Letters

From looting to poverty to the world's response, readers weigh in on the Katrina disaster.

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[Read Salon's full coverage of Hurricane Katrina.]

My mother used to say that the less we have, the more it means to us. Her words come to mind as I peruse accounts of Katrina’s damage and learn that the scope of destruction could have been minimized. Almost everybody touched by the power of that hurricane has lost their entire lives; they have been stripped down, reduced to almost nothing.

Like me, you may wonder why so many images of the hurricane victims you have seen, especially in New Orleans, have been of blacks or African-Americans. Has our media suddenly become a paragon of equal representation? What we have in New Orleans is a several hundred years-old problem displaying its gory consequences before our very eyes, which no one can say they didn’t see coming.

From the U.S. Census, here is a pre-Katrina breakdown of the per-capita income in New Orleans by race:

White (28 percent of population) — $31,971
Latino (3 percent of the population) — $16,151
Black (67 percent) — $11,332

Those who have lived in or visited New Orleans may already be aware of these facts by inference. In one of the cities where blacks are most congregated (blacks form only 12 percent of the U.S. population as a whole), they are already devastated by intense racism and hyper-segregation, with severe financial ramifications.

You would have noticed during your visit to the former principal slave port, sprawling mansions on one side of the street and shacks on the other. This is where blacks invented jazz — African-American music refined into the purest expression of freedom to date.

It is more than devastating, more than cruel that the majority of those most harmed in New Orleans are the blacks who had no way to get out and the fewest possessions of all. According to my mother, they have lost the most.

– Eseohe Arhebamen

I am a resident of a northern suburb of Baton Rouge, which wasn’t even really touched by Katrina, with the exception of high winds, but nonetheless I have a few interesting points that I feel people should leave with relative to Katrina.

In the week prior to Katrina hitting, Louisiana experienced its hottest weather in a few years. It was hot as hell! Normally Louisiana is hot, and the humidity makes it feel even stickier and worse, but nonetheless the past week was unprecedented in terms of pure heat. When you factor in a slow-moving hurricane over water, you get a hurricane approaching typhoon levels.



Secondly, the weather guys were very confusing and vague, leaving people in Louisiana thinking the storm would go further east and people in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi thinking it would go further west. Their cone of uncertainty stretched as far west as Lake Charles, La., which is very close to Texas, all the way through Tallahassee, Fla.

Also, I would like to make this point (some may think I am an asshole for piling on at this point, but honesty is honesty no matter its timing) — the management of this hurricane was just plain terrible. New Orleans wasn’t given a mandatory evacuation until roughly 20 hours before the hurricane hit land. Factor almost 600,000 people evacuating and thus you have many people still in New Orleans facing terrible floods.

Also, there have been many doomsday predictions over the last five years about this sort of scenario. I specifically remembering a segment on “NOW With Bill Moyers” about what would happen if a Category 3 or higher directly hit New Orleans. More should have been done, not just to get people out of New Orleans and areas lower, but to get the general public of Louisiana who don’t watch PBS or read Salon to understand the potential dangers, or just get out of the mind-set that Louisiana is well-positioned enough to avoid getting get hit hard.

Lastly, I would like to say specifically to our National Guardsmen in Iraq: I truly wish you were here to do the job you were meant to do, as we need you and miss you.

– Kevin Criss

As a New Orleanian, I want to thank Salon.com. I am glad that you are brave enough to start asking difficult questions about this disaster, and appreciate your unwillingness to portray this as merely a capricious natural disaster. In fact, I think you would do very well to pursue the juxtaposition of New York’s 9/11 to New Orleans’ Katrina.

New Orleans has always had something to offer the rest of the United States and the rest of the world, and only with Mayor Nagin has the rest of the country started listening. New Orleans has figured out a way to be commercialistic instead of capitalistic. It is the fourth densest urbanized area in the U.S. It has the most historic structures of any city. It is one of the most integrated cities — ethnically and socioeconomically - per census tract in the entire country. Among the 40 largest cities in the country, its cost of living is third lowest, and the average cost of a house is less than a third of what it is in San Francisco.

Sept. 11 was an event that lent itself quite facilely to the purposes of ideologues. Typically, New Orleans cannot easily fit a prefabricated agenda, even in the aftermath of a hurricane.

Do not mourn for New Orleans. It is a city that willed herself out of the waters of the Mississippi, and will do so again. What I ask is that we continue to ask the much more difficult questions — not even about global warming, but about why, when over a million people evacuated, the vast majority of those left behind were those citizens in the great need? Why, in the face of such difficulty in convincing the world to fight terrorism and global warming, the concrete solutions to problems that have immediate effects on millions of people –pumping stations, coastal restoration, emergency planning — are consistently eschewed and, worse, disdained?

What the residents of New Orleans ultimately need is for you to continue advocating on issues that are probably no better manifested than in the Crescent City — and which the rest of the country might do well to heed.

Wish us good luck! And if anyone can show me how to mount some drywall … I can assure you that Mardi Gras will be celebrated this year…

– Jeffrey Schwartz

New Orleans is a dead city — it just doesn’t know it yet. There is not an investor, mortgage company or insurance executive who will gamble a single penny on rebuilding a city that sits 6 feet below sea level. No matter how strong they rebuild the levees or reinforce the pumps, the city will not be rebuilt.

We have just witnessed a unique act in human history: the death of a city.

– Tom Neven

While the facts of Sidney Blumenthal’s article may be true and certainly appalling, the choice to run it at a time when there is a humanitarian crisis is equally distasteful. There are folks on the ground who are risking their lives to save others within a tiny window before disease and total anarchy sets in. This is another war breaking out — one against time and death. And to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we do go to war with the army (or president) we have.

What this article says to me is that the world of political journalism truly exists in a parallel dimension, one where the idea of embarrassing and (hopefully) sinking a mediocre leader stands right there next to tragedy by turning blood, hurt and loss into capital for an argument. If you feel this strongly about this stuff, write another book, Mr. Blumenthal. You’ll open a lot of eyes. But later, man. Later. You just have no idea …

– Nathan Feinblock

Every time I read an article about “looting” my blood pressure rises. New Orleans is largely destroyed, thousands are possibly killed, hundreds of thousands will be homeless for quite a while. So why are we giving even a second glance at looting?

The people left behind in New Orleans are the poorest residents, the ones who couldn’t afford to buy a car to run away in, or buy a plane ticket out of Louisiana. They’re stuck in a ruined city with no fresh water, no electricity, and no way out except by helicopter rescue teams. Of course they’re going to “loot” grocery stores. How are they going to survive otherwise? And it’s not as though there’s anyone in the store to accept their money if they did want to pay.

These are poor people left to die in the face of a hurricane. We’ve failed them enough already without branding their struggle to survive as criminal.

– Denise Riffle

I am a lifetime resident of New Orleans; and Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s piece is spot on the money. I have, all my life, watched the poverty here which seemed irreparable (local corruption, of course, does not help, but our admirable Mayor Nagin has gotten rid of much of it).

Those worst hurt by the hurricane will be those who had the least (seemingly) to lose; the many renters in the city, who lived in decomposing houses in low-lying neighborhoods. It would be much better for most of the city to be raised up on piers, as has been suggested, and rebuilt in the styles admired in the historic areas.

The drowned urban forest of my beloved city can be replanted and regrown. The remnants of fine architecture can be reused on new structures. The French Quarter and the Garden District are mostly intact; one day perhaps technology will exist to raise them as well.

Unfortunately our national government has struck a new low in stupidity (those holes in the levees could have been stopped up with concrete filled barges) and I fear remaking New Orleans into the poetic garden it should be will not be of any importance to the Oval Office chimp.

– Sarah Jumel

I am truly worried that Katrina might cause a loss of life of 1,000 or more — which is of the same order as 9/11. Unfortunately, there was the tidal surge in Gulfport and Biloxi. The death count currently stands at 100, but could go much higher. You have New Orleans, where you can’t even begin to accurately estimate the number of the lives lost, but I am pretty sure that more than 2,000 have already been rescued by helicopter — this does not bode well, and you have lower Louisiana, which we have heard nothing about, but got creamed.

On the economic side, flooding is not covered by insurance policies. Water damage could conceivably destroy 50,000-100,000 homes in New Orleans or roughly $20 billion in uninsured losses. Lost business, productivity and wages for a city of 400,000 could easily reach $5-10 billion. If you include insurance losses and other non-New Orleans losses, the Katrina losses might be as big as 9/11.

Fortunately, it shouldn’t help George too much. The little guy was out giving a speech about how we need to win in Iraq to keep the oil out of the hands of Osama bin Laden. This could be the next Michael Moore movie. And besides, what is going to be his solution — America needs another tax cut? War on Iran? War on Syria? Or simply saying that Katrina had links to Osama?

– Stewart W. Lenz

Isn’t it ironic that Bush is telling us that he wants “zero tolerance” for price gouging at the gasoline pumps? The billions of profits his oil company cronies are salting away isn’t gouging; that’s just lawful greed, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just more evidence that Mr. Bush treats his citizens with contempt by handing out clichés and talking points and no substance.

– Stephen Speaking Wheat

Normally we would have a National Guard to come in and deal with natural disasters like the hurricane in New Orleans. Thousands of people are likely to die for lack of resources to evacuate people and bring in emergency aid. But we don’t have a national guard in our own country anymore because they are all over in Iraq. Poor judgment has put America at risk.

– Marc Perkel

The subhead of Scott Lamb’s evaluation of world media response to Katrina (“Among the responses: Sadness, sympathy, but not a lot of charity”) was patently unfair and deeply misleading.

The evidence for this lack of “charity” was apparently one disgruntled editorial in one German publication, vociferously denounced by another German publication. Based on this, it seems, selfish greedy foreigners have no “charity” for suffering Americans. On the Canadian Red Cross Web site there is a prominent link explaining how I can make a donation directed to Hurricane Katrina victims. The Weather Network, Canada’s answer to the Weather Channel, has a similar link. The British Red Cross Web site has a link for donating directly to victims of Katrina — and so, surprise, surprise, does the French Croix-Rouge. I will be most curious to see if any media bothers to report on how much aid does come in from overseas sources; so far, its contribution seems to be posting e-mails from people wondering “whether Asian tsunami victims will collect money for us?” (“Don’t count on it,” Jack Cafferty glowered in response on CNN the other night.)

This sort of nonsense fuels America’s growing paranoia and xenophobia. Shame on Salon for contributing, especially at a time when the world is standing with Americans in need.

– Lisa MacLeod

The idea that other countries are somehow uninterested or unsympathetic to the disaster in New Orleans is unfortunate.

The story of Katrina has followed this shape: dire predictions, then widespread reports that New Orleans had been spared, now the news that the worst is coming true.

Here in puny Manitoba, more than $3,000 in donations had been received by a single aid agency before noon yesterday. Newspapers and Web sites have been telling people where to donate, and the Canadian government has formally extended an offer of help. The U.S. has yet to ask for, or accept any, foreign help.

What is unfolding right now is terrible, and will only get worse. Canada and Canadians are offering help, but the focus of the media has been on flooding, looting, death, the Superdome, and George Bush cutting two days off his vacation.

– Dougald Lamont

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