Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hurricane Katrina, The American Tsunami

The television images from helicopter flyovers show a brutally crushed and ground-up landscape. We've seen these shots before. The surf splashes on a sandy shoreline strewn with toppled trees, boats piled on top of each other, and splinters of wood forming a carpet of debris, interspersed by square patches that mark property boundaries. What's missing is structures. This is a flat landscape, or at least as flat as it can be with all the ruined buildings, vehicles and vegetation littering the ground. It's what's left of Southeast Asia following last December's killer Tsunami. Or is it?

The images are as recent as this week. The third-world landscape is the gulf coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Take an aerial view of the Asian Tsunami and set it next to an aerial view of Gulfport, Mississippi. Which is which? You can't tell.

The reason is that we're looking at essentially the same process. One was caused by an earthquake. The other was caused by a hurricane. In both cases, a wall of water 20 or more feet high came off the ocean and crashed into the shoreline over a wide swath. That solid wall of water crushes everything standing, utterly and completely. When refugees from these stricken areas say they have nothing left, it is because there really is nothing but splinters remaining when the wall of water dissipates.

That's what we in America are coming to grips with right now. The total devastation that crushed the shorelines on the other side of the Earth have crushed our shores less than a year later. We have the devastation, the deaths, and tens to hundreds of thousands of refugees headed to homeland refugee camps for the next 3 months to 3 years. Years? Yes, it may well be that long for many. Unlike the Tsunamis that crush the landscape and then dissipate almost immediately, this hurricane breached the levees protecting the city of New Orleans. The city is not only damaged, but under water for the indefinite future.

Make no mistake about it, the disaster in the gulf area is beyond anything we've known or prepared for. Government aid will be critically necessary, but it is just one piece in putting the puzzle back together. Just as in the Asian Tsunami, disaster relief and humanitarian aid organizations will step in to feed, clothe, shelter and provide medical attention to the multitude of victims. The best of these are already trained and experienced in this type of situation. They've been involved is similar disasters around the world. The American Red Cross comes first to mind whenever people are struck down anytime, anywhere. The Salvation Army has been ministering the needs of the disadvantaged in nearly every city for as long as anyone can remember. Both organizations are worthy of our support and are planned to take lead roles in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

We also like some of the smaller, lesser publicized organizations that are moving in to lend their special expertise. Mercy Corps has international experience, most recently in the Indian Ocean Tsunami, at helping communities to rebuild following disasters. Their approach is to engage the local population in reclaiming their lives and the infrastructure they need to again become self-sufficient. This gives people jobs with a sense of purpose as well as the food, water and clothing they need to get them through the tough times. An impressive 92% of your donation to Mercy Corps goes directly to programs that help people.

There are many more excellent charitable organizations worthy of your support in this crisis and beyond. You'll find them reviewed and rated at Charity Navigator, which provides information on over 4,000 charities. Whether you support one or many charities, be sure that your contribution goes to do the most good in these tough times. It's vitally needed.

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