editorial (2005-37)

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Katrina

Her name itself will emerge as a term for terrible events

Katrina

You run out of adjectives after a while to describe the Gulf Coast devastation and the cataclysmic blow dealt to New Orleans. It’s also getting to be difficult to describe the overwhelming gestures of kindness and generosity people, the nation and world over have contributed to mitigating Hurricane Katrina’s victims’ horrible losses.

We’re proud of the way the people of Knoxville and East Tennessee have given of their time, money, and the necessities of life to ease the awful burden on the refugees who have come here for shelter, and the support and leadership they’ve gotten from their churches, civic organizations and employers. Businesses, large and small, have involved themselves as well. Entertainers have given benefit performances. Charity events have multiplied by the dozens to raise money or rally volunteers or collect food, clean water and essential goods. Seemingly everyone has provided something to the cause of Katrina relief.

The shelter at the Civic Coliseum was arranged and staffed and supplied in record time, and it’s now being utilized despite early delays in bringing Katrina-displaced individuals and families here. The Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church congregation and their friends set up a dormitory-style shelter at their church that ended up going unused, but the sheer sympathy and sincerity and dedication to bring their resources together, ready to remedy some of the deep personal wounds of the tragedy that was unfolding, was amazing and heartening.

Chattanoogans set up similar shelters, as did Nashvillians and Memphians. Nearly every city in the state offered temporary beds, and longer-term shelter arrangements are now being made, as more people come to understand the expected duration of the victims’ need for such assistance. It’s been an ordeal well met by sympathetic reaction, but that reaction isn’t being directed in any coordinated way.

The American Red Cross is making a superhuman attempt, but the sheer volume of the storm victims’ needs illustrates the real limitations experienced by the Red Cross’ permanent staff and volunteer personnel as they try to recruit, hire and train more workers. Second Harvest is collecting and dispensing food as best it can, given the enormity of the need and the problems posed by the dispersal of victims that its staff and volunteers must meet in distributing foodstuffs where they are needed most.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was clearly unready for the job that confronted it when Katrina struck. The only excuse is that the scope of the catastrophe was unprecedented in this country. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were horrible, but their awful aftermath was somehow more manageable. Their victims were more localized, concentrated in three relatively small areas, whereas Katrina’s wrath was spread all along a lengthy strip of coastline, nearly throughout a major, terribly vulnerable American city, and inland for many, many miles, eliminating huge amounts of infrastructure and drastically limiting communications.

We hope FEMA can get its act together now, under a new and more experienced chief, but we don’t envy him or our president their roles of leadership in bringing together all the elements of temporary and long-term relief and reconstruction that their positions require of them and the American people will demand of them.

The aftermath of Katrina is being written in chapters, day by day, but the full account will ultimately fill volumes. The effects and after-effects of the catastrophe in terms of devastation, death, human suffering and economic disruption will go on for many months and years. It will test the American people and their will to help each other in an extended crisis. It will stretch the resources of our land and the resilience and abilities of our leaders. We’ll end up referring to such fateful events as Katrinas, or Katrina-like.

Still, we believe that the Volunteer spirit will prevail here and across this state, and that those displaced and disheartened by Katrina’s dreadful blows will remain in the hearts of Knoxvillians and Tennesseans long enough for those we’ve helped to gain a good measure of recovery.

Let’s hope the hurricane of this century won’t scar its victims, New Orleans and our Gulf Coast, forever. And let’s keep helping to see that it doesn’t.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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