What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dirt, Dead Bodies, and White House Dirt Bags

by Ana Maria

 Dirt, Dead bodies, and White House Dirt Bags

Cities, counties and parishes (Louisiana’s version of counties) have been fighting with the Office of Inspector General over the federal government’s stinginess when it comes to reimbursing local governments for funds they spent on the Katrina’s clean up. My piece titled When You’re Up to Your Ass in Alligators discussed the incredible financial burden that the locals have undergone because the federal government—i.e. the Bush Administration— is making it unreasonably difficult to obtain the millions and millions of federal tax dollars that are to reimburse these funds.

Perhaps this is the administration’s unstated “hang ‘em out to dry” philosophy in action. Clearly, the net result is to have abandoned Americans in their time of need. Whether the Administration abandoned those who climbed on the roofs after the levees broke in New Orleans or those who climbed through the muck and mud to coordinate the post-Katrina clean up efforts, the way the Bush Administration continues to treat us sure does feel like this is part of the White House’s “leave all citizens behind” philosophy in action.

The stories I hear about how Bush’s FEMA and the Office of Inspector General have treated the officials who had to make do in the worst of circumstances makes my blood boil. The drone-like responses coming from agencies lead by those who rose to power through proclaiming their compassion burn me up. I’ll share a story with you.

Picture it. August 30th 2007. The day after the worst natural disaster our nation has ever seen. No phone system. Cars awash in salt water and totaled. Roadways filled with mounds of debris. No electricity. No uncomtaminated running water. For many, no place to live. Dirt, mud, and sludge many feet deep inside buildings and on the streets.

Let me clarify that. By dirt, I’m not talking about the dry fertile soil that we spread on our lawns or use in flower and vegetable gardens. No, when folks around here tell me their dirt stories, they are referring to what I would term sludge and mud.

Of course, there was no safe water to drink, cook, or bathe and shower in. One of my older brothers told me that for weeks he would fill water bottles and sit them out in the sun with a bit of bleach in them to kill off the germs. At night, his water bottles would be warm, and he would take a make shift shower. Perhaps smelling of bleach, the water was at least clean and uncontaminated.

He recalls that when he saw others he knew were just using water out of the tap, they had developed various whelps and other unsightly skin problems. The water situation went on like this for about three weeks.

Family members, friends, and co-workers were desperate to talk with folks inside the Katrina region. Those here wanted to communicate to the outside world. No phones. No email. No Internet. No roads. No cars. Life was more than tough for all concerned.

Many local jurisdictions found themselves in dire straights in the hours and days after the storm passed. Disparate officials were forced to call the shots because the properly designated ones were unavailable. Maybe they brought their own families out of town or out of state. Maybe they were dead. Maybe they were busy trying to dig themselves out of their destroyed homes. Who knows?

Communication was almost nonexistent. Cell phone usage was restricted to the beach area and that was sporadic coverage, at best. If someone was located miles and miles and miles from the beach without any transportation—which was the case with lots of people, using a cell phone was a luxury to which they had no real access.

You know, one thing that is glaringly obvious is the lack of an emergency communication system. With all of its hoopla about homeland security, the Bush Administration apparently chose not to invest in the country’s back up emergency communication system. So when Katrina knocked down cell phone towers and ripped up traditional phone lines, communicating within the storm-ravaged region became a scarce commodity.

Of course, without electricity to maintain the charge, having even scant cell phone coverage became irrelevant when the batteries ran out. Car chargers, you say? Cars sat for hours in many, many feet of salt water which ruined the engines. Car chargers were out.

Many of us take for granted access to email and the Internet. However, computers were not spared the ravages of Katrina’s destruction either. Even if they had survived, no one had access to the Internet.

In the middle of all the chaos involving dirt and dead bodies, local officials were scattered to the winds.

One public high school, I’ve been told, had about four feet of dirt and sludge inside its buildings. For days on end, local officials—the ones that were here and available—and the Florida Army and National Guard were pulling dead bodies out of the sludge inside of the high school’s buildings.

None of this mattered to one federal official whose compassionless demeanor clearly sent the message that he couldn’t have cared less. We were lucky that the few who were around didn’t pull the bureaucratic “It’s not in my job description” routine.

Nevertheless, the federal yahoo looked these brave souls in the eye and said, “You didn’t follow FEMA rules.” They responded that they didn’t know the rules, that they were waist deep in dirt digging bodies out of the mud. The yahoo said that they should have called FEMA. The local officials informed Mr. Yahoo that the phones didn’t work.

Yahoo’s next bright idea came out. “Well you should have downloaded it off of the Internet. It’s on the website.” Apparently this one—like too many others—was not the brightest bulb in the bunch. When the local officials patiently explained that the place had no access to computers or the Internet, the yahoo looked at them incredulously as if to say, “not my problem.” He informed the officials that they should have downloaded the policies beforehand.

Mr. Not-So-Bright-Bulb didn’t take into consideration what life was like in Katrina’s aftermath. Between Katrina’s 135 mph or more winds blowing away so much during the three to four hours it battered the coast before the water came ashore and the 22 documented tornados, to say that homes and offices, businesses and schools were scattered to the winds may actually be an understatement in these circumstances.

What do you think? Would Mr. Not-So-Bright Bulb and his compassionless co-workers have said similar insane things to the survivors of India’s tsunami?

Compassionless. The word resonates with how the feds have treated us.

Mr. Not-So-Bright didn’t care that public officials were trudging through several feet of dirt throughout the area pulling out dead bodies ,dealing with a population in shock, all the while doing their best to take good care of their own families.

All I have to say about this is that my own family and friends down here may have been up to their eyeballs in dirt and dead bodies. But the real dirt bags came here as members of the Bush Administration’s compassionless crew.

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