I guess I’ve just been in a daze for the last week since Katrina paid a visit to the Gulf coast. Like most Americans, I’ve visited New Orleans and wonder if it will ever be the same. And now Curtis and I are wondering what we can do for the people there. Whether it’s a financial gift or any of our millions of extra clothing, we want to do something. Anything.
I was in Dothan, Alabama for a few days this week. Dothan is a designated refugee area. How I managed to find a hotel room, I’ll never know, but I did. It was there that I met a woman who was an evacuee. She had her four-year-old daughter with her, who was oblivious to the harsh reality that had struck her family. She still had that wild-eyed innocence that was eager to push the buttons on the elevator.
Her mom was a different story. Her face bore the burden of the loss of her home and her hometown. She then told me, “I just found out… today… that my other son and daughter are alive and well. We’ll be all right. We lost everything, but we’ll be together.” It was a bittersweet time for her.
A dear friend of mine, James Hartman, is the Spokesman for the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff. Before the storm hit, he said that most of the parish had been evacuated, and that The Weather Channel had a storm chaser posted there. “It’s not a good sign,” he said. He was right.
A few years ago, James was kind enough to show Curtis and me around New Orleans. During the day, he told us that New Orleans is in a basin, and is below sea level. “What would it take to flood the city?” I asked.
“If somebody spits,” he said. He then elaborated, “If a hurricane were to ever come through here, it would be disastrous. Especially if it’s a category 3 or 4. Tens of thousands could be killed.”
I thought he was exaggerating. I realize now how dead wrong I was.
He has since miraculously been able to send emails from the carnage. He wrote, “As you know, a major catastrophe has befallen my parish and my community. I’ve been working about 20 hours a day at our Emergency Ops Center. We’re getting by, managing, trying to just take it 15 minutes at a time. Things are not good and won’t be for a while. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.” He also said that the only way to really help would be to donate to charities that are working hard to help the recovery process.
Even stories like the one of a stranded mom and daughter are eclipsed by the horrors that pour out of New Orleans, which has become pure anarchy. I’ve never realized how fragile our American sense of reason and justice really is until now. It’s as though disaster will literally bring out the true colors of a person.
But what can I say? I’m sitting here in my air-conditioned home where the worst disaster I’ve endured recently is the loss of all of my electronics from an unfortunate lightning blast. These people can’t even take a shower. They’re wading through microbe-infested waters that have carried away the bodies of their families, friends, and neighbors. Some have even described the scene as worse than the Tsunami disaster last December.
And this is happening right here in this country. We are the richest, most luxurious country in the world. And our favorite party spot has just been reduced to soaked rubble. But what can we do? We can, and must do anything we can. The American Red Cross needs blood, resources, and money. They need clothes. People need a place to stay. Hell, even U.S. Senator Trent Lott has lost everything.
Maybe it’s a good thing that the party has ended for a while. I think the GLBT community is even okay with the demise of Southern Decadence. The festival organizers will even refund the tickets. If there’s one thing the gay community does well is show our charity. The carnage stretches from Louisiana to coastal Alabama to deep into Mississippi. Now that the party is over, we can do what’s right. The question is, will we?