By Ray L Martin
Editor at Large
23 August 2012, 16:31 GMT
“How is care measured in political terms? The distribution of critical resources to vulnerable community in a timely fashion. And in that sense, the folk who are black and white able to take care of themselves are going to do well after the storm. Even though it affected them in a vicious fashion, they were able to gird up their loins and gather their resources and move forward with the good will of their communities. African-American people, and other poor peoples, by the way, are much more vulnerable and therefore less likely to be able to recover in the aftermath. That’s the racial difference that we have to account for.” Michael Eric Dyson
Coming to life over the Bahamas on 23 August 2005 and not quelling until 30 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina and its handling was destined to become one of the most tragic and controversially charged events in recent history. Here is a brief look back on the seventh anniversary of seven days of irrecoverable loss.
In 1859 Louis Hébert, the Louisiana State Engineer noted the inadequacy of the water protection systems of New Orleans during heavy rains. Accordingly, on August 26th 2005, one hundred and forty-six years later, these heavy rains came, and New Orleans’ water protection systems failed in ways unprecedented in US History. By August 31st 2005, 80% of the city was underwater. In the days following, the city was afloat with death, disease and utter destruction – within the confines of a city with a $5.5 billion dollar (£2.25 billion pound) per year tourist economy.
The official death toll stands at around 1,836 US citizens, while 134 remain missing, but other estimates are much higher. The official toll is not inclusive of those legally undocumented or bodies unrecoverable. Buses, planes, helicopters, trains and volunteers were kept from evacuating 134,000 stranded citizens by the US government in one of the richest cities in the United States.
The Bush Administration activated the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) which subsequently acted to deny physicians their rights to perform emergency resuscitation treatments on dying victims; denied federal soldiers clearance to set up mobile hospitals and food shelters; cut off communication lines in the city; pointed guns at the heads of storm victims; denied the help of the Navy, Amtrak and Greyhound to offer transportation for evacuation purposes; and even denied water from Wal-Mart stores.
When Hurricane Betsy hit Louisiana and Florida in 1965, it killed several people in New Orleans, and became the costliest hurricane in US history, raising concerns about the strength of the levees. US congress therefore passed the Flood Control Act of 1965, authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to build a flood protection system. USACE began building the water protection system, due to engineering errors, increased subsidence 8 feet (2.4m), and then the protection system project appeared to be abandoned. The original authorization by FCA projected a 13 year completion, yet the impoverished predominantly Black 9th Ward remained unprotected as the project was between 60-90% complete in 2005.
On August 26th 2005, when the National Weather Service predicted that Hurricane Katrina, would create “human suffering incredible by modern standards”. The mayor, Ray Nagin, did not issue a mandatory evacuation – even though a request for a State of Emergency was engaged on August 27th 2005. Buses, boats and planes were turned away that could have rescued thousands. About 100,000 people were stuffed within the New Orleans Superdome suffering from disease, lack of sanitation and serious risks to their health.
In August 2005, the evacuation procedure for Hurricane Katrina victims was inequitable and unconscionable, affecting both Black and White Americans. However, the intersection between race and class fell predominantly upon the most discriminated economically within the USA – Black Americans.