This is How We Respond to Catastrophe?
Today President Bush said the Hurricane Katrina relief effort has not been acceptable. That’s putting it mildly. American citizens in one of our larger cities have been forced to live in squalor, surrounded by corpses, without adequate sustenance and terrorized by roving gangs. How can this be happening?
The images and stories from New Orleans are practically post-apocalyptic. And I don’t think that’s exaggerating. They are so horrible that I cannot help but wonder if we as a nation are at all prepared for catastrophe. All the time and money spent after September 11, 2001 to ready ourselves for mass disaster—and this is our response?
This was a foreseeable calamity. Everyone who knew anything about New Orleans knew that a powerful hurricane could submerge the city. Did the plan extend no further than evacuating the city before the storm? Did no one consider what to do with those who would not or (in most of the cases) could not leave?
I don’t think it’s too soon to ask these questions. Right now, while we can still see firsthand what is happening—and not happening—we need to ask these questions. If this is how we respond to a catastrophe we could predict, what on earth is our response plan in the event of an unforeseen disaster such as a massive terrorist attack? If we can't handle a flooded city, how can we handle something worse?
After this is over, after New Orleans is again a functioning city, some will doubtlessly say that the response was adequate given the circumstances. That will be wrong. I cannot believe that the response has been adequate or timely or well-planned. Hurricane Katrina has exposed our emergency preparedness as severely lacking.
I pray that God watches over those poor people still trapped in New Orleans and that all the money and aid all of us have given will get to them quickly. Now we must press forward as best we can and save those still stranded as quickly as we can. But we cannot ignore the failings of our government in preparing and responding to this disaster.