This article is dedicated to my first cousin Betty Lipscomb-Walker, a school nurse who had a home on the eastside of New Orleans. And also to the thousands of other “displaced Americans” who fled the city that “drowned.” Betty departed from the doomed city on Friday, Aug. 26, before Katrina’s fury ravaged the Gulf Coast. She is temporarily staying with her aunt in our hometown of Marion, Ala.
I had a very sad and emotional conversation with my cousin on Aug. 30, one day after Hurricane Katrina struck. We both were crying and talking, talking and crying, mainly about the poor people left behind in nursing homes and hospitals, also those who were trapped in their homes and could not swim.
Betty informed me that nearly one-out-of-three New Orleans residents live below the poverty level, the majority of them African Americans. I informed Betty that according to the U.S. Census, New Orleans is not an aberration. African Americans remain at the bottom of the economic totem pole in the United States, with the lowest median income of any group.
While we were hypothesizing the current situation, two major things happened that became the “catalyst” for the abysmal failures in leadership and the floodwall system during this disaster. Here are the facts:
Hurricane Katrina’s “main force” spared the city, with only high wind damage to some building structures. Later that Monday night on Aug. 29, the electrical power went out leaving the entire city in darkness.
By Tuesday morning, New Orleans began filling with water after holes formed in about three sections of the city’s levee and floodwall system. By nightfall around 80 percent of the city had drowned.
September is the middle of hurricane season. Katrina was the first “catastrophic level” hurricane of the new season. This type brings an energy level (wind velocity) of 10 to the 15th power Joules. About the same released from an atomic bomb.
America’s response to Hurricane Katrina shows that we were not prepared. What about terrorist attacks? They happen quickly, not slowly like a hurricane that gives warnings.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was performing all right by itself, then the leadership in the White House decided to include FEMA under Homeland Security.
After 9/11 and billions of dollars to create Homeland Security, we are still not secure. The response to Katrina is proof.
My cousin and I concluded our conversation with a prayer and my thought turned to biology. How does the human body react under strange conditions? Biologically, the human body can only take so much “shock” treatment. First, those left behind in the “tropical-like” heat of New Orleans (100 – 112F) in the attics of flooded homes or those who will walk in the contaminated waters can become infected.
The contaminated water is home to the protozoan “entamoeba histolytica,” which causes amoebic dysentery. People can become infected by drinking or standing in the dirty water waist-high. It takes 30 days for the ingested “cysts” to develop.
Secondly, those who could not evacuate, and were stranded for days with no food or water, their minds will start to act strange. If you are not used to “fasting,” then this “fast” is forced upon you for three to seven days, in complete darkness and zero communication, you will do anything. Yes, anything to find food and water, even drink your own urine and eat mud and grass.
A good example of a mind gone “haywire” was shown on the Fox Television Network. An obese woman was seen pushing a store cart with a TV in it, through knee-deep water scurrying along a hurricane ravaged street. Where will she plug it in? No electrical power. She can’t eat it. What could be a reason for shooting her? Will she survive with no food or water? But she’s a looter. Whites “loot” but are not called looters. Major media must be careful in this tragic time to set the record straight. What needs to be done to fix the problems?
The GOP-controlled congress and leading Democrats must push for an investigation of what went wrong and fix the problems so it will not happen again.
The Congressional Black Caucus must quickly work within congress for a plan of “Recovery and Relief.” They must also develop a plan to put black males to work; a plan similar to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) of the 1930s during the depression, which put mainly unemployed white males to work.
Congress must address the urban centers’ race. Problems in large cities in America are becoming similar to those in third world countries.
Leadership at all levels of government seems to vanish before and after Katrina struck. Were they swept overboard? Into the ocean or rivers? We, too sing America. Our displaced citizens are not refugees. We are not “fleeing a foreign country for refuge” but moving to another part of the country our ancestors helped build. One hundred billion dollars of business is done yearly up and down the Mississippi River through the New Orleans port, which is the second largest port in the United States after New York. Katrina stopped this flow.
America has received another “wake-up-call” for critical analysis; especially Black America. This disaster touched the hearts of all America, regardless of race.
Betty and I are not the only ones with “wet eyes” after seeing those children suffering. This is not a trivial matter. It could end up being the worst and the costliest disaster in America history. As of this writing, Stanley, Betty’s son, who stayed behind with his dog, is now safe. He was rescued and was reunited with his mother four days after we had our conversation.