RENEWED FAITH IN HUMANITY
Posted: Wednesday, September 28 at 02:15 pm CT by Bob Sullivan
Swamp boat driver Carlos Robicheaux didn't lose his home in Hurricane Rita. But 48 hours after landfall, he spent an entire day shuttling people out and back to Cameron, where Rita's wrath was worst.
There were some signs of normalcy in the midst of the chaos that engulfed southwest Louisiana. On Monday, just a stone’s throw from flooded out homes south of sweet lake, a tugboat – ironically enough the St. Andrew, based out of the Port of New Orleans – pushes barges down the Intercoastal Waterway. (Bob Sullivan / MSNBC.com)
He felt a need to see things for himself. It's a spirit I'd wish for anyone. After Sept. 11, I felt a compulsive urge to visit Ground Zero as soon as possible, knowing TV cameras could never do justice to the scene. It was true; the destruction is so much more vast in person, so much more chilling, and well, so much more real.
In some ways, it’s even more true of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, where the destruction spans hundreds of miles. We've tried to bring the pictures, tales, and stories to you. But those are tiny windows into this vast cataclysm. No one can really tell you how it feels to see household appliances and furniture floating for as far as the eye can see. How tilted the world looks when every tree left standing is pointing hard to the left or right. What the smell of death does to your thoughts, and to your heart. If there's any chance to do so without adding to the problems of the people in the area, I'd urge everyone who can to see the hurricane zone for themselves.
Just as it is good for the heart to see the world's most beautiful places, I think it is good for the soul to see what an angry Mother Nature can do, and how fragile our world really is. It is heavy, it is heartbreaking. But it is real. This way, you will know exactly why you're writing those checks to the Red Cross and other organizations.
And if you are in a position to go down there and help, my message stands doubled. There is much grace to be won by actually touching, seeing, and smelling what's down there and hugging the people for yourself. I think you’d be surprised at how inspiring the place is. Huey Mhire's stoic nobility in facing his destroyed home can only leave you with a "How can I complain about my life?" lesson. The miracle of Bill Harris, who was saved from drowning by his cat, is enough to save even the heaviest heart from despair. Tales like those are not a novelty on the Gulf Coast; they are the norm. As my colleague Brian Williams said, everyone here is a story. In the elevator, in the airport, at the gas station, the stories are everywhere. And many stories, I've found, are redeeming.
Being there changed me, like it will change everyone. I have an uneasy sense right now as I look at the forests of tall pine trees at home near Seattle. They all look like weapons to me, I've seen so many trees lying atop crushed homes. And, like Andrew, I suspect I will never let my gas tank go below 1/2 empty again.
But if you go, you will be taken care of. The incessant offers we received of food, water, shelter, even a gun if we needed it, speak to the incredible outpouring of caring and generosity to be found there. Why is it that people who have the least give the most? Andrew told me his two trips to the region actually renewed his faith in humanity.
As we leave, I'm sorry there are so many questions left -- questions I hope we can answer by both traditional reporting and blogging as we go forward. The most important: Why did people die in Katrina and its aftermath? Because the help was late, because the politics were jealous, because the gas ran dry, or because people wouldn't leave their pets at home, afraid they’d be turned away? A full accounting is required, that's the only way to ensure real change.
But there are other questions. Is it FEMA's job to provide gas to evacuating masses? Why are small towns begging for gas and diesel when the president's motorcade can drop in from the sky? Are we willing to invest in America's infrastructure -- better levees, reinforced bridges, and even mass transportation for cities around the country -- to prepare for the next Katrina before it happens?
Or, a few months from now, will we descend into political backbiting, tune back into Reality TV shows, and forget all about the reality facing the Huey Mhires of the region. That would not only be a tragedy for them; it would be a tragedy for us -- for our humanity, and ultimately for our own safety. Because the only guarantee that can be made today is that another Katrina will certainly come. Will we be ready?
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