Seven years have passed since devastation hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in the form of Hurricane Katrina. The desperation in the days that followed played out for most Americans on their television and computer screens, new images of helplessness confronting them every day. Cries for help came from residents whose homes had been destroyed and their lives devastated by personal tragedy. It was sad to watch, a feeling which drove those concerned to donate their time or money to the cause of helping the Gulf Coast rebuild.
However, even during the flooding and havoc Mother Nature wreaked on the region, skepticism emerged and anger and outrage -from viewers and victims alike - took hold leading the way for disappointing conversations about welfare, hand outs, and coastal residents not being able to help themselves. Charity took on a negative connotation, but why?
Hurricane Katrina versus Superstorm Sandy
Katrina did strike in the middle of the summer, the hottest time of the year for the Louisiana coast, when tempers can flare already without the stress of natural disaster. Evacuees from New Orleans were given shelter in the Superdome, but were forced to live in uninhabitable conditions. Maybe federal and state officials were to blame for being unprepared with enough generator fuel, food and water for the number of victims they needed to serve. At times, media coverage would blame the evacuees themselves for being impatient and greedy.
For life's necessities? Maybe it was an instance on the media's part of not knowing how to react until being put in the situation themselves. However, this message was communicated to people who needed something or someone to blame because their own shame for why they really felt this anger towards victims would not let them speak the truth.
Confrontations with police increased, the same protective force that was deployed to aid those in need. Everyone remembers the shootings that took place on a bridge in New Orleans, which was supposed to take residents away from harm, but instead allowed cops to inflict more. Nevermind the racist history of the New Orleans Police Department because I'm not sure most Americans were aware of this backstory. Again, some audiences saw the violent actions of the police and believed they were justified.
Let's recall the public outcries at the time:
"Blame the federal administration."
"Blame Louisiana's governor."
"Blame the city of New Orleans' mayor."
He was too.
"Those people didn't leave when they were told to evacuate. They are to blame!"
Fast forward to Halloween 2012. Hurricane Sandy crept up the East Coast as the nation watched. Preparations were made and residents told to leave because, if predictions were correct, this storm had the potential to develop into a superstorm, a once-in-a-lifetime storm, the perfect storm that was sure to be disastrous. As landfall neared, waves splashed with increasing intensity against the sea walls and shores of New York and New Jersey and winds ticked up in velocity. How did the local public respond? Many stayed behind and could be seen in the background of national news reports frolicking along the raging water that was about to unleash its fury.
As is human nature in the face of natural disaster, desperation begins to surface in victims and spill over into anger and the call for help. For residents of the northeast, this was the case too. But where are the public outcries of impatience and greed this time around? Of welfare and charity? This time, charity is not declared, but instead it is decreed that it is the humane action to take, to help out victims any way possible.
What is the difference in the reaction during the aftermath of these two storms?
Maybe it is the product of better federal and state leadership, better organization of the relief effort. Maybe its strictly geographic. "Those Yankees are a resilient bunch. They know how to get things done."
Or maybe, as some claim, it's race.
The moral of the story
The point of this retelling is that whatever the difference, it is important to remember the past so that the same mistakes are not made in the future. No matter where in the country or the world natural disaster strikes, it is humane to help out without discrimination. After the memories of the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are long gone from the minds of the casual observer, the personal tragedies will remain. Months and years of recovery are needed and it is important to keep that narrative alive after pictures fade.
The Gulf Coast is still feeling the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill, but who is still talking about that?