There IS no comparison. Yes, the fires are terrible and my heart goes out to every person who has lost their property or worse yet, their life as a consequence. But you simply cannot continue this absurd comparison to Hurricane Katrina, nor should you allow the politicians to use this disaster as evidence that they’ve learned their lessons. Here’s why:
- Californians are no stranger to major disasters – This is the land of earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. These fires are terrible, no question. But we do have terrible brush fires here in California all the time and the areas affected by these are no stranger to fire or mudslides, which will be the next big disaster to happen if we don’t have an earthquake first. Because of our experience with natural disasters, most Californians are careful to keep their homeowners’ insurance up to date, their coverage current, and take steps to plan for the possibility of evacuation.
- California is a mobile state – You’ve seen lots of coverage about the number of evacuees and in particular, the evacuation to Qualcomm Stadium in the San Diego area. You media folks are being meticulous about reporting that there are plenty of supplies, lots of support workers on hand, etc. That is a fact, and I’m sure the folks at Qualcomm Stadium appreciate it. But keep in mind, there are just a mere handful of the total number evacuated there. Most Californians, when faced with the possibility of evacuation, hop in their cars and GO. Where they end up is less important than GOING, which is precisely what they did. When they went, they got on one of the zillion freeways here in the state and found somewhere away from the fires to be, either with friends, family, a hotel, or as a last resort, Qualcomm Stadium.
Unlike New Orleans, where there was basically one way in and one way out, there are many, many different ways to get out and Californians know what they are and how to do it. In fact, those folks that live in the fire zones have plans for how they’re going to get out if they should be evacuated. So yes, there were displaced families, but not displaced familes with nowhere to go and no way to get there. We are a state full of cars. If someone didn’t have a car for whatever reason, someone else did, and gave those people a ride. We are KNOWN for our addiction to our cars, folks. Cars and freeways.
Katrina victims, on the other hand, couldn’t even get rescued. They were completely isolated from emergency resources while their city drowned in a pool of mucky water and black mold, while the Feds twiddled their thumbs and did absolutely NOTHING. It’s little comfort to think that California is being cared for when they consider what happened in THEIR city.
- With a couple of exceptions, the affected areas are in exclusive, high income areas. Hurricane Katrina took the hardest toll on people who lived in the city, who were not well-to-do, and who were mostly lower-income to middle-income families. Malibu, as everyone knows, is home to stars and moguls. The San Diego area on fire is not as affluent, but certainly still on the upper-middle income class plane. The Santa Clarita area is another area that’s upper-middle income for the most part. These are family homes which are well-insured in areas with known risks. Furthermore, the disaster which is befalling them is FIRE, which is covered on their homeowners’ insurance policies. Many of Katrina’s victims, if they owned a home, discovered that insurance didn’t cover the damage to their homes, leaving them destitute and penniless. About the only area affected by fires that might have a demographic even a little bit similar to the Katrina victims is Riverside, which firefighters are desperately trying to save from any property loss as I write.
- The Stupidest Reason Ever: Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor. Yeah, it’s a stupid reason but you know, in the world of politics it matters. Simple political reality: Arnold has a louder and more forceful voice than Louisiana’s governor did. And he’s not afraid to use it and to pull fundraising strings accordingly. It doesn’t hurt to remember that San Diego and Orange Counties also happen to be Republican strongholds with lots of influence in the Bush administration. They have a voice, something that the Katrina folks didn’t. And when it comes to George Bush, the ones to be heard are the ones who support him, not those ‘others’.
Every time I’ve heard some politician or reporter make the point that FEMA is ready, unlike during Hurricane Katrina, or that Bush is coming to SoCa to see the affected areas with his own eyes (note — if he stops in Malibu it’ll be because Air Force One landed at Mugu), or that the Qualcomm evacuees have everything they need, I can’t help but cringe, because it minimizes the devastation that went on in New Orleans and tries to obfuscate the fact that New Orleans is not rebuilt, levees are not shored up in a way to prevent another disaster like that, and many, many people lost everything as a result of intentional political apathy and neglect. Worse yet, the effort to restore them has been half-hearted and laden with obstacle after obstacle. The media should not let the politicians off the hook for Katrina by trumpeting what they’re doing in California. There’s just no comparison.
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