August 31, 2005
Katrina and Poverty
By: Rowan Wolf
The news is still incomplete as I write this, but last night news started rolling in of perhaps thousands of people in New Orleans trapped in their attics. Breaking the general calm of a reporter, Jeanne Meserve at CNN tries to describe what is happening. You can hear part of her report at CNN under the title "Screams for help." (While inappropriate to the report, you have to sit through a commercial before hearing the report.)
As this was being reported last night, the anchor asked her why these people "chose" to try and sit out the storm. She responded that these were mostly people who had no option to leave. They lack cars. They lack money to stay at a hotel. They are poor and it was not a "choice." Despite this remark, the anchor continued to refer to those who were trapped as "choosing" to ride out the storm.
It is not known at this time how many are trapped in New Orleans, nor the condition they are in. People were forced into their attics after water rose rapidly from the storm surge following the passing of Katrina. That water is still rising from the levee break that is allowing Lake Ponchartrain to drain into the city. At this point 80% of the city is now under water - in some areas over 20 feet deep.
It seems that most of those who have been trapped are poor, disabled, or old. People at the fringes of society. The easily overlooked. Those who may be alone with few resources. Now some, no one knows how many, are dead. There are reports of bodies floating in the water. The cries ring out from houses that rescuers cannot get to because of drowned cars and obstacles, downed power lines and poles, and other hazardous debris. A heroic effort is being made to bring the living to safety. What might a heroic effort of evacuating people without resources have done?
This is the problem of every disaster - natural or human made. Those without resources are left with few choices, or just left behind. At the heart of the issue is the assumption that "everybody" knows certain things; that "everyone" has the basic necessities to leave - vehicles, money to stay somewhere else, money to buy emergency supplies, money to buy axes to store in their attics in case of such an emergency. It is never the case. The assumption is always wrong. The CNN anchor last night constantly affronted me as he went through his shift when he referred to people "choosing" to stay behind. He had a note of "stupid people" in his voice. The privilege of resources and the inherent superiority of the relatively well off.
My heart breaks every time Jeanne Meserve comes on to talk about the situation. Thus far, she seems to be the only one "on the story."
Last night, the head of the Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans was talking about evacuating the hospital. They had been fine through the hurricane, but then the water started rising. They were surrounded by at least 6 feet of water and it was rising at an inch every five minutes. Now, they needed to evacuate 1,000 patients. Why were they so "stupid" as to not evacuate before the storm? The question was never raised. They too "chose" to stay and "ride it out."
Meanwhile the water continues to rise. With the return of daylight, rescuers resume trying to get to the trapped. There are likely fewer today after the waters rose beyond the airspace in attics where people cannot escape.
Posted by Rowan at August 31, 2005 8:05 AM Category: Environmental Justice
Rowan, check out my most recent message to the Yahoo group.
Posted by: Emily at September 2, 2005 9:27 PM