Monday, September 05, 2005

STILL A REFUGEE (But Doin’ Well)

Well, we decided to extend our “vacation” a little longer, so we drove to the Chicago area to visit some of Sym’s relatives. Hopefully, the craziness back home will subside a little while we’re here. In the meantime, I thought I’d post a few thoughts and such concerning the hurricane.

First, Sheila and Ron have been touched (as have Sym and I) at the response to their situation. Just knowing that people care does a lot, and the options that many of you have suggested give the Ealeys a real choice to make. And choice is a valuable gift indeed. Like all of us, Sheila and Ron are still trying to catch their collective breath before they decide what they will be doing. I’ll keep you posted.

I hope that those of you outside of the New Orleans area can understand the anger many of us are feeling these days. As we were driving toward Texas almost 24 hours before Katrina made landfall, we listened to an interview with the director of FEMA. He bragged that, due to his foresight, the supply lines were already moving, and that the federal government would be there as soon as the winds stopped blowing. That is the role FEMA is supposed to play. State and local governments cannot be expected to make an adequate response at a time their infrastructure is in shambles.

The delayed response by the federal government was inexcusable, and helped feed the violence and chaos that we’ve all seen on the television. Certainly, not all of the lawlessness resulted from need or even frustration (but some did). Even before the hurricane, New Orleans had too large of a criminal subculture arising from the extreme poverty in which so many live. Many in the criminal element stayed behind to take advantage of the opportunities that can arrive with a disaster. But if the federal government had been on the scene when they promised they would, there would have been far less of an atmosphere of chaos to shield the lawlessness, and certainly an earlier presence of ground forces would have helped control the situation.

The problem was not just the lawlessness. One has to ask how many people died simply because food, water, and medical attention were not made available promptly. I fear the casualty numbers from this event will be more horrific than any of us can imagine.

The cries of racism arising out of the mishandling of the federal response are understandable, but are just plain wrong. The local governments of predominantly white areas of St. Bernard and St. Tammany Parishes have tried in vain to get anyone from FEMA to contact them. In the case of St. Bernard Parish, the failure of the federal government to respond is particularly puzzling because that area has been hit hard. No, the federal government’s failure is not due to racism; it is plain incompetence mixed with perhaps a little indifference to the plight of all fellow human beings.

Leaving aside my anger at FEMA, I have to express my complete admiration for the military forces who responded to the disaster. The helicopter crews who rescued so many under the most challenging circumstances are to be commended. When the ground troops finally arrived, the cool-headed leadership provided by General Honore helped diffuse the anger and violence.

While I am passing out kudos, let me say how grateful I am to the Republic of Texas for the manner in which they responded. Perhaps they recall how we in Lousiana have always responded to disasters that befall our neighbors. Still, the unhesitating charity Texans have shown my fellow Louisianians has been breathtaking. As for those of us who were lucky enough to stay at hotels in Texas, we could not have asked for nicer treatment. On the day we left, we saw young people everywhere holding car washes or doing whatever they could to raise funds for disaster relief.

The Rankin family has been very lucky. We have jobs to go back to. The reported damage to our home has been relatively minor. We plan to stay up here in Chicago for another day, and we will return to Louisiana on Wednesday. So I may be away from the blog for a couple of days. When I can, I’ll try to post something about what we find at home.

Before I close this chapter, I want to thank everyone for the public and private expressions of love and support. Even though we lost relatively little in this storm, the pain at watching our beloved city die two deaths was often excruciating. The other autism bloggers (particularly Ginger, Kristina, Brett, Tamar, David, and Kelly) all provided words of encouragement. My new friends from the neurodiversity community (Kevin, Katherine, Clay, jypsy, et al) all touched my heart. And even a certain respectfully insolent individual with whom I have disagreed in the past (and with whom I will continue to agreeably disagree in the foreseeable future) made sure I received some good wishes. I received countless private emails from people I didn’t know but who wanted to take the opportunity to express their sympathy to somebody who could hear them. I heard all of you, and I assure you all that I will not forget your kindness.

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