Well, I made the trip for disaster assistance. I am a member of an advisory committee for the program of my church that responds to disasters. New Orleans and a stretch along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas were most certainly disasters after Hurricane Katrina cut an incredibly wide swath through the area. (And then in the same year Hurricane Rita hit an almost identical area).
To get a refresher on the scope of the disaster, you can read this overview. Picture it another way—the land mass affected, 90,000 square miles, is equivalent to the land mass of all of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland and N. Ireland! Over a half million people were evacuated. The number of homes damaged, destroyed or made unreachable by the hurricane was over 850,000.
What my church does in response is considered a second responder. The first responders are Red Cross and FEMA—even though the response was far too slow, these agencies are the first on the scene and do immediate provision of care. They rescue people, get them out of hazardous homes, house them temporarily and feed them. Church groups are among the second responders who come in and do the long term recovery work.
While my church has long had a strong disaster recovery presence around the world, response to Katrina has taught us many lessons. Before Katrina, we might have focused more on seeing if money alone could solve part of the problem. People are generous, and they do give in response to disasters. But, some problems are beyond the means of mere money to fix.
Before Katrina, we would have thought that recovery might be accomplished in a few short years. We had begun to learn some lessons from Hurricane Andrew, where the rebuilding took at least 10 years. We also learned some lessons responding to the Boxing Day earthquake and subsequent tsunami in December, 2004. There, people lost not only their lives, their homes, but also their means of livelihood. So, for example, we helped replace fishing boats that had been washed out to sea.
Once Katrina hit, and the magnitude of the damage became clear, we decided that we would need to keep responding for at least ten years. So we began to set up volunteer villages. More about these villages later.
For now, let me just say—I ate no beignets in New Orleans, I heard no jazz, and I didn’t even see the sights. But I saw and heard many things about which I will write a future blog or two.
This is as close as I got to the Superdome, or anywhere downtown--in the distance on the left, you can see the city skyline. I took this photo from my hotel room!