As I walked my dogs through Coconut Grove this morning, I marveled at the difference in my neighborhood from a week ago when we awoke the morning after Hurricane Katrina whacked us — hard. Gone were the downed trees, the downed powerlines, the masses of tree limbs, leaves and chunks of debris that littered and blocked the streets. Gone was the eerie silence, replaced by humming air conditioners, traffic noise, birds singing.
Although some scars are permanent — the canopy is shot to hell and huge 80-year-old trees that shaded our streets were lost — the huge piles of storm debris are gone, including the 20-foot-long, five-foot-high one in front of my house. Looking around this morning, it’s almost possible to forget the stunned sense of bewilderment, emotional exhaustion and loss with which I greeted the dawn last Friday.
Then there’s New Orleans. While I went without electricity for five days, I cannot begin to fathom the suffering of the folks caught in the hell hole that was New Orleans. Though it took me three days to clear my yard and make repairs, I cannot begin to fathom the sense of loss of people in Gulfport and Biloxi whose houses and all their possessions are simply gone. Though I had no ice for my Gatorade or scotch, I was never without water or food.
Prior to Katrina’s making landfall in Florida, a massive support system had been mobilized. Florida Power & Light brought in 6,000 repair workers from neighboring states, including Lousisiana. By Saturday morning, ice and water were being delivered to Homestead, 30 miles south of Miami, near the tip end of the state. While over 800,000 people were without power Friday morning, by Monday all but 90,000 had their electricity restored.
Granted, Katrina was a borderline Category 2 when it rumbled through my neighborhood with winds just under 100 mph, and it was a Cat 4 when it hit the Gulf coast. But where was the preparation? Where was the emergency management? It’s not like we didn’t know where the hurricane was heading, when it would hit and what were the likely landfalls. So why did it take so long to get help to the people?
Maybe it’s a matter of practice. I mean, after all, Florida dealt with four hurricanes last year and one early this summer. And as much as I personally think Jeb Bush is one of the worst governors Florida has had (and that’s saying something), he does recognize the realities of emergency preparedness and response, and he communicates and he gets stuff done.
Chalk the misfortunes of the residents of the Gulf coast up to bad luck compounded by incompetence. I think the folks in New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama were just damned unlucky to get hit with a Category 4 hurricane on Ray Nagin’s, Kathleen Blanco’s and George Bush’s watch. Now, it seems, they’re just damned.