Sunday, September 07, 2008

the hurricane america forgot

We made the drive back from Jackson alongside utility trucks from as far away as Wisconsin, and returned to a changed city. I'd seen the pictures of huge oak trees uprooted and homes destroyed, but the pictures couldn't convey the breadth of damage across the city, the fact that everywhere you go there is shit in the streets and piled along the curbs, busy intersections are four way stops thanks to damaged traffic signals, and every single house is out of power.
 
Things are slowly getting back to normal. About half of the traffic signals are back in working order, most, but not all, of the streets are passable, and about half the city has power (I am not yet able to count myself in that number).
 
I'm trying really hard not to get angry. A big part of it is my job, which means that I listen to and work to resolve the problems of several hundred people a day. There are MRE's and tarps available if you're willing to wait in line for six hours, but no one willing to help the elderly and disabled get those items, much less install a tarp on their roofs. Some of the most impoverished areas in Baton Rouge are without any resources whatsoever. FEMA is a joke and tells people to call me instead of bothering to do their job (managing emergencies, as the name would suggest). Today, FEMA announced that they were partnering with hotels to house people whose homes were uninhabitable, but didn't set up any criteria for qualifying. The hotels filled up right away with people sick of sleeping without air conditioning, and I'm telling people whose homes are destroyed that there's nowhere to go. I just spent two hours calling every participating hotel in a 50 mile radius, and not a single one has a room available for weeks.
 
What I think I feel most angry about is the fact that as soon as it was apparent that the levees in New Orleans didn't break, the world moved on. Katrina was not all about New Orleans. There were many areas outside of New Orleans that were very heavily damaged, and my parents live in one of them. Levee breaks aside, Baton Rouge currently looks like New Orleans did three years ago. And if the problem in New Orleans was that the poorest and most vulnerable did not have a way out of the city, the problem in Baton Rouge is that no one was even told to leave. You can make the argument that New Orleans is a major American city, and I agree that it is a wonderful city, dear to my own heart, of great cultural importance. But when it comes down to it, the population of the New Orleans metropolitan area is 1,030,000, and Baton Rouge's is 790,000. Big fuckin diff.
 
On a more selfish note, I'm angry that LSU has decided to resume classes tomorrow. I, obviously, have not been keeping up with my reading assignments. I've been too busy coping with the huge natural disaster that struck our city a week ago. I hope my professors understand.

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