It's becoming increasingly difficult watching the disaster unfold in New Orleans without getting angry at the mentality of the authorities who were ill prepared for this and those that have now armed themselves and are stopping aid and rescue workers from doing their jobs. It's very hard to imagine such an event unfolding here and how exactly our government and people would cope, but there's also the problem of scale. The BBC reports that about 90,000 sq miles (234,000 sq km) has been affected by the hurricane - that's an area roughly the size of the UK.
Londonist was lucky enough to celebrate the 2003 New Year in New Orleans and much to our own surprise we found ourselves well away from the heaving tourist hotspots of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter; instead we had a great time on a much smaller scale among the regular people of the city. The majority of those that we spoke to, ate with and who eventually wished us well on the next leg of our journey were poor. If you've only traveled to the larger wealthier cities of the US it's something of an eye opener to see just how basic the lives of many of the country's inhabitants are. It's the poor of course that have faced the brunt of Hurricane Katrina and are now the most in need of help. Some of them undoubtedly chose to stay (and again it's difficult for someone in the UK to understand properly the mindset of someone who has lived through countless hurricane warnings with no ill effect), others had no choice but to stay, being ill or just not having the means to flee. The airports and bus stations closed early and with the hurricane arriving just ahead of the end of the month (and pay-cheques) many of those left behind wouldn't have had the money for tickets anyway. Even evacuating to the stadium (which proved to be not the best idea in the world) was impractical for those too old, frail or sick to travel.
Now that the storm has passed the worst is far from over. The flood water itself is contaminated because of the decaying bodies and raw sewage that it covers. A few moments ago reports came in of huge blasts in New Orleans and it now looks like a chemical factory has exploded. There is little drinking water and food available and rescue attempts are still being hampered. National Guardsmen are now entering the city and Louisiana’s governor is expecting them to shoot and kill. It's a desperate situation that will get worse before it gets better.
We've been following the internet coverage of events - from the discussions and arguments over on Metafilter to the more practical efforts on Boing Boing. The words we found there from one rescue worker are very sobering:
Swinging an axe and breaking into an attic to see if there's anyone there to save and finding a dead family of four instead will bring tears to even the most stoic of people.
Londonist has a lot of American readers and our hearts go out to any of them in New Orleans right now or indeed anyone who has friends and family out there. We had an almost overwhelming wave of support from overseas after the recent bombings in London and we'd like to pass on our best wishes and hopes for the people of Louisiana over the coming months.