The Gulf - Post-Katrina: Aren't we forgetting someone?

posted September 2, 2005 by Jenn

JennIt's amazing how catastrophic disasters bring out the extremes in everybody, best AND worst.

Thousands of people are dead and the number will rise steadily until everyone still stranded on homes, camping under bridges and bypasses and suffering in the 'shelters' are seen to and taken care of. The general region that is New Orleans is going to be a wasteland, unusable and uninhabitable for weeks. Unless they fix the levees and get the pumps working fast, that water isn't going anywhere for a long long time and long-term standing water can do much more long term damage than a sudden flood that drains within a few hours. Never mind all of the organics floating in the warm water in the Gulf Coast sun in August, the bodies, animal-based produce, sewage. Plus live organics, bacteria, virii, alligators. The whole city's going to be, at least for a while, a great big mold/mildew organism in a swamp. Not enough Tilex. EVER.

The local, state AND federal governments ALL have this on their heads as far as I'm concerned. It's been known for DECADES that the city is below sea level. It's been known for YEARS, if not decades that a direct hit would turn New Orleans into Atlantis or Venice if they were lucky. And they KNEW the safeguards they had put in place wouldn't protect them from a big storm. And, to no one's surprise, all three governments have been very reluctant to answer any questions about that. What if some of that brain/man power going into making the next Mardi Gras the biggest and best ever went into making those levees a bit stronger and building a better redundancy infrastructure for power to, at the very least, keep the water pumps going so what flooding did happen wouldn't be so bad and last so long? All those extra tassels for the 2005 Mardi Gras and now it looks like there won't even BE one next year...and if people are still suffering that far down the road, there SHOULDN'T be one. The money should be spent on THEM.

No one in charge will openly say "We didn't bother with major disaster planning for the New Orleans area because most of the area is poor and Black and the money is better spent on making sure the tourists who come here are entertained and the richer people who REALLY contribute to the local tax coffers are comfortable". They don't need to. Their (in)actions speak louder, or rather, are screaming at the top of their lungs right now.

Even in all this, there's still something that gets on my nerves as much as the racial overtones within this disaster. What about Biloxi? What about Gulfport? Mobile? While these places may not still be under floodwaters at the moment, their situation is no less dire. In Biloxi and Gulfport, even the SHELTERS were destroyed. The people in New Orleans are in a land of cake and ice cream compared to the people in Gulfport and the surrounding rural areas (which are predominantly occupied by, yes, poor black families). While the actual city of New Orleans still stands (albeit in water, but standing), Gulfport does not. Simply. Does. Not. Biloxi is nearly that bad. Mobile's outskirts are quite heavily ravaged as well. No food. No drinkable water. No sanitation. No medical assistance. No power. No phone. So much debris on the city roads you need several sets of tires to get in. All residential roads in Gulfport obliterated or blocked. Why is much of the focus on New Orleans. It's not because they're worse off or have more people. It's because New Orleans is a Tourist Location. Everyone knows of New Orleans and knows of it. But...Gulfport? Where's that? Biloxi? Sounds familiar...don't know where it is though. Hmph.

And in either place, there is virtually NO mention of the rural people, the people who live in the campers and trailers in the coastal backwoods of AL, MS and LA. These are people who are not there because they won't do better. They're there because, for the most part, they CAN'T do better. They live in a place where the oppression of Pre-Martin Luther King Jr. still lives on, in places no one's ever heard of. Any movement up is blocked with bureaucratic nonsense, on the financial or educational levels. The better off people of these states want these people to stay where they are, stay out of sight and stay silent. And most do because they really can't do anything else. They're too busy trying to survive with backyard gardens and farms, outhouses and wellpumps. This is the kind of place my mom and her many siblings were born in. Fortunately, they all made it out and moved up but I still have family down in that area. We've heard from and accounted for almost everybody. Gulfport is the city where the one family we haven't yet heard from is. We still don't know what's happened to them. There hasn't been any news of aid getting into Gulfport, much less getting to the rural regions. ....unless you count my family.

While writing this, I got a call from one of my aunts, who lives in Montgomery, AL. Four families worth of my cousins had all convened at her house earlier today. Today, they are gathering supplies and food that keeps and bottled water. Tomorrow morning, they are going to convoy down into Mobile, AL, where there is more family, stop to stock up again and then head out into the Gulfport area in MS, which isn't all that far from Mobile itself. They're going to look for the afore-mentioned family that we haven't heard from at all this week. I have more confidence in them getting through than I would in a government search party. First of all, they'll get there BEFORE the government will. Second, many of those cousins KNOW those backwoods and know where the settlements and villages of trailers are and what the roads there are like. I love my family. I mean damn, if the feds won't get to the poor blacks in the rural areas out there, we're going to get them on our own.

FEMA? National Guard? Forget you guys, we'll do this ourselves.