Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina: the aftermath...a kind of running diary

Wednesday morning...

Blogging is an exercise in futility for me this morning as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina captures all the attention. Every link seems to reveal yet another terrible piece of news or comment about conditions following this event. Live TV feeds from the area show professional reporters at the edge of their capabilities as they try to make sense of what is happening. Thousands of people who sought refuge in the Superdome (I have heard numbers ranging from six to thirty thousand) are being kept there by national guardsmen, presumably because leaving would be more unsafe for them than remaining in that place. The roof is open in places, restroom facilities are beyond using, there is no air conditioning and people have died already.

I am listening to a live lead from Channel 6 in Jackson, Mississippi [see my Monday post.]which is reporting events as they come to their newsroom. There are on-screen warnings about not drinking the water because it is a poisonous mixture of sewage and petroleum. The mayor of New Orleans is trying to be optimistic as arial views of the city show flooded neighborhoods as far as the eye can see. The cameras don't have to zoom in to show details as they typically do to exaggerate the impact of a story. The mayor is urging people to evacuate as "the bowl" is still filling with water as the result of broken levees. New Orleans is filling up and barring unforeseen events is expected to fill up in twelve to sixteen hours. Generators are running out of gas, city hall is being closed down, and the "fifteen thousand or so" people in the Superdome are also at risk of being flooded.

Looting is an open reality, civil order seems to be breaking down and officials are hard pressed to maintain control.

My plans to blog about other topics will have to wait until a quieter time. Today I am better occupied praying and trying to make sense of what I am hearing and seeing. A helicopter camera is showing a video marked "live" of the Superdome and surrounding area. Water is all around, the Superdome shows a lot of exterior damage, and the buildings around seems to have broken windows and scar tissue as well.

Blogging will have to wait.


Wednesday evening...

Only a handful of hits today. No one is interested in a little blog who there is so much breaking news.

I saw a report posted by Jim Gilbert a couple of hours ago. His church in Gainesville, Florida sent a team with supplies and a couple of generators to help. His post is titled Biloxi and Gulfport Are Gone.

Pastor George called while I was writing this. "We gave all our food and water to the Gulfport police for their seven hundred officers and their families," he relates. "We were surprised when they told us we were the first outside volunteers to reach them. Some of the women officers were in tears." In addition to the food and water, the team also gave the Gulfport police department several boxes of tarps and both of the church's gasoline generators.

In Atlanta today there was panic buying of gas as rumors of supplies running out and stations shutting down for the evening or the weekend spread like wildfire. Lines of cars lined up all over the metro area to buy gas at prices up to and over five dollars a gallon in places. Some operators, seeing that they were running low, jacked up their prices thinking that by doing so they might slow down sales thereby conserving their diminishing inventory. The effect on the public was exactly the opposite. Fearing that gas would not be available tonight or tomorrow people lined up to get anything they could at any price that was asked. I am personally aware of three people who left their job to buy gas and retain to work. Driving to work this morning about nine o'clock I had the same impulse just listening to the radio and stopped to top off my tank. I only got about five gallons but at $2.70 it cost more than the $2.50 I spent Monday night to get a tank at that time. An extra buck for five gallons in two days. Tonight the same station was at $2.80, and that is considered a good price in this environment.

There are rumors that the insurance industry may run out of funds. We have a good friend who evaluates damages for big claims, whose job is to be an on-site representative seeing that claims are legit, that covered repairs and construction are appropriately priced and performed. This event is even bigger than the destruction of the World Trade Center so I expect he has unparalleled job security.

No, I don't worry about the insurance industry running out of money. Insurance companies have the deepest pockets in the economy, maybe even deeper than banks. There are enough investment assets in their portfolios that liquid assets are pocket change by comparison. They'll find the funds, even if the chain-letter infrastructure of incestuous re-insurance is stretched to the breaking point. Over the next several years look for rates to increase in a manner that will not only repay any borrowed funds handsomely well, but will flow smoothly to the profit lines of all the major insurance companies as well. It's no accident that insurance stocks start climbing just when you might expect the opposite, in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

My own opinion is that ordinary people should cease subsidizing individuals and companies that persist in taking risks such as living and doing business in places known to be at risk for catastrophes, such as flood plains, dangerous coastlines and earthquake faults. What happened on the Gulf is not a surprise and has been talked about openly and annually ever since I can remember. The real tragedy is that what we see is not what could have been the worst. Had the eye of that storm landed a few degrees to the West, say about New Iberia instead of Slidell, the resulting tide would have dumped itself right into the New Orleans "bowl." We would not be looking at the roofs of houses and sending a cavalcade of busses to ship Superdome City to Houston's Astrodome for Thanksgiving. Instead we would be filling up body bags as rapidly as possible to avert a loss of life and property of biblical proportions...just like the predictions have advertised. No, this was still not the Big One.
[Next morning...I came across another sobering post from Wind of Change that does not agree. He says what we are seeing IS the worst case scenario. Powerful piece of reading. Go read that, too.]

We will see now how rapidly and diligently another large population will work to return itself to harms way, waiting for the next one. We will see how the memories of today's events will be filtered to make it not only sensible, but noble, to rebuild what was lost. Like human populations all over the world, from volcano fields to flood plains, the human population still behaves as irrationally as any other self-destructive assembley of God's creatures. We in America, of course, look down our noses at primitive people who pitch tents in river beds, or snuggle up to dangerous places in improvised shacks. But we turn a blind eye and a hard heart to our own people who do precisely the same thing. We allow them to deliver our services and fill our low-cost labor needs, but when it comes to providing a safety net for their care and security, some life-saving means by which they might escape dying and losing the little they own, we are no more advanced than the most negligent societies in history. Today I heard someone remark how all the people in the scenes of the aftermath were black. Hmm...imagine that. Wonder what that's all about?

Tonight I go to bed cynical. Maybe I can sleep it off.


Later...(Thursday morning)

I'm not the only one who noticed. From Slate...
Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American? I suppose our viewers have noticed, too, that the provocative looting footage we're airing and re-airing seems to depict mostly African-Americans."
What was that? Somebody dropped something.

Oops! Here's another one...

The Elephant in the Room . . .
. . . that all the news anchors delicately tiptoe around -- that the camera announces so loudly into their silence -- is that almost all the looters shown in news footage loading Wal-Mart shopping carts with videogames and Nike shoes are black. And they look giddy and celebratory, like people who've won a shopping spree on a game show, as they indulge in this macabre parody of American consumerism. (One helicopter-borne observer marveled that this was a case of "you can't take it with you," since when the city is evacuated most of the loot will perforce remain behind. It almost looks as if the fantasy being fulfilled was shopping, not owning.)
Nothing to add except RTWT.
I guess I'm not altogether blind, dumb and old-fashioned in my sixties-form view of society.

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