Katrina Overload

I’m not here to start a flame war, a “poor-little-us” pity fest, or a competition to see whose town is in more trouble. That said, I’m going to finally write what everyone in Orlando is thinking: we’re sick of Katrina.

Katrina, Katrina, Katrina, day and night. But how can we forget about something that wiped out a major North American city? Say what you will, New Orleans is GONE, flushed out into the Gulf and (in some places) ruined forever. That blows the mind. A city no longer exists. It was emptied out and now it’s just a waterlogged husk with a few people reluctantly headed home.

So why do Katrina victims get so little sympathy from us Floridians? Two reasons. First of all, let’s go with the obvious: where were the folks in Louisiana when three hurricanes wiped out OUR cities? Port Charlotte and Vero Beach weren’t exactly standing tall by the time #3 barrelled over the peninsula back in 2004. Those towns aren’t as big as New Orleans, of course, but what about the cumulative damage to all of the coastal cities–and let’s not forget poor Lakeland, which turned into a hurricane speed bump? I do not recall telethons to help our victims. FEMA was slow here, too, and nobody fired their boss over it. Some people in Winter Park had no power for upwards of a month! Winter Park ain’t the boondocks, you know. So don’t tell me the hurricanes weren’t a major disaster…but instead of help, we got late-night jokes on “Letterman.”

The second point is the deepest, darkest thought of all, and I’ll try to say this with as much tact as I can. Florida prepares better. We just do. Our hurricane comes faster, we evacuate with a minimum of drama, and…uh…oh, gosh, how do I say this? We know we’re near a hurricane zone and so we don’t live next to levees.

THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT NEW ORLEANS “DESERVED” WHAT THEY GOT. No, no, no. Nobody deserves that. But in our most frustrated moments, it’s easy to remember how the city began evacuations a scant 36 hours before Katrina made landfall, and even then, the roads were clogged with traffic until the Superdome probably looked like the safer option. I remember the surreal experience of watching the backups with my dad, while he shook his head in wonder and murmured, “They’re killing all those people.” Why didn’t they open the southbound lanes of the highways to northbound traffic so people could get out of the city faster? Why didn’t they do it sooner? And above all else, why didn’t they at least make some kind of effort to shore up the levees as soon as Katrina appeared in the Gulf?

People who have been through tragedy sometimes lose sympathy for others. Period. It’s hard to see through your own pain in order to feel someone else’s. I think that’s what our real problem is in Florida; we tolerate no complaints from people who “should have done more,” like famiilies who live in trailers in coastal cities or the occasional nut who jumps on the Beeline/Beachline 4 hours before the storm hits and ends up getting killed. And when you think of it that way…that is not New Orleans’ problem, it is ours. Maybe the fault isn’t entirely on their shoulders.

So do Katrina victims get too much attention? Should we quit being so myopic here in Florida? Talk amongst yourselves.

UPDATE: Some people seem to have the impression that I don’t want to see New Orleans rebuilt, which is not true. I’m complaining about the fundraisers and telethons because New Orleans is not the only city that was devastated–I want to see all the hurricane-devastated areas get attention, not just them. I would like to see New Orleans come back as a better-prepared city with strong levees and more efficient evacuation plans. Actually, my real dream is to see it come back so solid that nobody NEEDS to evacuate, but given their location below sea level, I don’t know if that’s architecturally possible…

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s one more circumstance to chew on…did Florida only get a quick response because ’04 was an election year?

15 Comments so far

  1. doctorj (unregistered) on November 3rd, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

    I an a native New Orleanian. During the last year, in “debating” Hurricane Katrina, many a Floridian would chime in with the “Shut up, we have been through x number of hurricanes and WE didn’t need help.” New Orleans survived the hurricane, battered but whole. It was the FLOOD caused by poorly designed federal levees that destoyed so much of our lives. THe flood waters sat on the homes for over a month. The flood waters backed up the sewerage, mixed with home chemicala and decaying bodies of animals and humans and destroyed everything it touched. You can drive mile after mile, neighorhood after neighborhood, parish and parish and see nothing but devastation. BUT America is tired of hearing about it and Florida HAS survived hurricane, so I won’t saw a word and upset your day. And by the way, there was countraflow on the interstates.


  2. Gordon Soderberg (unregistered) on November 4th, 2006 @ 12:07 am

    You state that Florida is better prepared. Yet it was only without power for a month. You call that a disaster? Come on.

    There are people still living in tents 14 months after katrina. New Orleans and many other communities on the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas have been hit with one disaster after another. The press has put words into your head by calling Katrina survivors “refugees”. Yet thje federal government has not provided a way for many of the hardest hit, with a way to return. 14 months and you still can’t get home. That is hat I call a man made disaster. A disaster caused by pour stewardship and the breach of the publics security. Incompotence, graft and curruption is at the root of the cancer that will bring and end to it one way or another. Let’s just hope we can make the real hard choices. Do you want to spend 10,000,000 and hour blowing stuff up in Iraq and then rebuilding it, or rebuilding the lives and communities of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and training our children to be able to respond to natural disasters rather than to fight an illegal war?


  3. Anthony (unregistered) on November 4th, 2006 @ 9:11 am

    Hello: I live in Montreal, CANADA and I’m a four-time visitor to NOLA and the surrounding gulf coast. From where I stand, it’s utterly incomprehensible why only a few million dollars stood in the way of giving NOLA a fighting chance to avoid becoming a soup bowl, which only aggravated and prolonged the effects of the storm, which every observer has seen to this day. It’s also unfortunate that the federal government finds itself cash-strapped with its so-called war on terror overseas. I can discuss the root causes of extreme weather, along with more profound win-win approaches to discourage terrorism and reduce world poverty (they DO go hand-in-hand), but only at a later date. It’s also tragic that there hasn’t been enough (ironically!) sustained publicity about the current state of affairs in the city & region. Early this year, a LA State official in my locality informed me that they’re trying to gag such publicity, in order to lure tourists back there. I told her please don’t insult people’s intelligence! I’ve been trying to get a fund-raising event off the ground, in the form of a Mardi Gras party. Part of my battle is to promote recognition of popular names, like Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Beausoleil, etc.. Maybe the repeated publicity about Katrina elsewhere is due to the fact that NOLA and points west, bear an important historical significance and continue to offer a feast for the senses and for the soul.


  4. Anthony (unregistered) on November 4th, 2006 @ 9:35 am

    JUST A FEW ADDED COMMENTS: At the beginning of your letter, you give the impression that you wish NOLA would disappear, if only to make its publicity go away. I hope that spreading darkness onto your fellow citizens is NOT a reflection of your life’s values. Have you considered that a fund-raising event can have many, many posotive effects to the givers, as well? Thank you for adding some fuel to my own fund-raising campaign and let it be said once again: NEW ORLEANS WILL RISE AGAIN!!!


  5. Rachel (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 10:42 am

    I agree with Julie to a degree. Although I dont think that Florida has really been through quite what New Orleans has – mostly due to all the measures that we take to keep ourselves safe, but we do know a thing or two about natural disasters and cleaning up after them.

    I think that it is horrible what happened there BUT I think that there is too much focus on the “natural disaster” of it all and too little on the fact that this was GOING TO HAPPEN at one time or another with the poor way the water was being held back to begin with. The levees were crap and eventually this would have happened – I don’t know about the workings of the goverment there, but I always find myself questioning why this obvious problem wasnt fixed a long, long time ago? It’s easy to point the blame at one or two people now that its actually happened – but what about the years and years of people knowing this could happen and nobody did anything about it then?

    Also – why was the community so ill prepared? How often does that area really experience hurricanes? Here, in Orlando anyway, I have been forced to go home and held in by curfews for days – when there is even a threat of a hurricane on the horizion. Nine times out of ten it ends up just being a really rainy day, but we don’t screw around. The last time I was forced to stay home it didnt even rain! When they tell us to leave, we leave – when they tell us to hunker down, we hunker down.

    Yes, it was a terrible, terrible thing. But let’s try and keep some of it in perspective and learn from it for the next time. And this is nature people, there will be a next time somewhere.


  6. Craig (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

    I lived in Florida for 18 years (as a working journalist) and have lived in New Orleans for the past two. I lived in Florida during the entire 2004 spate of storms (and wrote about them all) and wrote about so many others going back to and including Andrew in 1992. I was in Charleston two weeks after Hugo in the 1980s. I know a bit about these things and what they can do.

    Imagine, in the Orlando area, if a hurricane/flood occurred and removed all the businesses and residences from, oh, Sanford over to about the Lake County line. The only things left standing and reasonably functional were downtown and a strip along International Drive. So your economic engine is still physically in place, but there is no population to work there. Their homes are now useless, their schools inoperable, their jobs (most of them) gone or in limbo. Homestead after Andrew is the only comparable disaster that comes to mind, though the damage there was wind-driven and not from 2-3 weeks of skankwater that sat over everything.

    To really Get It, you have to know the scope of the damage. 196 square miles — in Orleans Parish alone. Come see us and you’ll begin to understand — and this doesn’t begin to take into account the incredible hurricane wind and surge damage done in Mississippi.


  7. Rachel (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

    After reading Craig’s comment it reminded of the huge floods in the midwest in 1993:

    http://www.redcross.org/news/ds/floods/030806midwest93.html

    Which makes me think that this whole situation should really not be even considered a hurricane tragdy, it really should be identified as a flood. I mean, nobody refers to the floods of 1993 as part of a snowstorm. Perhaps that was part of the problems that happened there – too many people responding to a hurricane, when flood help was more in order.

    Hopefully all the areas along the gulf will be able to recover in some way, with new flood planes and saftey measures in place, as the midwest did back then.


  8. Terry Howard (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

    Look, no one is saying that Katrina wasn’t an event of major damage and impact on a large group of people, certainly extending far beyond the New Orleans city limits. My issue is with the attitude of these “victims” and the personal handling of the situation at the time, which I wouldn’t even have an issue with at all, that’s you’re business if you want to deal with things that way, until I’m talking along about my own city and issues that concern me and suddenly New Orleanians are jumping up saying “your problems don’t amount to a hill of beans, woe is us, look what a bad hand we’ve been dealt.”

    You know, there were some serious eyebrows raised by the actions of the citizens of New Orleans before, during and after the tragedy as well as the actions of your Mayor and his behaviors. And to be honest, to say the difference in how pretty much everyone else handles their natural disasters and how that city handled it is because it was a big flood or FEMA was a couple days too slow, doesn’t fly with me. But you know, we all pretty much just kept our mouths shut about it out of sympathy. But now if New Orleanians are going to get their nose bent out of joint any time anyone dares mention any problems of their own and play the 100% victim card and that everything, including the Iraq war, but themselves are to blame, well, consider our mouths open.


  9. Craig (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 5:59 pm

    Not at all. I’m not trying to out-disaster anyone. The list of New Orleans problems from the pre-Katrina days to the present runs the whole gamut from our local levee boards and painfully poor public school system all the way to the White House, through both major political parties and everything else. It was (and remains) truly a holistic problem.

    My point is that before anyone can accurately comment on what happened here, one has to come see it. Example — one has to live in Florida to explain why and how Katherine Harris has maintained any political traction. Once you’re there and you know the turf, you see how and why.


  10. Terry Howard (unregistered) on November 7th, 2006 @ 1:17 pm

    Seems to me politics paint you opinion, not experience. What does Catherine Harris have to do with anything? If you want to be truly accurate, this problem was created upon the founding of New Orleans in 1718 (before there even was a white house to blame) when Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville decided to place a city on swamp land between a river delta, a lake and the Gulf against the advice of his engineers. That problem has existed ever since. To clarify how the US government works, who inherited this ill-conceived city layout in 1803, relies on representatives in Congress from each state to present their needs as bills and special projects at the request of their residents. It is then passed by congressional voting and then either signed into law or vetoed by the president. If you’d like to present to us the bills your state drafted or sponsored that addressed the problems and how the rest of the country voted them down or how Presidents vetoed them (and please include any rider bills that were taken into account) then we can discuss your concerns of how everyone else failed you. I would be especially interested to know what bills President Bush himself vetoed since he seems to be the ultimate target of blame. I don’t know the answers to these questions, you may be exactly right, but please educate us how you know the rest of the country failed you and how President Bush is squarely to blame for the tragedy of Katrina.


  11. gaston (unregistered) on November 7th, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

    Julie: You’re an idiot. Case closed.

    (But hey, at leats you got the Orlando Metblogs site more traffic than it has since, like, ever. Guess New Orleans is at least good for something.)


  12. Laureen (unregistered) on November 8th, 2006 @ 10:11 am

    I like this article. It talks about our pride, dignity, irrational romanticism v. life on earth. Living near water is romantic.

    Romanticism is by definition impractical. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1229102-1,00.html

    “91% of Americans live in places at a moderate-to-high risk of natural disaster.” Some people’s lives, are in themselves, a natural disaster.

    As a nation we have historically spent more money managing floods than any other disasters. This is nothing new.
    http://www.nsc.org/library/facts/floods.htm
    Through this link, you can cross reference many reports from various agencies. Governemnt information is not at all romantic. Sorry.


  13. Terry Howard (unregistered) on November 8th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    I know, the government has a lot ot learn about romance. They need to learn to at least send us flowers or give us a call after screwing us!


  14. Rachel (unregistered) on November 8th, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

    This was a great article! Thanks for the comment!
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1229102-1,00.html


  15. Steve (unregistered) on November 10th, 2006 @ 3:38 pm

    I’m sick of hearing aobut Katrina also. Being a native New Yorker I never really had much consideration for hurricanes. That was until my partner (originally from NOLA) had his refugee family move in with us in our two bedroom apartment in NYC. The 6 of them loosing a total of three houses, their jobs, two vechicles, and all the baby photos for the last 50 years or so.

    10 of us, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom. Yeah, I’m sick of hearing about the damn levees, the hurricane the government. Im mostly sick of hearing about how victimized they feel. Im sick of Katrina and my pseudo-mother in law’s ass on my couch hoggin the remote to watch Univision.

    So why don’t I send them to Orlando? Its obviously better there, and as far as being sick and tired or hearing about Katrina, you have nuttin over me.



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