Katrina’s winds and floods stripped away houses and buildings as well as the veneer that keeps polite and courteous people from behaving roughly and unkindly. Katrina also stripped away the veneers of city, state, and federal organizational efficiency.
There were many reasons why the veneers disappeared.
A primary reason? With evacuations ordered, the only people who could evacuate were people wealthy enough to possess a car. However, populations are not made up of just well-paid professionals and semi-professionals. Populations also contain thousands of normally unseen people normally sequestered in ‘low-income’ areas. These are the people who do the low-paid work that keeps modern cities and towns ‘affordable’ for the members of the better-paid middle and upper classes.
These usually unseen people often cannot afford even a second-hand car. These people had limited means by which to move themselves. In their tens of thousands, they could not move. Victims of their own circumstance, they were stuck.
This unseen class could have been carried by publicly owned transport. The publicly owned school and public transport system possessed scores of buses. But these buses were not employed in any organized fashion. That forced all these “unseens” to fend for themselves. In fending for themselves, though, they were not being treated differently than their wealthier mates who had jumped into their vehicles and driven out of Katrina’s path.
In Katrina’s aftermath, these tens of thousands of poorer people broke through the mechanisms and systems that had previously concealed them.
Before Katrina’s strike there were orderly lines as people sought entrance to shelters. After Katrina it was noticeable that whenever crowd pictures were shown, the sight was invariably that of a milling mob rather than an orderly queue or other evidence of a line with persons awaiting their turn. These folk, already hard-hit by Katrina, were then hit hard again by a primal need to get access to clean drinking water, food, and essential medicines.
Over the next four days, normal social mechanisms broke down as these “unseens” began asserting their primordial right to survive.
That’s when the veneers of politeness and kindness melted away. That’s when the veneers of city, state, and Federal organizational efficiency melted down. It took several days before the meltdowns stopped and sound organization arrived.
CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX have shown us film clips of scrabbling refugees in what westerners call ‘third world countries’. This time the scenes came from the USA – arguably the world’s richest country; and certainly a well-developed state.
Bermuda, sits in the eastern section of the Atlantic’s thousand mile wide ‘hurricane alley’. Thirty-two years ago, Hurricane Arlene hit Bermuda hard. Immediately after Arlene’s 1963 hit, Bermuda created the Emergency Measures Organization [EMO]. The major Bermuda events of Emily (1987), Fabian (2003), and the smaller BELCO blackout (2005) showed that our EMO system does works. Bermudians don’t expect miracles, but Bermudians don’t expect any organizational meltdown either.
As well, Bermuda’s oft-cursed Planning Regulations reduces Bermuda’s potential for damage, aids our self-sufficiency, and provides high levels of safety for us as individuals.
From all our past national experiences we know that we have generally accepted that we are our brothers keepers and we have kept our brothers [and sisters and mothers and fathers…]. A few can remember Arlene’s 1963 hit. Some will remember Emily’s 1987 hit. Most will remember Fabian’s 2003 hit. We’d all recall that it is only by sharing and caring that we got through all these aftermaths.
There’s something else. We are on our own. No Home Depots just over a next state border. No thousands of Bermuda Coast Guard and Navy and Army and Air Force and Marines with helicopters and boats and ships and aircraft and trucks to come roaring in to restore and resettle.
It’s just us. And, since we’re such a rich society – remember our boasts about our ‘per capita incomes’? – we ought not expect the world to see us as we saw those uncovered unseens of New Orleans.
Fabian’s experience was that the world did not see us as a poor nation. The world saw us as capable and competent enough – and certainly rich enough – to manage our own affairs.
We ought not forget that.
In our national circumstance, perched out here on 13,000 acres at 65W32N, we should especially remember that we are our brother’s keeper. We ought never forget that. We could, perhaps, remember it better each day and make a special point of treating each other that way – more often.