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The poor and the sick come last

The extremely talented R. Neal (“the artist formerly known as South Knox Bubba”) is guest blogging at Facing South, and his posts on Katrina have been kicking major booty. Check them out.

His latest observation really hits home — government officials, even in New Orleans, have had plenty of time to prepare for this disaster, but their contempt for the folks at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain got in the way of common sense.

Almost exactly one year ago, the Facing South newsletter had this article by Mike Davis.:

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond’s version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less — mainly Black — were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city’s poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean’s daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the “large groups – mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods” who wanted to evacuate but couldn’t.

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

This was about Hurricane Ivan. It would seem a year later that lessons were not learned.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding