I have read more about Katrina than I usually do news stories. It fascinates me. The tragedy has spurred some wonderful writing, among them this from the New York Times:
That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week’s hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
Welcome to New Orleans in the post-apocalypse, half baked and half deluged: pestilent, eerie, unnaturally quiet.
Scraggly residents emerge from waterlogged wood to say strange things, and then return into the rot. Cars drive the wrong way on the Interstate and no one cares. Fires burn, dogs scavenge, and old signs from les bons temps have been replaced with hand-scrawled threats that looters will be shot dead.
The incomprehensible has become so routine here that it tends to lull you into acceptance. On Sunday, for example, several soldiers on Jefferson Highway had guns aimed at the heads of several prostrate men suspected of breaking into an electronics store.
A car pulled right up to this tense scene and the driver leaned out his window to ask a soldier a question: “Hey, how do you get to the interstate?”
>snip< Here, then, the New Orleans of today, where open fire hydrants gush the last thing needed on these streets; where one of the many gag-inducing smells – that of rancid meat – is better than MapQuest in pinpointing the presence of a market; and where images of irony beg to be noticed. >snip< On Clouet Street, where a days-old fire continues to burn where a warehouse once stood, a man on a bicycle wheels up through the smoke to introduce himself as Strangebone. The nights without power or water have been tough, especially since the police took away the gun he was carrying – “They beat me and threatened to kill me,” he says – but there are benefits to this new world. “You’re able to see the stars,” he says. “It’s wonderful.” >snip<
Meanwhile, back downtown, the shadows of another evening crept like spilled black water over someone’s corpse.
What I like about the story is the fact that this hurricane has been a great leveler. Not in the sense that the rich were left behind to grovel with the poor, as that certainly is not the case, but that when push comes to shove, all countries deal with disaster in the same way. When something comes along to shake the foundations of a social structure, no matter where you live, there will be looting, starvation, disease, anarchy, and death.
Another article from yahoo, deals with a Belizean family who don’t want to leave their home in New Orleans. After weathering the worst of it, they just as soon stay put.
“Americans have too much easy life, so when hardship come around, they can’t take it,” she told Reuters with a smile as she sat beside a canoe full of plantains and other produce.
These and other stories remind me of something I read in the Bible about the Meek Inheriting the Earth. The social structure in New Orleans has turned upside down. The people at the bottom of the pyramid are better equipped to cope with life in a disaster area.
I like the poetic justice of it all. Here we are, the richest country in the world, happily bombing Iraq into smithereens and here comes this hurricane and devastates a beloved city. And then, before you know it, there are corpses lying in the streets for days. Yet some of the people left behind are able to see peace and beauty in the silence and in the dark.