Monday, September 12

Katrina vs. Mitch - New Orleans Has No Excuse

This is a revealing article. As I have been pointing out, the riots, violence and anarchy seen in New Orleans has nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with cultural values. It's speaks loudly of the cultural poverty of the many residents that resorted to uncivilized behavior in the wake of Katrina. Rich or poor, there is a lesson in contrasting the victims of Mitch in Honduras, and the victims of Katrina in New Orleans.
The televised images are eerily familiar and strikingly different: Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the Gulf Coast last week and Hurricane Mitch, which struck Central America in 1998. I had been in Honduras to report on the aftermath.

These things were the same: Buildings shattered to their basic elements: splintered pieces of wood, scraps of metal and broken glass. Elderly people, their faces forlorn, huddled in a stadium awaiting help. Children clinging to the necks of adults who carry them through streets of infested, churning water.

These images are not among my memories of Mitch'’s aftermath: The rape of female survivors, a violence that likely stole last shreds of dignity. A sniper shooting at a helicopter as it tries to evacuate hospital patients. Roving looters threatening rescue workers and gathering all the high-dollar goods they can carry.

There was no widespread stealing in Honduras. No sniper fire. No reports of carjackings.

Not in the more rural communities where the mountains fell, burying entire towns. And not in the industrialized cities where hillsides collapsed and homes tumbled into piles of wood, metal and glass.

In Honduras, there were rural regions where people starved to death, as no aid could get through the decimated bridges and roads. There was help, but no massive federal or military presence that immediately rushed in with medicine, food and water.

More than 9,000 people died in Hurricane Mitch, some in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, but most in Honduras. An equal number of people were never found. The reporting experience is among the most humbling of my 20 years of newspaper work. I'’ve always cringed at writings that depict poor people as humble servants to fate. As if being poor or destitute is something they thrive on.

But in Honduras, the survivors of Hurricane Mitch were filled with grace, even in their desperation. That is why some of the images from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities are so discouraging. Granted, only a tiny percentage of Katrina'’s victims are doing the despicable acts. But there is no excuse for it.

More than 1.5 million Hondurans were homeless after Hurricane Mitch.

They also were forced to live along highways, in churches and at a giant stadium, just as the Katrina survivors fled to first the Superdome and now the Astrodome. Babies were born at that Honduran soccer stadium. For one woman, it was her first, a boy. The new mother had one cloth diaper, nothing more. She happily cuddled her baby as she lay on a cot. Hundreds of people lived in a college gymnasium for weeks without running water. Each family received one pound of beans and two pounds of rice weekly.

The only protest: A leader of the group penciled a nearly poetic letter to the mayor, asking for help later, to move their farms to higher ground.
Make sure to read the rest of the opinion piece over at