September 19, 2005

Report from Hurricane Zone: The Unavoidable Tragedy

As some of you know, I spent the weekend down in the Gulf helping victims of hurricane Katrina. The area I was in was about 45 miles inland from the coast, so I'm sure that I did not see the worst of it. But after seeing the devestation of the storm, I think I am now in a better position to comment on the grand-standing and finger-pointing of politicians and of pundits alike: you are all full of an enormous amount of bullshit.

The biggest bullshit coming from partisans on the Left, trying to blame the federal government, and partisans on the Right, trying to blame local governments, is that the response was somehow too slow. Let me briefly explain.

Nearly a hundred miles inland I began to see downed trees. By the time we approached about the sixty mile mark from the coast (we were driving from Jackson, Mississipi, towards the coast--so, say 20 miles outside of Hattiesburg) it became worse. Much worse.

Downed trees lined the road. I presume that the majority of them were blown across the highway during the hurricane. They had been roughly cut and then dragged to the side of the road, . Hundreds of them. No, thousands of them.

Each tree had to be moved just to let traffic flow. Every. Single. One. For mile upon mile upon mile. For hundreds of miles. In every direction. This takes time.

And as lanes were cleared and highways opened, trucks and supplies had to move into the zone at the same time as hundreds of thousands of people were trying to move out.

If getting people out of the zone of destruction was a logistical nightmare, getting relief in was an equally daunting task.

Now imagine that same task, and add on severe flooding. Also, you don't know how deep the water is between point A and point B. Difficult under any circumstances, nearly impossible when such a large area was affected.

I spent most of Saturday and Sunday cutting trees off of people's roofs, sheds, and dog pens. By the time we got to their houses most of the trees had been cut out of the roads and driveways, but this took some time depending on a lot of factors.

One man had at least 20 trees (or more) in his driveway. Big trees. After several days of cutting and dragging he gave up. He finally resorted to tearing down a fence and using his neighbors side yard as a temporary driveway.

Repeat that same story, or one very much like it, a thousand times, and ten thousand times, and a hundred thousand times. Now you begin to see the task at hand. Now you begin to see the problem with blaming any single individual or any single level of government.

If you wish to live in a country that is equipped to handle a disaster of this scale, with no hitches, with no difficulties, and with no casualties, you are wishing for a state the size of which could only be rivaled by the Soviet Union. And even then, such a state would be ill prepared to handle the situation. There are simply too many variables to plan for, too many unkowns, and too many offsetting priorities.

Could some of what happened in, say, New Orleans have been averted had public transportation been provided to evacuate the poor and infirm? Absolutely.

Could the nightmare conditions that arose in the days after the hurricane and flooding have been averted? No way, no how.

To say you know what should have been done now, after the fact, is to say you know the end from the beginning. It is a lot like solving a fourth-grade maze puzzle by drawing backwards from the ending point. You may feel like you beat the puzzle, but in reality you just cheated. And in life, since time only flows in one direction, you must take on each turn without quite knowing if that particular path will get you to the end.

You do not know everything. You cannot solve every problem immediately. You are not a genius because you now know what should have done then.

Natural disasters happen. People die because other people are imperfect and incapable of handling tragedies of enormous magnitude. But all people are imperfect, and no one is up to a task of this size. Replace politicians A with politician B and they may not make the same mistakes, but they certainly will make different ones.

It's time for Republicans to stop pointng fingers at local Democrats, and it's time for Democrats to stop pointing finger at Republicans in the federal government. Just shut up. All of you.

If you must blame someone, blame it on everyone. We all share the single trait that could have averted this tragedy: omnipotence.

Now excuse me while I take the rest of the day to lick my wounds, attend to sore muscles, and enjoy what many in the disaster zone are still cut off from: air-conditioning. Sweet, blessed air-conditioning.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 07:53 PM | Comments |