Our hearts are with you down South

Seems like something should be said about those in the South right now, even if this means veering wildly off-topic for a bit. For those of us in the North, life carries on much as it ever did. The dregs of Hurricane Katrina have passed over us now. The rain has been dumped, the clouds have moved on, the skies are blue and today is ridiculously sunny. People go to work and drink their lattes and yap on their cell phones, and it looks like any other bright, beautiful day in September in New York. In fact, given that New York is one of the few cities in the US with a functional (and dare I say efficient?) public transportation system, the rising gas prices haven’t crippled us here as badly as they have in the rest of the country. Most of us are in the lucky position of being relatively untouched, able to look from afar on this tragedy the same way we watched footage of the Asian tsunami, or the latest bombing in Iraq.

Except…I vividly remember another bright, clear, beautiful day in September where looking at tragedy from afar was not an option for us. Two days after 9/11, I pitched up at the Javits Center where an impromptu headquarters had been established. The Red Cross was still a day or two away from getting things under control. People were turning up from Iowa or Texas or North Carolina, having driven for 12 hours straight just because they wanted to help out, but unsure of where to go or what to do. Food and supplies were being dumped on us from right and left, but no one knew what to do with any of it. Calls would go out on the radio: “we need boots down at the Javits Center” (because the burning metal was so hot that the rescuers’ soles kept melting), and people would turn up in the middle of the night with their own boots, eager to donate them. Timberland sent 10,000 pairs, or some ridiculous number like that. Local store owners would turn up with bags of power bars and bottles of water. Without any leadership or direction, those of us there that night wrote our names on masking tape and stuck them to our clothing and tried to organize the incoming supplies. It was an uncoordinated, chaotic mess—beautiful because of the solidarity, and the shared call to aid—but it was at least a week before the chaos was replaced with coordinated efforts from professional and government organizations. And, I might add, this was under MUCH more favorable conditions. New York had electricity, there was no mass evacuation in progress, not to mention catastrophic devastation, corpses rotting right in front of you, looting, anarchy, nothing to eat or drink, and an entire city under 20 feet of water.

You’d think that the government would have learned a few lessons from that. 9/11 was almost like a trial run for an emergency of the size and scope of New Orleans. You really can’t even compare the two. But even so, you’d think we would have revamped a few policies in the ensuing years, and been quicker on our feet the next time emergency struck.

Sadly, all evidence so far suggests that we were caught woefully flat-footed, and have come up disgustingly short of what is needed. Mayor Nagin has put out a grave SOS, stating that “Right now we are out of resources at the convention center and don’t anticipate enough buses. Currently the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for 15,000 to 25,000 people.” The government’s aid has been devastatingly inadequate so far. To quote the MSNBC article again: “This is a national disgrace,” said Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans’ emergency operations. “FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control,” Ebbert said. “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.” A small, local newspaper in southern Mississipi has published a terrifyingly desperate plea for help. New Orleans is on its knees, begging for assistance, and through it all, we’re still waiting for a leader, as a NY Times op-ed so scaldingly put it.

As normal as life may seem in our city, we don’t really have the luxury of distance. We, of all cities, should be able to empathize all too well with the terror and fear our southern neighbors are feeling. If we can’t fly down to New Orleans ourselves to help out (which, unfortunatley, many of us can’t), we can at least donate money, and keep our thoughts and energy and prayers focused in a southerly direction. The following is a list not only of the obvious choices for aid and assistance, but some more direct contact names and information, including organizations in Texas, where many of the refugees will be staying. All of these organizations are currently sending money/aid directly to Hurrican Katrina victims.

The Red Cross

The Salvation Army

America’s Second Harvest

Catholic Charities USA: 1-888-388-4224.

B’nai Brith International: 1-888-388-4224.

Church World Service: 1-800-297-1516.

Lutheran Disaster Response: 800-638-3522.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance: 800-872-3283

Union for Reform Judaism: also by mail for faster, local response:
Hurricane Relief
Congregation Emanu El
1500 Sunset
Houston TX 77005

Officers of Avalon: a pagan charity.

Feed the Children: 1-800-525-7575

Noah’s Wish: an incredible organization dedicated solely to rescuing trapped and abandoned animals during disasters such as this.

Katy Chamber of Commerce: Katy, Texas (western suburb of Houston).

Methodist Relief: Online donations through local Houston Methodist Churches.

You can also send money donations to the following local address:

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church
“Disaster Response”
P. O. Box 22013
Houston Tx 77227

Catholic Charities
of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston
2900 Louisiana Street
Houston, Texas 77006
tel 713.526.4611 • fax 713.526.1546

Lake Charles Civic Center
900 Lakeshore Drive
Lake Charles , LA 70602
Richard J. Cole, Jr, CLA
Calcasieu Parish Assessor
(337) 721-3005
(337) 540-2410 (They are also accepting food donations, as they are currently feeding 2500+ evacuees).

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. I only wish I could do more than post online and send some money! This has been humbling beyond belief. I feel simultaneously lucky and helpless. In every city, every day, every hour, there are women giving birth. My heart is with all of the women of the south right now who may be laboring or giving birth under such terrifying circumstances, in dark rooms, without electricity.

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