known to speak about the freedoms we have as Americans to anyone willing to listen. We actually have this weird type of arrogance about that fact, which can come across as braggadocious. Nonetheless, this same country watched its citizens (who became “refugees”, depending on which news network you viewed) become broken by Mother Nature and were more interested in blaming them versus saving their lives. We should have been ashamed of what we let happen in New Orleans and yet…we were not.
After all the news cameras left, Telethons were over and Katrina was no longer water cooler banter at workplaces, the city and its occupants who did not leave had to still deal with homes barely standing, no employment, unsafe food or water and FEMA trailers that turned out to be some what of a death trap. America went on with her life with Hurricane Katrina in the rear view mirror.
As this “anniversary” comes around this year. I recall that Soledad O’Brien interview vividly, as she stated to Mike Brown, ” How is it possible that we’re getting better intel than you’re getting? We had a crew in the air. We were showing live pictures of the people outside of the Convention Center. We had a National Guardsman who was talking to us, who was telling us he estimated the crowd at 50,000 people. That was at 8:00 in the morning yesterday. And also, we’ve been reporting that officials have been telling people to go to the Convention Center if they want any hope of relief. I don’t understand how FEMA cannot have this information The mayor, the former mayor, putting out SOS’s on Tuesday morning, crying on national television, saying please send in some troops. So the idea that, yes, I understand that you’re feeding people and trying to get in there now, but it’s Friday. It’s Friday.”
His response was the twin of aloofness and damage control. I decided on that day to retire my rose-colored glasses…forever.