5 Years since Hurricane Katrina

I wrote this on August 29th, with the victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind, and in reflection of what went wrong.

Today is the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which will forever be a scar in the American’s trust in their government. The United States is believed to be one of the safest countries in the world. It’s a conflict-free zone with little crime compared to other countries. It takes strong precautions to prevent attacks on the country, and harm to its people. The TSA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new equipment and better training to prevent terrorists on boarding airplanes. These precautions were put in place to prevent another 9/11 from happening again where almost 3,000 Americans were killed. However the US had only focused on terrorist attacks as the only possible way that could kill a massive amount of people. No one thought that the next disaster the country would face would be a hurricane. While people were evacuated off safe planes with “suspicious” Muslim passengers and planes forbidden to lift-off because of “suspicion” of a bomb, little preparation took place to make sure the people of New Orleans would be safe from the country’s worst hurricane yet.

Some of the first images Americans saw of New Orleans after the flooding were people standing on roofs waving for help. The news crew would capture FEMA helicopters lifting the victims off the roof and were supposedly taken to “safety”. What the news didn’t show was where exactly “safety” was. For many of the victims of the hurricane, safety was makeshift shelters like the New Orleans Superdome, or the Houston Astrodome. Chaos ensued after the hurricane in these densely populated shelters. Many felt trapped in a “prison” where rape, stabbings, death threats, and violence occurred. The heat in these domes were often sweltering hot, and many—unreported—died in the heat, often waiting hours in line for food. Leroy Fouchea, who was relocated to the superdome after the hurricane hit, showed reporters the bodies of a handicapped man in a wheelchair, a young man, a four month old and a six month old infant.

“They died right here, in America, waiting for food.”

It was not felons and outlaws that harmed other people in the superdome that were the only sources of violence in the aftermath of the hurricane; racism was probably the biggest murderer. In one incident that was told in Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, Donnel Herrington, African- American, was shot in the throat by a white gunman when he was walking with two friends (both African Americans) through a white, affluent neighborhood. The white gunmen who shot Donnel were never charged with a crime. Donnel told reporters that if it were black gunmen shooting “white guys, the police would be up there real quick”. White New Orleans residents taking up arms against looters were not uncommon. When A.C. Thompson, a contributor to the Nation magazine, asked these white gunmen what evidence they had that these African American men were looters, they ultimately answered that they had none. They looked like looters, they said. The National Guard and the police took a special interest in protecting the white, and predominantly affluent victims of the hurricane by protecting their neighborhoods from these supposed looters. The government declared a zero tolerance of looters. More money and police power were put toward defending the city from looters than from actually feeding and providing its residents with food and medical supplies. This was one of the causes of the disproportionate number of African Americans who were killed weeks after the hurricane.

Never in history have so many people—the majority of whom middle or working class African Americans—been subjected to as much neglect as they were under the Bush administration. The people of New Orleans could never have imagined that they could face as much pain and suffering in the United States as they did during Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane itself was one of the largest in American history, but most of the deaths happened after the hurricane hit from starvation, murder, but mostly, neglect.

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