by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
September 21, 2008
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- A front-page New York Times photo update of their Website at 5:10 p.m. last Sunday led off with this sad caption: "Thousands of people who refused orders to evacuate were feared stranded across a swath of Texas. Above, residents waited outside a shelter at a high school in Galveston."
An article by Ian Urbina and Anahad O'Connor accompanied the Reuters photo; pictured were dejected citizens just sitting on a flight of steps, long and wide, not interacting at all. They were men, women, children with nothing to hold onto - not even each other.
The buzzwords quoted above were "people who refused orders to evacuate... ," and those words drained from me the last drop of the milk of human kindness I could muster.
On Saturday the survivors spoke of having a hurricane party while loudhailers moving through ther cities of Galveston Island warned that if they must leave or "face certain death," in the words of a local official.
They all knew that no one could make them leave. This is America, after all. If they were in over their heads they knew they would be bailed out, literally. Didn't they learn as children that you might go along as if nothing is going to change - until everything changes?
They had weathered such storms in the past (they thought) and lived to tell the tale. This time, with Hurricane Ike bearing down on therm, they prepared with a party - and I'm sure it was fun - until the lights went out and the refrigeration was dripping and the toilets wouldn't flush and then - "Oh, wow," it was almost morning and there was no coffee and no grocery stores and no radio and no television and no one on the streets and no illumination. ExxonMobil searchlights kept flitting across the sky, but what good is that if you're out of cigarettes. Oh, wow.
Aside from Ike, I don't like coming upon scenes where some natural disaster causes your tree to fall in your neighbor's yard and he says: "Who is going to pay for this?"
"Well, I'm not," I might say since it could not have been predicted and I bear no responsibility for it.
In the case of Hurricane Ike, disaster was predicted, residents were notified in ample time to evacuate and the governmeent provided buses, trailers, porta-potties, shelters and counseling for all on the scene. Some 1,400 Red Cross workers were there when Ike hit, and 1,500 more volunteers were arriving when the New York Times went to be last Sunday.
These volunteers are people risking life and limb for their fellow citizens. They are taking responsibility for their fellow man. But the fellow man in Ike's path should be reflecting on his own accountability instead of looking for the odd cigarette butt amid the debris.
Normally, I feel great compassion for victims of such disasters - especially if they come like the proverbial bolt from the blue, as with the tsunami that hit Banda Aceh, Indonesia, two year's ago. This time, I'm angry because FEMA and other government agencies using tax dollars will rebuild these homes and the infrastructure of Galveston. Or maybe they won't after they get finished bailing out the banks and insurance companies that are bankrupting us with their pedatory lending rates and incredible policy fees individually and collectively.
Perhaps if I didn't see that one lone pitiful Pete venture onto the street at dawn, where Fox News was continuing its coverage, as he stood with his hands in his pockets like the only man left in the world, it might have been different. I thought he was barefoot, but I may be embellishing the image. He needed a shave, of course, and more than that as he looked around and saw nothing but the absence of civilization.
"Man, I really need coffee and a cigarette," he said.
Throughout the morning, the Fox newscaster repeated that people were looking out windows or coming out into the streets because they had no information reaching them indoors. He said in his report: "They keep coming out looking for grocery stores, water, coffee and cigarettes." Over and over, they had the same complaints.
To me, that shows absolutely no preparation. No drinking water, no diapers, nothing. What were they thinking? Oh, that's right, they weren't thinking. They were having a hurricane party.
Longtime AR Correspondent Constance Daley lives on one of the barrier islands off the Georgia coast close to Savannah.