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     Volume 4 Issue 62 | September 9, 2005|

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Straight Talk

The Eye of the Storm

Nadia Kabir Barb

Hurricane Katrina is a name that will live in the minds of the American population for years to come. The worst natural disaster in US history, it has left death and destruction of an unprecedented scale in its wake. Following the Tsunami disaster in South East Asia, where the death toll was over two hundred thousand people and entire villages were wiped out, the devastation caused in the U.S. is of a similar magnitude. According to Jan Egeland, the United Nations' undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Hurricane Katrina "is one of the most destructive natural disasters ever measured in the amount of homes destroyed, people affected, people displaced". When we see the images of parts of the Gulf Coast absolutely raised to the ground, it is hard to believe we are looking at the world's most powerful nation. Thousands of people have lost everything, their homes, possessions and even their loved ones. Tens of thousands of people have been left stranded by the onslaught of the hurricane and have been left without shelter, food or even drinking water. Those who were left behind were those who did not have the financial capacity to evacuate the targeted areas and also the sick and the feeble.

At a time when all efforts and resources available should have been diverted to aiding the people affected by the hurricane, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seemed to have fallen short of their duties. In an interview on National TV in the US the director of FEMA Michael Brown claims that they were taken by surprise by the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and they were also unaware of the fact they were thousands of people stranded in the convention centre in New Orleans. It took approximately four days to get a substantial amount of food and water into New Orleans and to begin a large scale evacuation of the people stranded in the Superdrome Stadium. It took about half the time to get relief aid to the Tsunami victims. Ironically, the rescue operations in the Deep South have taken a disproportionately long time to mobilise. It took the U.S. Government five days to deploy an extra 17,000 troops - including 7,000 elite airborne troops and marines - into New Orleans and the devastated Gulf Coast. This was after the National Guards were unable to deal with the scale of the devastation caused by Katrina, nor were they able to stop the looting, rape and general chaos that seemed to have been escalating at an alarming rate.

Accusations have been flying in the aftermath of the disaster. Some are disgusted with the US government for failing to act swiftly to get aid to the disaster stricken areas. Many are concerned that FEMA's inability to respond appropriately to such a natural disaster is because their resources have been diverted to homeland security after the terrorist attack of 9/11. Many are appalled at the way in which armed gangs have been able to loot, shoot, rape and terrorise people already in the depths of suffering. It has brought out an aspect of human nature that is truly ugly. For people to shoot at helicopters trying to rescue people that require medical aid is despicable. But it is also the inability of the police and subsequent deployment of the National Guards to handle the situation that has also generated much anger. In other quarters there has been a growing belief that the reason for the delays for the rescue operations is race related. Over 65 percent of the city's population is comprised of African Americans, many living below the poverty line and therefore are also making up the majority of the refugees that have been stranded. Some are questioning whether the government would have responded quicker had the catastrophe struck a majority white community. The Reverend Calvin Butts, president of New York City's Council of Churches, wrote in the Observer: "If this hurricane had struck a white middle-class neighbourhood in the north-east or the south-west, his response would have been a lot stronger."

Hurricane Katrina has not just left a trail of human suffering but has also brought to the surface certain concerns regarding the way in which the entire situation has been handled. Racial tension has raised its head and a growing concern that the current government is too concerned with addressing the issue of the war on terror and is therefore not able to pour the necessary resources required to help the people in desperate need for aid on US soil. But what is clear is that Mother Nature has a way of making her presence felt wherever and whenever she chooses. She does it without consideration of race, religion, caste, colour, creed, economic status or any of the criteria that we base our prejudices and dogma on. The road to recovery for those affected by the Hurricane will be a long and arduous one but it is a time when the government should make a concerted effort to help all those in need and that communities should pull together and rebuild.

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