Perhaps you are as overwrought as I, with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on New Orleans just as we are having third anniversary flashbacks of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I will be writing often over the next few weeks about this pending disaster, the experience of its survivors, including from Memphis where trains have been taking evacuees since Friday.
I had promised myself that I wouldn’t sit home this time; more accurately, I wouldn’t sit at my writing desk, wringing my hands in horror over the treatment of the peoples of the Gulf Coast. Of course, this time it is supposed to be different. No thousands languishing in heat and filth in the SuperDome – it is boarded up and barricaded – no elderly nursing home residents left to drown in piles by the door of their last place of refuge, no ignorant Federal officials, no oblivious President Bush ... I could go on for pages listing the things that aren’t supposed to happen this time.
Hurricane Gustav will be a test of all the government has said it would do to protect Gulf Coast residents threatened by the next big storm. We will be watching to see if state and Federal governments can evacuate a tenth of the people from New Orleans (30,000 needing transportation) in three days that Cuba evacuated (300,000) from its rural western province in less than the same time. To see if houses recently built on 13 foot stilts prove sturdy enough and high enough off the ground to withstand storm surges predicted to be locally 15 feet. But I wonder if the Lower Ninth Ward will be inundated yet again and will anyone advocate rebuilding in such a vulnerable place? And what will evacuees think and feel, reliving such a fresh trauma? Will they want to come back? Or are we about to see a permanent Gulf Coast Diaspora, one mostly poor and primarily people of color?
As the Republicans milk the mounting crisis for all the political gain they can, we must watch and judge how well they pass the real test -- providing protection for those evacuated and a safe return to the home of their choice.