I'm sure that a lot of people have been watching the disaster as it unfolds in Iowa. I read where 83 out of the state's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas. The pictures are pretty shocking--lots of water where roads and houses should be. People in boats. Aerial shots of cities underwater (like this one).
There are some things I'm not seeing, though.
No people shooting at the cops.
No burned out buildings.
No rescue workers ducking gunshots as they try to evacuate hospitals.
Okay let's be fair--I realize that this flood is not the same as Katrina. I know we are looking at two different areas of the country. Two different kinds of disasters (sort of). Two vastly different geographic and cultural settings (Iowa could be on the other side of the galaxy as far as New Orleans is concerned). Two vastly different groups of people in terms of socioeconomic status, level of education, types of jobs, and a host of other factors, including race. Still, there are some basic similarities--vast areas of inundation, mass displacement, economic disruption, all in the face of a natural disaster.
But why are things turning out so completely and utterly different? I think there a few reasons.
Take leadership. It's not really about FEMA or evil Bush/Cheney, because they're all still there. Did the feds muck things up in N.O.? Without a doubt; they don't necessarily get a pass here. But the same administration, the same FEMA was in the neighboring state of Mississippi in September of 2005--and look how different things turned out in that state.
Why? You know whose pictures I'm not seeing from Iowa? Blanco's. And Nagin's. Do I need to say more?
But just as important is New Orleans itself. I love my hometown. There isn't any other place like it anywhere. But it's almost like the place was rotten on the inside, a flimsy, termite ridden facade that Katrina unroofed like some scab, so we could see all of the disease and decay within. I was ashamed at what happened there 3 years ago. I was ashamed at our so-called leaders, like Bill Jefferson commandeering rescue vehicles so he could get to his house and rescue his freezer-bound cash. I was ashamed at the "citizens," black and white, looting and "finding" with abandon. I was ashamed of the law officers abandoning their posts, or worse, helping themselves to the new car lot in New Orleans East.
To be sure, there were countless acts of selflessness and heroism and sacrifice by all involved. There is no doubt that there were (and are) good people in that city, and that they rose above it all to help strangers just as unfortunate as they were. But there seemed to be some sort of underlying current of darkness and desperation and savagery that flowed through that city--that somehow doesn't seem to be flowing through the streets of Iowa City.
I'm a physician (OBGYN), late 40's, living in a small town in northern Louisiana. It's a big change, coming from the Big Easy, but then again, my life has been under considerable remodeling as of late. I am married to a beautiful Russian artist, who was nice enough to follow me on this adventure.