David Rodeback's Blog

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Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Katrina and Contrasts

I don't usually blog five days in a row, but I did last week. The last two had some buckshot in them: "Evil People Doing Evil Things" and "Price Controls Are a Stupid Idea." I almost blogged again over the long weekend, but I decided to step back and watch things for a while, do some grilling, finish some yard work, go fishing, work on my wife's campaign for city council, and take a Labor Day nap.

In the interim, the water level in New Orleans has begun to drop, but the level of bitter, mostly partisan rhetoric and finger-pointing has not. We've heard more of the good stories, but also more about alleged failures at every level of government. The price of gasoline has not yet hit $3.00 in my town - another dime to go - but the Utah Department of Commerce is supposedly contemplating a price ceiling. (If they're serious, rather than simply going through the motions to placate the majority of Utahans who never bothered to learn basic economics, perhaps they should be encouraged to find another profession.) Meanwhile, some friends in American Fork have found several missing family members who lived in New Orleans and are about to take them in, but tens of thousands are still wondering about or mourning the fate of their loved ones.

I'm also getting almost-daily electronic reports from a friend the Red Cross has sent from his home in New York to Louisiana. He's currently working in a large Red Cross shelter at Baton Rouge, where he reports that nearly all the refugees are grateful and gracious. Inevitably, two or three think they are important enough that they shouldn't be inconvenienced like everyone else. One fellow complained about having to sleep on a cot without a blanket; he was gently told that Red Cross volunteers were sleeping on the floor, without blankets, between their 12-to-20-hour shifts.

During my self-imposed blogging moratorium, I've been pondering contrasts.

Here's one: I was almost twelve and living in southeast Idaho, within three or four miles of the Snake River, when the Teton Dam broke in June 1976. The water from a relatively small reservoir practically washed away some communities, including Sugar City, Idaho, and wrought havoc for about a hundred miles downstream, until the floodwaters were absorbed in the American Falls Reservoir. Thousands of homes and businesses were flooded, and some were simply carried away. Large tracts of valuable farmland had feet of topsoil washed away, exposing the bedrock. This was a smaller disaster, affecting fewer people than hurricane Katrina. But it was big enough.

My family was fortunate. Water came within half a mile of us, with the help of a broken canal bank, but the biggest, nearest canal remained intact. Still, there was destruction all around us, and, in some cases, recovery took a long time. I remember several things vividly: We didn't shoot at rescuers or loot local businesses and homes. We didn't wait for the government to take care of the victims. Local officials didn't hesitate to order evacuation, and precious few resisted that order.

Here's another: I was a missionary in western New York in 1985, when line of about 200 tornadoes cut a swath one evening from Pittsburgh to Toronto. I was sent the next day to the small town of Kane, Pennsylvania, where there was great destruction, to help with relief efforts. This, too, was disaster on a smaller scale than Katrina, though more sudden. Many homes were damaged or destroyed in that locale, among others. I walked along one street in Kane where a row of homes was sliding down into a ravine. Some of the people who had lived in those homes were distraught, some were philosophical, some were grateful, and some even treated the situation with humor. But no one shot at me, and I didn't hear anyone blaming the President of the United States. Lest you dismiss this as just an isolated touchdown by a tornado - actually, 200 tornadoes - I note that for many miles, the trees on the hills on either side of the Allegheny River valley were mowed off at ten or twenty feet above the ground, as if by a giant lawnmower.

And another: Four years ago Sunday, I watched with the rest of the world as Lower Manhattan, among other places, became a war zone. I don't recall hearing reports of anyone shooting at the rescuers there, and I didn't hear Mayor Giuliani throw angry tantrums and blame higher levels of government. He, at least, understood that the first government response to disaster is necessarily a local response. And I'm pretty sure that when New York City policemen saw the World Trade Center burning and understood the peril to their own lives, they courageously did their jobs anyway, instead of turning in their badges en masse as we saw last week in New Orleans.

You might be quick to insist that Katrina is a different disaster on a different scale. Different, indeed - and that is my point.

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