December 28, 2005

Katrina Survivors Prematurely Forgotten

The mainstream media refers to it as "Katrina fatigue." Following the hurricane's assault on Mississippi and Louisiana at the end of August, charitable individuals contributed vast sums of money while the Bush administration looked on with disinterest. When FEMA finally mobilized under mounting public pressure, it was joined by the Red Cross and other charitable organizations funded by concerned citizens. However, just in time for the holiday season, we learn that the American people are tired of hearing about Katrina, tired of giving, and would prefer to focus on buying unnecessary things for their own families rather than helping storm victims with food, shelter, and clothing.

In fairness to those who I am depicting as self-centered, many are under the impression that the Katrina-related crisis is over and that additional assistance is not needed. The mainstream news media are partially responsible for this in that they are no longer covering what is going on in New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. The average American assumes that if the media are not making a big deal about something, then it must not be a big deal.

I drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, yesterday. I'm not really sure why. I had loaded up my camera equipment and was planning to do some bird photography at a park several miles inland from the coast. Instead, I ended up in Biloxi. For the first time since Katrina, I drove the stretch of road along the coast. What I saw brought tears to my eyes and was far worse than anything I had imagined.

Virtually all of the historic homes along the coast were completely destroyed. In some cases, nothing remained but the foundations. Debris covered the ground as far as the eye could see. The casinos were devastated, boats had been washed far inland, and only a handful of local businesses had managed to reopen. If debris clean-up had started, it was barely evident. The only thing I've ever seen (and only in pictures) that could compare to this scene would be cities that had been subjected to prolonged airstrikes. Words or pictures simply cannot convey the scope of the devastation or the lack of visible progress that has been made in this area since August.