Hurricane Katrina Relief: FEMA's Lights Are On, But No One's Home
I was a disaster relief worker for the Red Cross. See another volunteer's story in Newsweek, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9729481/site/newsweek/. We worked at the same center. In the article, Dan Cole wrote about the service operation in Tylertown, Mississippi. He described waste and organization by chaos. Bottom-line, in my view the Red Cross did its job. The Red Cross provides emergency "first-aid" in the form of small amounts of money ($360 per person, up to a maximum of $1,565) and a few bulk goods. Other than temporary shelter, food and water, that's about it. That's what the Red Cross does.
In terms of my Red Cross experience, many people of any color were not willing to go to Tylertown, Mississippi, but more so for blacks; and one woman, a reverend, educated me on why. We were at the core of white-to-black racism, the foundry of the South's crucible for black people, the heartland of the Jim Crow laws. The black Katrina volunteers who came to Tylertown were brave and great people, walking into the deepest of Dixie. There were also noble local people, black and white, especially the church folks, who worked together outside the box, rippling the status quo. Racism was as palpable as the staggering, muggy heat in Tylertown.
The people victimized by this natural, human, and inhumane disasters are the most remarkable humans I have ever encountered. The pain, loss, despair, suffering, anguish, and agony they carry are hard to even imagine.
A woman miscarried during the flooding, yet had her baby still inside her, walked for miles from one hospital to another, and no one treated her. A third hospital did bring her in, removed the dead child from her body, and sent her on her way. She was told, "you can always have another baby."
A man clung to his wife as they tried to get to their car when the water poured in from Lake Pontchartrain, but their hands were pulled apart suddenly and she was gone. So went his house, his pictures, his personal records, books, tools, and clothes. He doesn't know if the rest of his family made it.
The most incredible, unbelievable and poignant part of this journey was the hope and faith of these amazing people. Almost to a person, over and over and over again, I heard about their faith and preservation of hope. People were so grateful for help, even too little and too late. It was astounding to hear such words after endless accounts of infinite and ongoing suffering. I have never met people who carried such grace and love in the face of horror, inhumanity, annihilation, anger, despair, and sheer agony.
The day after Hurricane Rita made landfall, I went from Tylertown to Greenville, Mississippi by way of a Red Cross courier. I made my way to Greenville, because a friend, a colleague of mine has taken matters into his own hands. With Rita over us, the ride with him was amazing. The rain and wind became so furious that we couldn't see more that 20-feet beyond the vehicle. My friend has an 8,000-pound Hummer H2, and we hydroplaned sideways while driving 5 to 10 miles per hour due to nearby tornadoes.
He's renovating a large facility, designed to take-in forensic psych patients, dedicating half of the available 225,000 square feet for the survivors of Katrina, but its much more. The core goal is to integrate these folks into the community of Greenville (or wherever they so choose) so that they do not return to the condition of poverty. I design and manage specialized healthcare operations and programs, and my friend wanted to talk with me about the Greenville project. We spent two days talking about lessons learned from Tylertown, brainstormed it all into his plan for community, vocational training, medical, mental health, church and educational support for the survivors of Katrina who will come to Greenville for help. This will be real help, and it's about time someone stepped up to do it.
He's a staunch Republican and I'm a Democrat. We vehemently disagree on many things, but we are the closest of friends and on what counts, we're on the same page entirely.
FEMA recently pulled-out. They "changed their mind because our facility was too far from the affected area." He said the "the local politicians were insisting that people be relocated to areas that were only a few miles from where the folks originally lived."
Gee, I wonder what tens of thousands of people I met just weeks ago, survivors of this man-made disaster, thousands living in their cars, would say about the location of a relief opportunity? I wonder what Americans would.
The press dropped Katrina and Rita for Stan and Wilma. Then it was Miers, a little about the passing of Rosa Parks, and a lot on "Scooter." The administration moves from one superficial, dismissive, and grandiose sound-bite to another. Between the two the suppression of the inhumane story of Katrina is going along quite well.