Every night there is a “family meeting” in the shelter for announcements, feedback, Scripture sharing and prayer. I’d just finished the announcements and feedback and was about to read a short passage before one of the residents led a prayer, but we were interrupted by one of the church volunteers who suggested we should ask if anyone had any “special needs” we could pray for. So we asked, though I was thinking, “Are you kidding me? How can you ask these people if they have ‘special prayer needs?’ And what kind of need counts as special in this crowd anyway? And who’s going to actually word a prayer in response to those kinds of needs?” One man raised his hand and said he didn’t know what had happened to his son or where he was. I asked for a show of hands of everyone who had missing family members – at least 45 out of 50. A woman named Simone led the prayer. She arrived today with her baby. She was air-lifted off a roof. The hundreds of people in her neighbourhood waiting on their roofs directed the helicopter to her house because they new she had an infant. Her other children are in a shelter in Dallas and they’ll be reunited there tomorrow.
Today I’ve heard these words more than once: “This is not a third world country! Why did [the government response] take so long?” 9/11 got day-of response. For Katrina, it was four days later than it could have been. It seemed like Bush’s inspirational and action-galvanizing sound bites didn’t start saturating the airwaves in town today until after they were prepped by about three solid hours of sensational, positive, hope-filled, non-stop rescue reports and video of military trucks bringing in supplies to New Orleans. By now (3:30am Saturday), the emotional roller-coaster has long since come back down. I wonder if America is beginning to realize that our perceived special status – the self-righteous double-standard that assumes we’re made of better stuff than everyone else – is really a delusion. What happens in Africa, Asia, and South America can happen here, too.
In the end, the majority of those still in New Orleans will be rescued. But thousands of people who could have been saved weren’t. During the storm our technology and wealth didn’t protect the people who chose not to heed the pre-storm evacuation orders. And even with all our technology and wealth we didn’t get them out in time after they were trapped by the floods. As truly heroic as efforts of individuals and various organizations have been, at some level this nation failed. In Bush’s words, the current results are “unacceptable.” Many of our residents won’t watch the TV.
I’m left with many questions, and this is one: Does the “unacceptable” nature of peoples’ responses to this disaster reflect our over-reliance and unrealistic expectations of money and technology, or does it reflect on basic flaws in the nature of humanity in America? Perhaps events like this show us – people, Americans – what kind of a people we really are.