I am a Californian. I have lived through earthquakes, brush fires, storms and the resulting flooding that comes with them.
I have an earthquake kit, fully stocked. Every year I faithfully restock it and make sure everything is there — medications, water, food for the dog, kids, T and me. I have been trained from childhood not to expect help to come after a major earthquake for 5-7 days.
The comfort in having the kit is the knowledge that even if help is not on the way, I can take care of the basics until it does come. We may not be comfortable and it will be scary, but we will survive.
What devastates me about this Katrina disaster and particularly the aftermath in New Orleans is that if I were there and had prepared accordingly, there would be nothing that I could do or change or make better and no guarantee that I would even survive until help came.
In California, we all drive. If we don’t, we know someone who does. We could pile everyone in the car and run from the hurricane with our supplies and our dog and our friends and know that we’d be okay. How do you do it when you don’t drive, don’t have friends who drive, don’t have anyone to go to outside of the city and no prospect for shelter, you prepare but your preparations are washed away in the storm surge or the backwash of a broken levee? How do you do it if you have no money for the gas to get out of town?
For all of our preparedness here, we are arrogant Californians. Despite the promise that the “Big One” will arrive and leave us without homes, freeways, cell phones, cash and other amenities, we prepare halfheartedly as if we are making a sacrifice to the earthquake god in order to prove the doomsday-callers wrong year after year after year. We don’t really believe (despite the Northridge earthquake, which was a baby compared to what San Andreas could drop on us…) that it will be as bad as they say, that we could be living in a state without…anything. Can it be far-fetched to think that those who did not evacuate New Orleans also hoped that the doomsday-callers were exaggerating?
I am afraid for the people who still remain. Afraid that if they survive this at all, they will wish they hadn’t, because they have no jobs, no money, no home and no resources. I am afraid that a year from now they will be stricken with illness as a result of their continued exposure to contaminated water, infected mosquitos, rotting bodies, unrelenting heat and humidity.
There will be some who will rise above the obstacles and be not just survivors, but victors. There will be others whose lives will be so unalterably changed that they will not move past it. Those are the ones who concern me — the dispossessed, the poor, the ones without families, those on society’s fringe who had nothing before and surely have nothing now. What made them decide to stay? Perhaps the relative safety of choosing the known over the unknown, or perhaps they were shaking their fist at the doomsday-callers.
I so hope for rapid relief for them, for an entire collection of three small states in our Union of fifty who now know unimaginable devastation, pain and suffering.
If something good comes from this, let it be that we learn ways to be prepared, to trust the authorities who tell us to get the hell out and help us get out, to better care for those who don’t have the resources or wherewithal to be prepared themselves, ways to survive and be victors in the face of overwhelming natural forces.
Give, give, give. Give all you can. Give clean underwear and money and time and blood. Blog today, September 1st, for the charity of your choice. You can list your blog here. My favorite links are on the side and you can find a list of resources on WebMD’s pages covering the hurricane’s aftermath. Help those people, because they have no one else to lean on but compassionate fellow citizens.
Update: This is really happening 9/2, not 9/1 as I originally wrote