Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Playing the Disaster Dozens

First off, let me say unequivocally that I have great sympathy for the people around San Diego who have been displaced and are losing their homes to the wildfires. I'm sure everyone in New Orleans does. We know what it is to flee, to be a refugee, to lose everything. But I just hate how it is being compared in the media to Katrina, some kind of crazy game of one-upmanship -- my disaster affecting affluent white people is worse than your disaster that drowned poor blacks. What kind of way is that to think? Aren't we all Americans?

I'm also angry about the way the evacuation and relief efforts are being handled. Quite well in fact. Why couldn't it have been like that down here? Why did people have to starve and die at the Dome, the Convention Cenetr?

I saw this article from the AP yesterday -- here's the lead:

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Like Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years earlier in New Orleans, thousands of people rousted by natural disaster fled to the NFL stadium here, waiting out the calamity and worrying about their homes.

The similarities ended there, as an almost festive atmosphere reigned at Qualcomm Stadium.

Bands belted out rock 'n' roll, lavish buffets served gourmet entrees, and massage therapists helped relieve the stress for those forced to flee their homes because of wildfires.

When I first read this article it made me so angry, just blind with rage. Massage therapy? Catered food?! What the HELL?! The people at the Convention Center would have been delighted with bottled water and MREs!!! Why do the people of San Diego deserve any better?

But then I read it again, more rationally. It may not be quite as blatant as it looks. First, the article is obviously calculated to inflame, being couched that way, comparing Katrina and the wildfires. The article could have been written without mentioning Katrina at all, or adding the comparison at the end, instead of leading with it.

Second, upon second reading it seems that all the nicer amenities provided at Qualcomm stadium were not government largesse, but volunteer efforts. The massage therapist was there on her own initiative, volunteering to help out. Local hotels donated the catered meals. The "rock bands" may have been volunteers too. Which is nice, actually. Maybe this means people learned somethign from Katrina. That we are all in this together. That this kind of disaster could happen to anyone, so we all need to be ready. That evacuees should not be left to suffer and thirst, alone, without community support. I certainly hope so.

Thirdly, in terms of water and medical supplies being ready and bountiful -- one can hardly be surprised that the govt. of california is better equipped to handle an evacuation than that of Louisiana. I mean, it's California -- wealthier, successful, just much more functional in general. Isn'tthe state of California alone the world's tenth largest economy or something like that? Plus, they know this kind of thing -- the wildfires -- could happen any year with the Santa Ana winds, and often do, so they have had every reason to be prepared.

In the aftermath of Katrina, most of my rage was aimed not at FEMA but at Mayor Nagin, the City Council and the entire city government of New Orleans. We, too, knew the Big One could hit any year. More, much more, should have been done to prepare. Citizens should not have been left to languish and starve at the Superdome. So I can hardly hate on San Diego for being prepared.

Thirdly, althouigh the evacuation is massive, rememebr that Souhthern California is much more heavily populated that South Louisiana, and although the burned areas have been devastated, they are in a relatively confined area. The rest of the region is still functional. Evacuees, indeed, are moving into the city of San Diego proper, where there are hotels to cater to them and emergency services are still intact. Completely the opposite of Katrina/Rita, where practically the whole of Souhth Louisiana was evacuated. There was no infrastructure anymore, no one left to speak of cater any meals to the Convention Center refugees. Emergency services were overwhelmed by a regional disaster.

Still, my feelings are complex. I doubt the Dome refugees would have been served capered chickens in cream sauce if anyone had brought them food. The racial disparities seem blantant.

I also don't like the way ther MSM is trumping this up as, if to best Katrina, as if to say, oh, thisis so much worse, we can forget about New orleans now. Last night on the nightly news Brian Williams said thst the SoCal evacuation were the largest since World War II -- which is manifestly untrue. 900,000 people have been evacuated for the wildfires: 1.2 million evacuated for Katrina, and over 2 million in South LA and Texas for Rita. The one-upmanship is just crazy and sick. I felt personally betrayed when I heard that. I thought Brian Williams was on our side.

Not that there should be any sides! Comparing disasters is pointless, and yet we can't seem to help it. The similarities ,and the differences, are so marked.

Pandagon has much to say on this same topic, and also refrences the AP article.

let me close with another quote from that article:

Hundreds sat in the stands watching the [television] sets, transfixed as news programs broadcast images of destruction. Among them was Bruce Fowler, whose home in the Scripps Ranch neighborhood had survived fires in 2003. ...

"Every couple of years, you don't want to go through this worry," Fowler said, sipping a root beer. "I never thought I'd be in a place like this, getting handouts."

Nobody does, brother, nobody does. And yet, it could happen to us all. We just need to remember that, and try and have compassion, for us and for them.

I'd like anyone who reads this post to comment and share your thought with me. This was a hard post to write. I don't really know how to feel. How do YOU feel?

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