Thursday, September 01, 2005



This report from New Orleans by Julian Borger of the Guardian is brutal reading.
Most people had heard that there was a plan to bring buses into New Orleans and evacuate people from the Superdome, the huge arena whose badly tarnished gold roof loomed over the intersection. Salvation seemed so close. It was only a hundred yards away, but surrounded, like some brooding castle, by its own moat of deep floodwater.

Elisha James had spent the night in the lobby of a rundown block of flats calling itself the Plaza Towers. Along with her boyfriend and his seven-year-old daughter, they had been trying to get to the Superdome since 5am, but were turned back by police manning checkpoints, who told them it was too dangerous.

"The police said you were on your own," Ms James said. "If you're not in the Superdome, you're on your own."

After sitting out Hurricane Katrina, she and her small family had fled from her mother's house when the waters began to rise on Tuesday evening. They had no water and little food left.

Ms James, like most of the people left on the streets, felt she had been forsaken by whoever was in charge. There was talk of rescue efforts, but no one had come for her. "We made a fire in the night so they could see us, but they went past us several times," she complained. "We saw seven or eight trucks, and most had no one on them."

A SWAT team drives past flood victims waiting for rescue in New Orleans. (AP)

As if to illustrate her point, a convoy of six military lorries drove by at that moment, their drivers looking straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge the entreaties of those left on the pavement. They were empty, apart from some cardboard boxes of water bottles. Their high, thick wheels kicked up water on both sides.

"There are people who've been sleeping here for two nights now," she said, pointing to a Greyhound bus station that had become a makeshift shelter for the desperate.

Then she pointed up to a multi-storey carpark and cried: "A lady went into labour up there and no one came. We could hear the screams."

She and her small knot of dependants moved on as the day got hotter and stickier. A police helicopter had landed on a dry car park nearby and a murmur went round that perhaps something was about to happen. But it took off again and the Superdome looked as far away as ever.
You know, having read about the Great Depression and the Hoovervilles of refugees, I don't think I could ever comprehend it until now. This isn't some prediction that the Katrina refugees are going to move up to Washington -- please don't mistake this for that. On the other hand, the three lead headlines on the Washington Post website yesterday were about (1) the Katrina disaster (2) the awful deadly stampede in Iraq and (3) Bush's approval numbers being at the lowest they've ever been. There are tens of thousands of people who will not be able to return to their homes for months. There are probably thousands who have nothing to speak of to return to. This is quite literally unlike anything that's happened in the U.S. in my lifetime. Furthermore it's happened at a time of increased political and economic tension. So the idea of shanty-towns on the Potomac no longer seems inconceivable to me.

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