Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina Devastates Southern US

As I held my breath over the last 2 days, Katrina has only proven more devastating by the hour than previously considered. I am grateful that my family decided to evacuate New Orleans when they did. They could have been among the floating dead or the desperate survivors, finding against violent looters.

The LA Times detailed the situation on the ground:
The landscape between New Orleans and Alabama was transformed by wind and surf into stretches of churning floodplain. In New Orleans, two levees broke, leaving 80% of the city flooded.

Hundreds of stranded survivors atop roofs waved frantically to Coast Guard helicopters for salvation from rising waters. At least 3,000 people were rescued in New Orleans, where low-lying neighborhoods were swamped by threatening currents from Lake Pontchartrain, public safety officials said. An untold number of people were missing.

"We've got desperate people shooting in the air, using flares to identify themselves," said New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin. "It's a surreal situation, almost like a nightmare. I hope we wake up from it."

New Orleans reeled from miseries that mounted by the hour: A forlorn Nagin said police and National Guard patrols reported numerous bodies floating in flooded streets. Storm-whipped currents toppled the twin-span bridges over Lake Pontchartrain. An oil tanker ran aground near the city docks.The city's horizon darkened with black smoke from dozens of fires sparked by downed wires and erupting gas lines. Geysers of gas-fed flame burst out of the water. Houses burned but firefighters were unable to get through blocked roads and freeways.

Crowds broke into stores at will, even making raids on shops in the French Quarter, wheeling off stolen goods in shopping carts while overwhelmed police officials pleaded for public compliance with mandatory curfews. At least 50 people were arrested for looting.

Weakened to a tropical depression and tossing off tornadoes as it unraveled through Tennessee, Katrina left more than 4 million people without electricity, utility officials reported.

Analysts estimated storm damage could cost insurers more than $25 billion, the most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history. Uninsured losses could add $4 billion to $10 billion more, they said.

"At first light, the devastation is greater than our worst fears. It's just totally overwhelming," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said at a news conference. "We know many lives have been lost," she said, although she had no numbers of confirmed fatalities.

There was no need to guess about deaths in the Mississippi coastal towns of Biloxi and Gulfport and surrounding Harrison County. Katrina leveled a direct hit. Harrison County emergency officials confirmed that 100 people had died, at least 30 in the collapse of a Biloxi apartment house during the height of the storm.
The magnitude of this catastrophe has even forced Bush out of vacation day early. Though the government might provide its task forces and needed infrastructure, it is through generous citizens of this country that really provides monetary and relief aid.

There are many legitimate sites to make your online donation, but I highly recommend the UCC Disaster Response website for their excellent organization skills and quick response time. Regardless, whether you volunteer your time, suppliers or money, I hope we can all pull together as a nation even when their is no identifiable foe to rally against.

I also hope we as a country become more sensitive to other natural disasters elsewhere in the world with a renewed sense of empathy. Beyond the obvious long-term effects, I hope Hurricane Katrina's damage will provide an awakening of America's generosity and much-needed improvements of its core infrastructure.


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