We all need to respond to Gulf’s destruction
I've visited New Orleans a number of different times. Business took me there on several occasions, and I went once as a tourist. I can't say I'm an afficiado of the unique city, but I know the city is more than the French Quarter as much as I love the blues and Cajun food. I've been in the many neighborhoods of century-old shotgun houses down below Interstate 10 with their many mom-and-pop shops offering gas and poor boy sandwiches.
What I didn't know at the time was how vulnerable those seemingly endless neighborhoods were.
Now that way of life is threatened because Hurricane Katrina lived up to its billing. Hurricanes, which seem to be the favorite natural disaster of cable news networks, have become as much a spectator sport of the late summer and early fall as football and baseball pennant races. We track a storm's course through tropical waters, warned by weathermen that it is a "major tropical storm" gaining in intensity as it dances through the warm, shallow Gulf of Mexico.
We watch as it makes landfall for the sport of raincoat-clad announcers foolishly standing in wind-driven downpours to tell us of "deteriorating conditions." Once the storm moves on, we are greeted with views of roofless homes and stories of communities without water or electricity. Quickly, the stories fade from the national news and our awareness.
But not this time.
Even those of us who watched and listened under tranquil Midwest skies as Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast are going to feel the consequences of the storm for months ahead. The effects have already manifested at gas pumps. Area farmers may be next as grain prices fall with the closing of the nation's largest grain export facilities, but all of us can expect to see further consequences now unseen. The more one sees from the Gulf Coast, the more one believes those who quickly predicted a recession in the storm's wake.
Right now, large parts of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are basically broken. It is the worst natural disaster to visit the United States since the San Francisco earthquake of 1904 or the hurricane that slammed into an unprotected Galveston, Texas, four years earlier, claiming more than 6,000 lives.
Much like that hurricane of more than a century ago, Hurricane Katrina might well signal an abrupt decline of a very badly situated city. It seems amazing the city located in a depression between the continent's largest river and large inland lake escaped such catastrophes as long as it did.
Now with 80 percent of the city below water for perhaps weeks or months, and its citizens refugees, New Orleans -- a city the size of Kansas City, Mo. -- faces the immediate challenge of managing an ongoing crisis and the more daunting task of what will amount to a rebuilding of its residential base. It faces that future with much of its tax base made worthless and a rootless citizenship perhaps rethinking starting over in such a vulnerable site. New Orleans is not alone. Municipalities along the Gulf Coast east to the Florida panhandle face perhaps greater devastation, if not the Crescent City's continuing secondary challenges.
There will be plenty of opportunities for all of us to help. Those appeals are starting with calls for cash donations to relief organizations and blood donations to the American Red Cross. I think we're all going to have to contribute during what promises to be a long, slow rebuilding that may never add up to a recovery in the hardest hit places.