In the spring of 2007, I visited New Orleans which at that time, was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded a good part of neighbourhoods who were so unfortunate as to be under the level of Lake Pontchartain, which sits directly north. Actually, the flooding mainly affected the lowest sections of the city, both literally and socially. No section was more devastated than the 9th ward, which at more than 10 feet under lake level, was essentially washed away.
Although I’d arrived some 18 months after the storm, you might be fooled into thinking it had happened the week previous. One very sunny afternoon I decided to take a stroll, by myself, through the 9th. The ward appeared as though an atom bomb had been dropped, with entire streets marked by concrete pads from which houses once stood. Dotted here and there were houses that managed to stay standing, but most had been abandoned. The big red numbers spray painted on the front indicating the number of human bodies that were found inside, were still painfully visible.
What happened to New Orleans wasn’t only an indictment of the sad state of affairs within the then George W. Bush Administration, with unqualified cronies like Micheal Brown running the rescue show. It was an indictment of the indifference response in America to devastated communities. The people who had their homes swept away, poor, mainly African American, were simply forgotten. Many were bussed to Texas, where they became somebody else’s problem.
The mistakes, the bumbling and the institutional prejudices which left 10s of thousands holding the bag in The Big Easy was one of the great American scandals of the 2000s. A kind of event so traumatic to a region that you’d have thought “never again.”
10 years later, we find ourselves right back in that place with the situation in Puerto Rico, which was devastated last week by Hurricane Maria. The night after Maria hit, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was giving her assessment of the situation which ought to have raised a million red flags of concern in Washington:
The response from the Trump Administration however, was indifference (at best) and outright hostility (at worst). Response to providing relief to the island has been pathetically slow, marked by squabbles over implementing the Jones Act, an old, archaic, utterly out of date piece of legislation that has little meaningful relation to disaster relief. And yet, that’s the hill President Trump and his party in Congress decided to defend – the Jones Act, instead of sending in badly needed humanitarian supplies.
And so more than a week on from Maria, 97% of the island sits stranded without electricity, and at least half the population has little or no access to fresh water. You might expect this kind of response from a 3rd world nation, not by the United States.
But then, there’s nothing really normal about America right now, is there?