Thursday, September 08, 2005

I've been trying for over a week to write an insightful, articulate, well thought out post to express how I've felt over the past week, and I just can't do it. The scope of what happened on the Gulf Coast is unimaginable.

I lived through several hurricanes while I was in North Carolina, the two worst being Fran ('96) and Floyd ('99). Thankfully, I was well inland for these, and even escaped the disastrous flooding from Floyd that put literally half the state underwater. The worst effects on me personally were lots and lots of trees down (but none of them even hit our house or cars) and power outages for almost a week. To me, it was just an inconvenience, sort of an adventure. I was working for the NC Department of Transportation during Floyd, and for a week after the storm I spent 10-hour days helping with the DOT emergency phone bank, answering calls about road closures and how people could get back to their homes. In most cases, especially in the early days, I could give no answer except "You can't get there. All roads are under water." Then, after the flood receded and we (the biologists on the Natural Systems staff at DOT) started up with our normal fieldwork schedule, there were reminders everywhere. Waterlines on houses that had been flooded. Livestock carcasses in roadside ditches. Mud everywhere. Bridges and roads washed out. Trees, fences, house parts, cotton bales, and cars piled up hundreds of feet from the riverbanks. It was a mess. The aftermath of Floyd was one of those major life experiences that stays with you forever.

From what I've seen on TV, this does not even compare to what's happening on the Gulf Coast right now. At no point during these hurricane experiences was I truly afraid for my life. During Fran, I did lie awake and listen to the trees falling, but most of the trees near the house were relatively small, and I think that even if they had fallen on the house we would have been OK. Yes, there was tremendous flooding from Floyd, but once the storm was over the waters began to recede fairly quickly.

New Orleans sits in a bowl below sea level, and with the levees breached and the pumps off, there was simply no way for the water to drain. The stagnant water is a disease breeding ground, and is a soup of toxic chemicals. Think about what's under your kitchen sink and in your garage and multiply that by a city's worth. Then add in all the industrial chemicals that were washed out, gas and oil from broken cars and gas stations, and raw sewage. Not something I'd want to wade waist-deep through. The pumps are back on now, and the city's starting to drain, but think about where that toxic soup is going. Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. It's not gone, just relocated. This is not only a human and financial disaster, it’s an environmental one.

I’ve watched a bit of the coverage on TV, but I can’t watch too much. It just tears me up. I see people who’ve lost loved ones or still don’t know where they are, families made homeless, children separated from their parents, family pets roaming the streets or balancing on rooftops because their owners weren’t allowed to take them to the shelters or on the bus when they were evacuated. Entire towns just gone. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) of lives completely disrupted or cut short.

I know that it will be possible for the survivors to put their lives back together, in some form or another, but it breaks my heart to think that they are in this situation at all. Many of them have lost everything- family heirlooms, photos, documents… EVERYTHING.

Even those whose families are still together will be a very long time recovering from this.

Then I think about my life. I have a husband who loves me. I have a beautiful nearly-two-year-old daughter. I have a cuddly cat and dog. I know where all these members of my family are this very second. I have health insurance. I have a house. I have food anytime I am hungry and clean water any time I’m thirsty. I have a job. I have a car. I have books to read and the materials for the hobbies that provide enjoyment.

Then there’s the larger scale. I can walk outside without fear of being shot or raped. I do not live in a war zone, a poverty stricken village, or under a repressive government. I feel safe. That is a precious gift, one I too often take for granted. I have so much, we all have so much, and it behooves us to remember that.

So I think about these things, while I crochet my doily, knit my lace scarf, spin some yarn. I continue to do these things not because I don't care or don't appreciate the tragedy, but to keep my fingers busy and my mind occupied.


Anonymous said...

So eloquent. I know what you mean about not watching, I just can't if I do I cry and then I want to rage. It is very sad and upsetting.

Liz said...

Very eloquently said, Sue.