That's what I called what is happening in New Orleans today at work. I called it that because that's how I feel right now--sickened and empty, afraid. I feel like I did on 9/11, spending that horrific day and the days afterwards listening to the news, seeing the images, wishing I could turn away and deny it, but unable to stop watching. Only this time it's Nature who attacked, and it's in my backyard.
Four hours to the south and east of us, a large part of the state I love and love to hate has been turned into something out of a horror movie. Listenening to the radio reports today, the ever-increasing death toll estimates, the fact that looters have run riot and are stealing and carrying guns, the fact that at least two police officers have been killed (that the officials are admitting to) and the upcoming disease epidemic--typhoid, malaria, TB, West Nile, and a whole host of chemical-related problems...it all sounds like a Stephen King novelisation.
But it's not. I can drive about four hours south down the interstate and get stopped by Natioal Guard soldiers with automatic weapons and be told to turn back home or be shot. Martial law is in effect, which means the military now runs New Orleans and the outlying parishes, not us. I have heard that St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes are nothing but mud puddles. Houma, my birthplace, is probably just as bad. Resuce workers and police are being shot at in the streets, people are starving to death, and even the firm hand of the FCC and the government are not strong enough to prevent word leaking out that there are literally bodies floating in the streets, hospitals are under siege by looters, and the rescue workers are marking houses with red paint to show where the dead are. They'll still be there when the last surviving people are rescued.
I cannot help but feel like I did when 9/11 came and went. I feel just how insignificant we all are, how very temporary. I realise yet again that we live so packed into our cities and towns that if things like water supplies and fuel stops, the entire organism dies very rapidly, but only after turning on itself. Fuel has gone up already; super premium (all I ever use in my bike) is now $2.99 a gallon, and the economists say that it's not going to be a surprise to them when it hits $4. Again I realise how easily it all falls apart when things go bad.
There is an emptiness in me, a fear for what could happen. I like to think that I am not afraid of death, that when my time comes I will welcome it with open arms, but I think some part of me always thought that my time would come after a long, full life, and I could smile and welcome my end. It never occurred to me that my end could just as easily be found on top of a roof above many feet of water, while my town drowned around me and people who were once my neighbors turned into vigilantees like something out of Mad Max, only wetter. They say dogs are only three meals shy of reverting to savagery. Seems the same is true for people.
So now, four hours to the north I am checking my weapons, making sure that myself and those I love are safe, because I know that after the first wave of refugees is going to come the desperate, hungry ones, the ones that need a fix, the ones that are desperate for the drug that drives them, and now they're well-armed. The reports are saying that even if they managed to evacuate 80% of the area that still leaves something like twenty thousand people still there.
The parish coliseum has been set up as a refugee center; they have cots set up for tonight to take in six thousand refugees. Six THOUSAND. People with no homes, no money, no clothes, and little if any hope. Texas has graciously accepted something like twenty thousand, to be bused from the failed Superdome to the Houston Astrodome, and there's still very many to come. I've already started recognising trucks and cars at the state tourism Welcome Center--people have been camping in the parking lot. I used to snicker behind my hand when the television would talk about an entire nation needing the equivalent of grief counseling--I'm not laughing anymore, and I didn't even get any RAIN from Katrina. I can only try to imagine what it's like.
It is a bad time indeed, and it's going to get worse. The official reports are saying that it could be as long as two months before the city is livable. Right now it is nothing if not dead. The conservative estimate is fifteen thousand dead. Only time will tell the true count, both dead and walking wounded.
If you have anything to spare, please contact the Red Cross. If nothing else, give a pint of blood at your local blood center. Our office is going tomorrow, to donate plasma and blood. And whatever you do, don't be like me and those stranded and lost and think that it cannot happen to you.
Kiss your loved ones tonight, you might not see them tomorrow.