Saturday, September 03, 2005

Flood, disaster, and death, closer to home than ever

I find myself tearing up again and again as I read accounts of this nation’s latest disaster. Although the dead from other recent tragedies probably still outnumber Katrina’s victims, somehow I find this more pitiable.

Last winter’s tsunami dwarfs this humanitarian disaster in terms of death toll, as does the war in Iraq, which also produced lawlessness and disorder on an even greater scale. (Keep in mind that when I speak of the death toll in Iraq, I also think of the Iraqi dead, numbered at around 25,000) Even the September 11 attacks probably killed more people.

I was in New York that day, however, and I did the same thing that most people in the city did: I walked back to my apartment, far away (in NYC terms) from ground zero. Then I went out to Mexican and drank a few beers with my friends, while we talked about politics and world war. Yes, there was terror and confusion that morning, and many telephone circuits were still down. However, we still had electricity, clean water, and the rule of law.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have been trapped in New Orleans. While this disaster raged, I made a flight across the country and went to work. I drank clean water, made gourmet dinners with local craft-made wine, fixed myself lattes in the morning. Not once did I have to worry about my survival, (except on the plane, for a minute, but that’s my own issue) my belongings, or the well-being of my loved ones. Nor have I ever had to worry about these things. For about three hours on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had the facade of civilization stripped away from my daily life. Other than that, like many people from the U.S. of my generation, I have never really wanted for anything, and enjoyed whatever luxury I desired, which is perhaps why this is so unimaginable.

It’s hard to believe the number of people left unevacuated in New Orleans, a city which for years has been in danger of flood. Was it because so many National Guards troops are deployed in Iraq? Perhaps; my guess, however, is that the disaster was simply unimaginable to most of the decision-makers. There has not been a hurricane disaster on this scale in my lifetime; nor in President Bush’s, or most of his generation. For most of our lifetimes, the hurricane cycle has been in a lull. I imagine that the young President’s experience of hurricanes was much like mine: make sure there’s some food and water in the house, don’t go out during the storm. Maybe the power or the cable goes out for awhile. Thus, if a few people are left behind in the city, it’s probably not a big deal; they’ll save themselves some gas money.

Of course, this isn’t what happened; the city flooded: thousands are dead. The experts who for years have been warning us of the dangers were ignored, just as they were before 9/11. Amazingly, the president has, sort of, apologized, saying his efforts were "unacceptable."
And yet, it would be nice to hear the words, "I’m sorry." I’ve personally been waiting for him to say that for four years now. Is it really so hard?

In California, life continues. We got our first grapes at Ravenswood August 30th, fairly late. By next week we’ll be in full swing. Brett and I moved at the beginning of that month, to a new location; since then I’ve developed an obsession with buying hand-knotted Persian rugs on Ebay. I bought the cat a collar and she managed to rid herself of it in five days; don’t get me started on how hard it was to get her into her carrier for the move. Once she got here, however, she seemed to like it. So do Brett and I.
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