"the best post on the subject [of the Stockwell shooting] so far and I agree. A must read." - Tim Worstall, August 21, 2005

"Chris at Optimus In Omnis wrote a thoughtful post in July...his more recent post describes the edginess many Londoners feel" - BBC News Online, August 22, 2005

Friday, September 02, 2005

Five days after disaster, aid wagons roll

The most far-reaching point of the Asian Tsunami at the back end of 2004 had a faster response than this.

Five days after the waters crushed several points in Asia, American help had extended to the most unknown towns in the most unknown countries. Five days after the Gulf Coast was flattened, only the very first shipments of aid packages, food, and water tentatively waded their way through the waters in New Orleans, heading for the completely forgotten refugees that made their home at the Convention Centre in downtown New Orleans. This is only the start of the aid operation, we are told. Nine months ago, the smallest hamlets in southern Asia were feeling the benefits of the first aid drops. Towns such as Gulfport and Slidell still remain untouched by FEMA officers.

The United States have been inundated with offers of aid from foreign countries, with the strangest bedfellows stepping forward to offer their services to George Bush, who, much maligned over the past five days, is desperately trying to make up for lost time spent at his ranch in Crawford, TX. The usual suspects are there, giving aid: Russia, Great Britain, Germany and the likes, but it is the most unusual sources that show the extent to which this natural disaster, and the fallout of it, has touched the hearts of the world. Taiwan has stepped forward, offering three Chinooks and 38 servicemen to help deliver food and water to those who have gone without any staples of life since their homes and possessions were swept away in several feet of water, much of which still lies stagnant over their homes, now concrete and wooden shells. Most touchingly, Sri Lanka, a country plauged by debt who rely on aid from other countries to keep their population alive, offered all they could: $25,000 to the American Red Cross. While this may be little more than a tiny crack in the towering concrete wall of $15billion to rebuild and repair the Big Easy, it is something.

As of yet, the United States have refused all offers of help. President Bush made a short stop-off at Biloxi, MS, but will not make a visit to New Orleans, instead choosing to view the destruction in the second city of Louisiana from the immunity of Air Force One.

President Bush will see the charred remnants of a chemical fire in the Railway Quarter of New Orleans, opposite the French Quarter, separated by the Mississippi River. That fire raged for several hours without a single fire truck being sent to the scene: those in the emergency services are too busy trying to tend to the starving, hungry, gun-toting crowds that have been abandoned because they could not afford to escape what quickly became a oversized lake.

The average annual income of an Afro-American family living in the state of Louisiana is just $11,000. The majority of those still stuck in the city are of African-American descent, and it is not a coincidence that the two figures are interlinked.

Another fire still burns, in the Financial District, which started at midday local time.

Those who managed to escape the burning, flooded city were not granted a reprieve from the immense stress they have felt over the past five days, however. Upon arriving at Houston, TX, having been bussed across the state line, they found that the Houston Astrodome was filled to capacity, and had been since late last night. Still the buses came, piling yet more people onto the tarmac outside the giant stadium. Some were relieved to just be out of the state of Louisiana. Others were still angry.

With some refugees now outside the confines of the Superdome, a clearer picture of what occured inside the concrete superstructure began to form. Feces littered the floor of the Superdome, and the story of the child raped in the Superdome was confirmed, and clarified further. She was just seven years old, and the man who molested her in the bathrooms of the dome was arrested. White English tourists have been taunted by the overwhelmingly large black population inside the arena; they took the first opportunity to escape to a nearby shopping mall before being put onto the Greyhound buses and taken to the Astrodome.

Those that cannot fit into the decomissioned stadium in Houston are being placed in the nearby Reliant Centre. When that is filled, people will be bussed to other areas of Texas. People who have settled into the Astrodome are now seeking loved ones who they have been separated from, and some are even buying newspapers to find a job, to try and earn a wage to feed their family. Evidently these people foresee a long wait before they will be able to return to their home state and try and salvage a life from the wreckage of their homes and workplaces.

A refugee at the New Orleans Convention Centre, overlooked by the authorities and denied to be holding any people until this afternoon by FEMA, described the situation as "a genocide." National Guard troops have entered the city with supplies and one of their first stops is the Convention Centre to deliver food and water to those that have been ignored by the same people that advised them that this would be a place of support. These troops have been ordered by the Washington commander put in charge of tightening up the morality of the city to keep their guns low: now that the Capitol has become embroiled in the situation, they dread the thought that these troops, veterans of Iraq, display in any way the same sort of manners that befell the citizens of the invaded country.

Ray Nagin, New Orleans mayor, is furious at the long-standing inaction and current attempts, which he sees as too little, too late. Talking to WWL radio last night, he spoke about the statement issued by Washington yesterday saying that help had arrived: "my answer to that is 'B.S'." He said that he "needs troops man, I need buses" to take away the stranded Louisianians caught up in "a national disaster...this is crazy!"

In the most obvious sign of ineptitude and misorganisation, the sick of New Orleans have been left high and dry by those organising the rescue efforts. At one hospital, over 100 patients were carried out onto the tarmac surrounding the building, waiting for a helicopter to constantly come to and fro, airlifting them to safety. No such helicopter arrived. Charity Hospital did manage to transport patients to Louis Armstrong Airport yesterday, the base for all medical operations in New Orleans. Upon arrival, they were told they were not wanted. In an interview on television this morning, staff at the airport said they were willing to accept the patients from Charity Hospital. No-one knew how to get in touch with the hospital to inform them that they could, in fact, bring patients back to the airport. No-one knew whether they would get the most rare of things in New Orleans on this fifth day of the disaster: a bus travelling out of the centre of the city.


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