9:56 a.m. - 2005-09-05
Everyone has said their piece, everyone knows it was a tragedy, everyone is absolutely floored by the devastation. I didn't think I had anything new and different to say. However, when I started thinking about the questions people were asking, the "why didn't they leave?"...my imagination started to kick into overdrive.
What would make someone stay? Why, when they knew it was going to hit, when they knew the potential for disaster was there, did they not leave? Of course, some people had no way to get out. But some did...and they chose not to.
Think about it. You have worked your whole life to have things. Your house, your cars, your pets. There are things that cannot be replaced.
I grew up in Houston, which is on the Gulf Coast. When I was 9, Hurricane Alicia hit. It was only a Category 3. The newscasters told people in Galveston to evacuate. They told people in Houston to evacuate.
My father was at a conference at a hotel downtown, and he asked my mother, brother and I to join him. The hotel was not any safer than our house. Actually, since it had huge picture windows, it was probably less safe. But my dad wanted the family to be together.
I remember eating in the hotel restaurant by candlelight. I remember that they served asparagus, and I thought it was nasty. I remember drifting in and out of sleep on a mattress my parents had dragged to the little nook by the bathroom, so my brother and I would be as far away from the windows as possible. I remember the rain and the wind and waking up to see trees bent in half, silhouetted by lightning flashes. And I remember going home...I remember the streets glittering with broken glass. I remember walking into our backyard to find it filled with branches and leaves and dirt and debris.
And then there was the news footage...the people on the coast whose houses had vanished. And the interviews with the people, asking why they stayed. The people said that they didn't think it would be as bad as it was. They also said that they did not want to abandon everything they had worked for.
And I'm sure that some of the people in New Orleans felt the same way. They didn't want to just walk away from their lives, not knowing if there would be anything left to come home to. They had lived in Hurricane Alley their whole lives, had seen any number of storms, and hoped against hope that the predictions of the apocalypse would be an exaggeration.
Then, those who did evacuate, who did go to the places they were told to go, were ignored. Imagine that you know your house is gone, your car is gone, your pets may be gone. You have lost everything but the clothes on your back. You are in shock, you are hot, you are dirty, you are hungry. You have never been in a more stressful situation.
And people wonder why there is violence, and looting? I know that, if I lost everything, I would be afraid...but I would also be angry. The anger would not be rational, and it would not have a logical target. But at this point, people are beyond logic, beyond rationality, so they lash out at what is convenient...their fellow survivors.
None of what has happened is right. Not the delay in response, not the failure to repair levees that the government knew would not withstand the storm, not the violence, not the looting. However, I don't think anyone who was not there, was not in the midst of the horror, can remotely pass judgment on anyone who lived through it. Until you have lost everything you have, how can you know what you would do? How can you know you wouldn't be grabbing on to anything that might help you start over, no matter how insane it might look to the rest of the world?
You cannot know. All you can do is help to pick up the pieces.