Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hurricane Distortion

Our curry took a while to put together last night, so instead of whiling away the hours before dinner, Dave and I decided to watch the Spike Lee documentary "When the Levees Broke," about Hurricane Katrina while the potatoes got to boiling.

This film is an emotional rollercoaster, and the ride is only halfway done. At somepoints I was saddened, remembering the terrible rumors that were firing across the bow of humanity; rape, murder and government ineptitude. The whole spectrum is there, in your face, unavoidable. However, those who think that the topping, and subsequent breaches of the levees in New Orleans was a clandestine government plot to rid the country of scores of black citizens, are nothing more than demented, lost in a web of speculation and self-made conspiracy.

This isn't the first time that the Ninth Ward of New Orleans has involuntarily flooded; in fact, it is the third. And every single time, every time, the Ninth Ward's black inhabitants have cried foul at the government for sabotage. The truth is, the feds never built those levees strong enough; period. The engineer behind the design of the levees underestimated the force of a Category 3 Hurricane slamming into the Gulf Coast, which caused the catastrophic storm surge that inundated the below-sea-level city.

And then, in the aftermath, Lee was interviewing those that stayed behind. Mind you, a mandatory evacuation had been ordered by Mayor Ray Nagin two days before landfall. Every able-bodied citizen was supposed to be out of the city. But that didn't happen. There were those who had ridden out Hurricanes before, those who feared looting and the welfare of their assets, those who had stayed put during 1965's Hurricane Betsy, the last big storm to raze the levees. There were the stubborn, there were those without transportation and then, there were the elderly, disabled and infirm. So many people stayed behind, causing a logistical problem for which no level of government was prepared.

Speaking of government; Lee's intricate analysis of the debacle between Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Lieutenant Gov. Mitch Landrieu shed light on the political aspects of the aftermath, how Blanco, once spurned by Nagin, still held bitterness and a lust for control that delayed critical federal response. And Nagin, just after being warned of the impending doom by top meteorologists, consulted with the business community before taking heed, maybe feeling that if he screwed this up, the cashflow rupture wouldn't be easy to patch. And then there was the president. At first, President Bush was attesting that he had no idea that the levees could breach, but video proof later surfaced showing just the opposite; showing Bush in a video conference with NOAA Meteorologist Max Mayfield, a hurricane expert. The whole breakdown showed such conflict, derision and haplessness. And don't get me started with FEMA...

Later, Lee interviewed those who stayed behind or returned just after the storm, just after reports of violence were passed through the media like the plague, heightening paranoia and fear. Just after the looting started and the police force threw their hands up in the air. Lee talked to a man that returned to his New Orleans home just after the waters started to recede. He was afraid for his safety, his property and his family. And so, he carried with him a shotgun and a .9mm semi-automatic handgun. Spike Lee then asked something to the effect of, "Were you getting ready to face al Qaeda?" That burned me up -- it angered me to know that because a member of the gun owning public isn't afraid to carry a weapon in a state of emergency to defend his property, his life and his way of it, he automatically was overreacting. This is untrue, and from what I understand, it is still a Constitutional provision to bear arms, and this situation warranted it.

I was distraught, then, to be reminded of the police that had barracaded a bridge, keeping those seeking refuge form the devastation in New Orleans from finding it. The police pointed guns and rifles at them, turning evacuees away from what could have been safety, what, in some cases was life instead of an unpleasant death.

Surmise it to say, this film will make you feel so many things. For Americans, it will remind us that even on our own soil, we will never be safe.

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