James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Katrina and the California fires

The victims of the terrible fires in California are getting very prompt, very efficient help from their state and local governments, FEMA and all the rest of the federal and private disaster relief agencies.

They should get such service. The fires are horrendous and the losses substantial. I wouldn't think of arguing otherwise. I would help personally if I could.

But it is nevertheless fair to contrast the response to the troubles of those California residents – mostly well off, many wealthy, many of them Republican voters, a majority of them white – with what happened, and still is happening, to those whose homes and livelihoods, and in many cases families, were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Considerably more than 100,000 of the victims of Katrina, which struck more than two years ago, still are living in places other than their home cities and towns, many outside their home states, unable to return largely because the federal government continues to compound rather than help with their problems.

The great majority of the still displaced are poor and black former residents of New Orleans, who want to return but can't. FEMA and other government agencies have cheated them, denied them services to which they are entitled, have, in fact, driven many of them from even their temporary housing.

Just incidentally, of course, the displacement of so many low-income black people was the clear deciding factor in the election of a new Republican governor of Louisiana.

Government flacks are claiming the great improvement in California as opposed to what has happened in the areas devastated by Katrina is the result of things learned from that hurricane's aftermath. Sure. Only those lessons still aren't being applied in Louisiana.

Why is that?

Is there anyone so naïve as to believe class and race aren't the overweaning factors in the differences between the handling of the two disasters?