It is a tragedy. It is a macabre tragedy; a sordid, unbelievable, inexplicable tragedy. New Orleans has been inhabited since the early 1700’s, and has seen a whole lot of tragedy over those years. But this beats all, and hopefully will never be repeated in the history of human civilization.
This is a city that the authorities knew was built below sea level. It is a city the authorities knew was adjacent to and below the level of a river and a huge saltwater lake. This is a city packed with poor folks and old folks and young folks and poor old and young folks. This is a city with vulnerable people living adjacent to a big saltwater lake and a big river and below the level of those bodies of water, not to mention the Gulf of Mexico just over the horizon.
This was a city waiting to drown and it has drowned. A lot of people drowned in their own homes, long after the winds of Hurricane Katrina stopped and days after the rain stopped. These people did not drown from rainwater — they drowned because they lived in a city right next door and below the level of a huge saltwater lake, a huge river, and the Gulf of Mexico. These people drowned at home because they could not get out of their homes or did not really grasp the mortal peril they could be in if they did stay in their homes.
People died at home, drowned in their own beds. Old people weakened and died from dehydration and related causes in their own homes, and they died lonely because no one knew they were stuck and couldn’t get out.
The authorities ordered everyone out of the City of New Orleans and then praised themselves for making the decision before the hurricane hit. But you can’t order old people and poor people and even dumb people out like that and remain confident that the people will evacuate according to your order, even if you are the mayor, the governor, the Chief of Homeland Security, or the President. People have survived hurricanes in New Orleans for two hundred years and no one alive in the city before this week drowned at home in their beds. Many people knew it was possible, but few thought it would actually happen.
The mayor and the governor and the Chief of Homeland Security and the President will know now that you cannot order evacuation of a major city and believe that it will be 100% done. If just 1% of half a million people do not get out of their homes, you will have 5000 casualties — possibly drowned at home in their own beds.
Thirty percent of New Orleans residents live below the poverty line. If half of them could not get out of the city and were stuck in their homes, you have 75,000 souls stuck in the city.
Mayor, governor, Chief of Homeland Security, President, what do you do when 75,000 poor folks, plus not-so-poor others don’t who don’t want to leave, get stuck in their homes in a flooded city? Don’t you have to immediately begin searching every single building, house, school, hospital, church, business, in the entire flood zone to make sure people not only don’t drown in their beds, but don’t succumb to dehydration, starvation, or exposure the minute the storm is passed? If the levee breaks, don’t you have to call in every soldier and every boat and every able bodied man in the country who can check those buildings and look for the stranded and the sick and the weak and the old and the young and the dumb?
God is looking at New Orleans and crying his/her eyes out. God sees President Bush and cries his/her eyes out. God sees through the roofs and hears the dying breaths of the old and the poor and the weak, and God is weeping. God heard President Bush say that the results were "inadequate" and God weeps at the incompetence and misunderestimation of reality that allows the president to smirk and strut as if he has got the whole world in his hands and under control.
People drowned at home, in their own beds. Old people. Lots of them. Warnings were not heeded; plans were inadequate; execution of plans was poor. People died and are still dying. Lots of people could not get out of their own homes, and the authorities made no allowances for such people. And God is weeping.