September 8, 2005

Katrina Log, Part 1

(The following was written on 9/1)

For those of you who have been following hurricane Katrina on the news, I live in Hattiesburg which is about 60 miles north of Gulfport, MS. Experiencing the heart of the storm was unlike anything have ever imagined. However, the terror pales in comparison to the aftermath.

I spent the last 3 days and nights without electricity or running water in humid 90+ degree Mississippi heat. The scariest thing about this period of time was the complete lack of information. I could see with my own eyes that much of the town was destroyed. I knew I was fortunate to live inland because our damage was sure to be trivial compared to the coast. But no phones, no internet, no electricity, no gas, impassable roads, etc. combined to create a total information black-out. How long would we be without electricity? A neighbor said he had heard it might be as long as 6 weeks. How were we to get water? Should we attempt to make it out of the state, and if so, were the roads passable? Most local radio stations were out, and the few broadcasts I could pick up from Jackson said little about what was happening in my area.

It turns out that I was one of the lucky ones. Most of the trees around my house came down, destroying the fence around my yard but sparing my home from major structural damage. As I write this, we still have no gas, phone service is spotty at best, and more than 70% of the state is still without power. Downed trees cover the roads, stoplights are inoperable, and I hear that the few stores that finally opened today have lines of 100-200 people and virtually nothing left. Like most sane people, I am staying home to do my part in conserving gas and not contributing to an even larger problem. I will have no choice but to venture out when my food runs out, but I should be able to make it a couple more days.

My power came on last night, marking one of the happiest moments I can recall during the past few years. I screamed with delight like a schoolgirl and didn't even feel stupid afterward. Our water still isn't safe to drink, but at least I can boil it now. Best of all, I have air conditioning again!

When power was restored, I turned on the TV, desperate to find out what was going on. While the cable is still out, preventing me from getting any local news, I have been able to watch CNN on satellite. Seeing their coverage, I am enraged at the total inaction of our local, state, and federal governments. Until today when a couple of the local radio stations are broadcasting, no official information was reaching my fellow citizens about where to go, what to do, how to survive. The reason you keep seeing no sign of the National Guard, police, etc. in the CNN coverage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is that they are not there. The commentator keeps asking about whether the aid is adequate, but the aid is nonexistent! I just heard that they have finally set up a staging area in Baton Rouge. The storm hit on Monday. It is Thursday, and no aid has reached the locations that need it most. I've heard that FEMA has been having meetings. Where the hell are they? People in Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans have been homeless, without food or water, and in the 90+ degree sun since Monday. Where is the government aid? People are dying on the streets of New Orleans well after the storm is over.

When Haley Barbour (ultra-conservative governor of Mississippi) was interviewed on CNN today, he sounded defensive and was unwilling to acknowledge that Mississippi is not receiving sufficient aid from the federal government. I guess this aid must be invisible, because we certainly haven't seen any trace of it as of today. W says his government is going to do everything possible to help. I hope he plans to start the aid while at least some of the displaced citizens are still alive. W and Haley, my fellow Mississippians and Louisianans need food, water, and medical attention. They need it now. In a couple more days, it will be too late.

On to part 2.

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