Hurricane Katrina

Last Wednesday I wrote a rant destined for this space, I was so saddened and then upset by what was happening in Louisiana. But I let the post sit unpublished, and by the end of the week others were voicing my frustrating much better than I could have. Randy Lander used profanity, Michael Moore raised the National Guard question, and the New York Times criticized the lack of leadership from our President.

It was particularly refreshing to read some of my everyday weblogs and see personal stories. Keith Lango, an animator from Dallas, broke from his usual animation topics to describe what his church was doing to help evacuees.

Last week you could feel the frustration as people wanted to reach out but didn’t know how. Some of Traci’s family in southwestern Louisiana took their boats to New Orleans to help in the rescue effort, but were turned away, despite the call going out earlier for exactly that kind of help.

While leaders were still making promises of troops or doctors or buses two days into the aftermath, MoveOn.org had built a brand new web application for helping shelters and people now homeless to connect with others who are offering spare bedrooms: HurricaneHousing.org. It’s working.

We sent baby stuff to family in Louisiana, gave to the Red Cross, and then yesterday loaded up a bunch of clothes and bedding to take to the central drop-off location here in Austin. Driving down the highway today my eyes searched for the location. We needn’t have worried about missing it. There was a huge line of cars entering to donate, with several police cars and many volunteers directing traffic. Just about every level of the several-story parking garage was loaded with items — bags of clothing, beds, and baby toys stacked high and stretching across the whole area of the garage. It was being sorted pretty well, and it was heart-warming to see that it wasn’t just going to sit there for weeks — some of the most important items, like diapers, bottled water, and suitcases, were already piled up on slats and wrapped up, ready to be picked up by trucks and taken to shelters. A daunting task was slowly being whittled away and you could feel that efforts were paying off.

This disaster will likely rival the World Trade Center in terms of lives lost and damage done. And yet television stations didn’t suspend normal coverage as they did on September 11, nor did advertisers pull ads (unbelievably, we saw several for cruise ships and gas generators). I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, just that the shock took a couple of days to build up rather than the immediacy of an airplane crash. And I’m glad photographers and television crews got in, since this was very hard to visualize otherwise.

There’s going to be a lot of blame thrown around in the coming weeks and months. Some of it justified and some just politics. Personally, I see this as a national security failure. Just a week after the storm hit, protests are already being organized. People are angry.

I’d like to end on an uplifting note, with some message of hope and perseverance, but really, that seems a little naive. Still, great work is being done, and it’s inspiring to see it.