Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Beyond human comprehension

The destruction of Hurricane Katrina is so far beyond our human comprehension that there's little any of us could say without sounding trite or stupid. This has to be one of the most devastating events to happen in the U.S. ever.

I can't begin to wrap my brain around it. I wind up thinking of all sorts of things -- things related to different pieces of my own life, which makes for a particularly strange brew of notions and ideas.

I think of the economic devastation and how widespread it is. I think of the enormous cost of rebuilding -- IF residents of those areas choose to rebuild. IF they can. And what if they can't? Those people need to live somewhere, but WHERE? There's not that much surplus real estate anywhere close to where they have been living. So where will they go?

I think of the gargantuan amount of building supplies and all those in the construction trades who will be overwhelmed with this rebuilding effort. Just look for housing prices to skyrocket all over the southern states as supplies become scarce.

And of course there will be the hucksters and con artists and ripoff people who will prey on the victims. They should be hung upside down off a levee somewhere in New Orleans.

And what about the looters? Tough call, that one. I can understand those who are looting to survive, but God help those who are stealing non-essentials -- like big-screen TVs and jewelry. God help them, indeed. Especially law enforcement personnel who have joined the looters.

Looters are trying to break into a children's hospital in north New Orleans. Those poor children who are trapped there as patients -- God be with them and protect them. Keep them safe and help them not be scared. The hospital is not a good place for children, ever, but throw in Katrina, and then people trying to break into the hospital -- families must simply be terrified. I cannot imagine it and it breaks my heart.

Same with those trapped in the Super Dome. Imagine being trapped in that facility with thousands of other refugees with no food, no water, no toilet facilities, not being allowed to leave -- and then the roof starts to fail in places. Oh.My.God.

Then my brain takes a left turn. Everyone knows about the cemeteries in New Orleans, being above ground. Well, many of those have been destroyed as well, count on it. And that means long-dead residents have returned to be tortured by the flooding as well. Not just tortured, but adding to the torture. Current residents will have to deal with the nightmare of re-interring unknown bodies from unknown places.

And speaking of death and funerals and cemeteries and burials -- what will the victims of this hurricane do with their dead? I'm sorry, I do know this is a topic that can disturb all of us, but it's a matter of fact there right now. No funeral homes. No cemeteries. No way to put the dead to rest. I believe we may see a situation like the 1918 influenza pandemic where public health laws stepped in and prohibited funerals to try to control the spread of the disease. Either those bodies will have to be shipped out of the area (and how will that happen?) or there will be many more cremations than usual. That will be a morbid story, but one that will be hard to turn away from, as it comes time to deal with the facts of the situation. This will make the grieving all the harder for those who have lost everything.

How can we respond? So far, help has been weak and ineffective. It is hard to ramp up a massive response to something like this. And of all times, this is when we all want IMMEDIATE help to show up and make it all better. We see those brave helicopter and boat crews rescuing people from rooftops and taking them to bridges -- but what kind of rescue is that? They'll be trapped for up to a week. Don't you just want to wiggle your nose and see these people all in safe shelters, with clean beds, a soup kitchen and a place to take a shower and use the bathroom? And don't you just yearn to take a hammer and join a Habitat for Humanity crew to start raising houses for the kids to call home again?

Sadly, that won't be happening this afternoon. Or this week. And the misery will be hard to endure for those trapped there, and for us who can only sit and watch and want to help.

We can send food and water and clothing through various resources. Most of the churches have systems in place to funnel disaster help. Feed the Children surely will be sending trailers full of help. But we can't send "place." We can't send real estate or housing or plumbing, or even sunshine. We can't open the doors of the Super Dome and let the kids run outside to play.

What can we do? We can pray. And be ready to step up when we do know how else we can help.

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