I remember Hurricane Katrina so painfully because I had married a southerner who introduced me to the joys of New Orleans and Cajun cooking. I was a new widow when the 2005 disaster hit and watched in despair as the rescue efforts reminded me of a third world country, they were so woefully chaotic and inadequate. FEMA seemed totally unprepared. My cousin, a Catholic Missionary priest, had a black parish in the Louisiana bayous that took in refugees and I was able to work with an international relief agency in my hometown of Detroit called World Medical Relief www.worldmedicalrelief.org/ to get his church medical supplies.
This time Hurricane Isaac proved that the devastation can be intense even from a Category One pounding, but the new levees in New Orleans held, validating the billions spent on shoring up the levee system. For the most part, the Emergency planning ensured evacuations were orderly. There was still suffering because many residents in communities outside New Orleans resisted evacuation orders in hard hit areas, but nothing in terms of death and injury on the massive scale we witnessed before. Many of these communities still had older levees that were overwhelmed – and residents are now demanding higher ones.
This tale of two hurricanes gave me hope – that we can still learn from our most terrifying failures and that we can once again rebuild and go on. As we worry about our challenges this Labor Day weekend, it’s reassuring to remember what’s right in terms of the American spirit.