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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Two Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is upon us...

The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was a couple days ago. For some time, I've been kind of quiet about the whole thing for a variety of reasons. After two years of news coverage related to Katrina and New Orleans, I decided to use this time to speak out.

In 1995, we moved to Biloxi, MS. My husband was in the Air Force and we were transferred there just before my youngest son's first birthday. Sadly, he spent his first birthday in TLF and his birthday cake was a Hostess Cupcake with a candle in it. But he doesn't remember it, just his father and I. But I digress somewhat.

In the nearly four years we were there, I absolutely fell in love with the area. Living on the Gulf Coast was the single happiest time in my life and it was the first time I was happy about where I was living, rather than missing where I had just come from and wishing for the next location we would be living.

Biloxi is am amazing place. There are small festivals most weekends, the fishing is probably the best I've ever experienced, the seafood is fresh from the Gulf and inexpensive and the people there are the friendliest you'd meet anywhere. For the duration of our stay there, we were always "outsiders" given we weren't from THERE, but we were always treated well by everyone we met. There are no strangers there, just people you haven't met yet. My husband was raised in Memphis while I, born in the Deep South, was raised in Ohio. I tell my husband all the time that the difference between the North and the South is this: In the North, if they hate you, they hate you and aren't afraid to let you know. In the South, they may hate your guts and have a voodoo dool with your name on it, but they'll greet you like a longlost friend, every single time they see you, even if you just saw them ten seconds ago in the previous aisle of the Piggly-Wiggly. True Southerners will DIE before they treat you badly whereas people in the North seem to thrive on it.

While we lived there, we experienced three hurricane near misses. Now, the sea level in Biloxi is about 12 inches... It didn't take much rain to make it flood there, and there were plenty of times I had to drive my Nissan Pathfinder thru water high enough to lap the sides of the hood so I could make it home. But, a little bit of flooding aside, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is nothing short of heaven.

Each time we had to "bug out" due to hurricane warnings, we would drive to Memphis where my husband's family is from. We lived in Base Housing when we were stationed there and it's mandatory all military personnel and their dependants evacuate, each and every time. But we had two dogs and there was no way I was leaving them behind in the unit, since they weren't permitted in the shelters. Because of this, we headed up to Memphis, where we knew our dogs would be welcomed. Each time we made the seven hour drive, we'd turn on the Weather Channel as soon as we arrived and would hear the hurricane had made a sudden turn to either New Orleans or the Florida Panhandle. Too bad for them, really, but I was angry we had to drive all that way, AGAIN. See, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has some barrier islands out from the coast and these have a tendancy to cause smaller hurricanes to divert. Not always but somethimes.

After this happening enough times, you can become complacent to the fact a hurricane is actually going to hit. After too many false alarms, you can feel less stress when you're being told to leave. I think that's what happened during Katrina... The people there had heard so much, "It's the Big One, Ethyl!" and probably didn't take it seriously. There are a tremendous amount of people who ask the question, "Why didn't they just leave?"

Folks, this is the land of hurricane parties. This is the land of easy-going, fearless people who have seen more than their share of false alarms when it comes to hurricanes. But this is also the land that seem to have learned nothing from Camille...

Now, New Orleans... I've been to New Orleans more than once. We usually went to a mall that is built next to a barge channel, on a pier, that took us past the Superdome each time. New Orleans is a filthy city. The overpass across the street from the Superdome is filled with homeless people, their cardboard boxes and their shopping carts. Every time we drove past that, I would lock my car doors. Though I was born in Louisiana, I hate New Orleans. I'll take a Mardi Gras Parade in Biloxi or D'Iberville over one in New Orleans. For one thing, it's not as dangerous attending a parade in Biloxi as it is in New Orleans. The Krewe are the same groups as New Orleans, it's the attendees who are better. I love the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Now, the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast are an extremely special group of people. The people of New Orleans suffered some tremendous losses and if you were to total losses and compare dollars by the per capita breakdown, I'm sure you'd find the two areas to be pretty even... But, there are tremendous differences between the two groups...

  1. The people of New Orleans had their hands out for a hand-out as soon as the hurricane hit land. The people of Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Waveland, Gulfport and others came out of their houses as soon as the hurricane cleared and started taking care of themselves and their neighbors. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, however, the people there didn't attack each other, they hugged each other. They hugged each other and then they helped each other.
  2. The day after the hurricane left, the National Guard as well as the Federal Government started sending in helicopters filled with food, water and supplies. In New Orleans, they were shot upon by people on the ground who didn't want them to land. (see here and here, for the second link, do a page search for the word 'shot' and it will come up). Precious supplies were kept from the people of New Orleans because the criminal element didn't want them to land. Why? Because they had already broken into the stores put in place by the City and the Parish and were selling them on the black market, or trading them for drugs. I guess it's true that even roaches can survive a nuclear attack.
  3. I saw an article once focusing on this next one, but I can't remember where and now I can't find it, but the essence of it was this: The people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast were significantly more likely to sue their insurance company for refusal to pay the claims than their New Orleans counterparts. I don't know why there was this disparity but it was there. Were the people of the Gulf Coast better educated or less afraid of going up against "the man"? Were the attorneys of the Gulf Coast more aggressive in finding and helping the people of the area? I don't know, I just know, the population of the Gulf Coast seemed to be more proactive in their recovery. If people really wanted to help, they needed to get about 250 lawyers into New Orleans immediately, offering free legal representation, to start the ball rolling on the legal rights of the people.

There are naysayers who say that New Orleans isn't bouncing back as quickly as the Mississippi Gulf Coast because of a lack of federal funds (see here). Federal Funds do play a big part in this, and Mississippi got funds as well as New Orleans. I feel the difference is that Mississippi didn't WAIT for the help to come from the outside, they started it from within their communities.

When we are children, our parents work towards our gaining independance. When that happens, a parent can trust their children to handle things. However, as adults, to stand there, while your world falls down around you, and do nothing to take control of your own situation, is a big part of the problem in New Orleans.

Rush Limbaugh took a big hit a few years ago when he compared the Welfare state to a park of apes in Africa. The reasoning behind his correlation was declared to be bigotry by the media. That's what sold papers... But the actual meaning behind his correlation was that the Welfare State creates a psychological state called "Learned Helplessness". In the animal world, when animals are in a contained, semi-contained or wild state where food is readily available from an outside source, they forget how to fend for themselves. Though the correlary Rush used was what inflamed people (the media said he was comparing "black" welfare recipients to apes) his point was sound. That's why you see so many, "Don't feed the bears" signs in our national parks. Like animals, people can forget how to take care of themselves if all their needs are met by those around them, The people of New Orleans are so used to their government taking care of them, they felt that was the only solution when presented with this catastrophe.

I had a good friend while I lived in Biloxi who owned a string of delis along the coast. When one of his stores was damaged badly by the hurricane, it took him about 30 seconds to start yelling at people to bring their BBQ grills and any firewood they could find. The food in his restaurant was going bad due to loss of power and he might as well feed it to everyone, rather than let it go to waste. Before it was all over, word had spread and he fed about 500 people that day, all from a handful of grills. Someone else had brought a generator so he could plug in the soda machine and others had joined him with food of their own to serve, rather than let it go to waste. Others had gone to the water less than a mile away and started catching crabs and fish... By the end of the day, it was a party. Tomorrow they could start cleaning up, but today, well, for today, let's enjoy the fact we're alive and we're full...

In the same timeframe, the people of New Orleans were too busy crying over the federal government not being there (because of the criminal element on the ground keeping them away)

Now, I'm not completely heartless. I called the Red Cross the day after the hurricane and went through emergency training to become a crisis worker. I was ready, willing, and able to go there and help. I cried when I saw the devastation Katrina had left in her wake. It was horrible and I didn't know the area would ever recover from that kind of maiming.

But it is recovering, in spite of what everyone else is saying. New Orleans hosted Mardi Gras the following February, it's biggest tourism draw and one of its largest moneymakers. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is recovering at a more rapid rate, however, and I feel its because of the personal responsibilty the people there felt for themselves. They didn't wait for the hand out from anyone but themselves. They helped themselves, they helped each other, and I think that made a difference in their world.

I get it too, that New Orleans was dealt an incredibly harsh blow, but two years is long enough to feel sorry for yourself. It's time to start taking some responsibility. Your insurance company didn't pay up and the government isn't coming thru? Get a lawyer, let them do your fighting for you. Is the job market bad there and you can't find a job? I've moved and started over more times than I can count. Re-locate for a while and save your money so you can go back to New Orleans and re-build, a little at a time, until the insurance money comes through. Did you lose your pet and you don't know how you'll go on? I've lost dogs and cats over the years to old age and illness and I miss them all, but I always go to the pound or a rescue group and get another. There are tons of animals out there in need of someone to love them and they will love you right back, tenfold. Did you lose all your personal possessions? That may be, but you have the most precious thing of all, your life. You survived. There are hundreds that didn't. You're already ahead of the game and each day you're still alive it another day to move forward instead of stagnating in your misery.

Take charge, New Orleans! Instead of looking for someone to blame, which is an enabler's attitude, take control of your life and re-build without relying on "someone else".

These views might be unpopular but I've lost all I had to crisis and I found my way back again, where I was better than I was when I lost it all. I'm not saying you have to do it ALL by yourself, just more than you have been. With a can-do attitude vs. a can't-do attitude, I think you'll find more growth in the next twelve months than you've seen in the previous twelve.