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Book Reviews ...

Reviewed: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson
Review by: James Generic
Posted: 6.6.2006

Who else wasn't glued to their television set, or the newspapers, or their internet, or whatever, last late August into early September? It's not everyday that we see a city destroyed by a combination of a hurricane and government ineptitude. It's the second major disaster in just four years in the United States, after the attacks on the World Trade Center that killed 2000 people. Hurricane Katrina and the lackluster FEMA response killed 1,836, plus 705 people unaccounted for, as of May 19th, 2006. There was a rapid response to 9-11 attacks, when the victims were mostly white affluent people. There was a slow, too-little, too late response to Hurricane Katrina, when the victims were mostly poor and black. Today, fewer than half of New Orlean's population has returned, since many of them have nothing to return to.

Michael Eric Dyson, the author of "Is Bill Cosby Right?", writes in "Come Hell or High Water" of the meaning of the disaster. While it is true that Bush, Mike Brown, and local Louisiana politicians did not cause Hurricane Katrina, (though the magnitude of the hurricane was most likely highly worsened by global climate change), they certainly were responsible for the hundreds of thousands of people being stranded in New Orleans when help started arriving nearly five days afterwards.

Dyson spends much time exploring the cultural response of the mainstream to the hurricane, with the glaring implications of race in America. In a desperate situation with little hope for help, people in New Orleans began to take food from stores which had been abandoned in the wake of the hurricane. The media shortly separated the Black people trying to feed themselves into "looters" and the whites as "finding food". An absurd amount of attention became focused on people using the opportunity to take televisions and radios, though the media ignores the fact that people may have sold these appliances later on for food. The disaster of the Superdome, where 30,000 people waited for days while the Red Cross was turned away by the national guard because New Orleans was "too dangerous" (which later turned out to be mostly based on rumor.)

Hurricane Katrina seemed like the world turned upside down, but it really just brought already messed up situations, like white supremacy and capitalism, to be magnified ten-fold. I keep wondering why they didn't just evacuate everyone, and it turns out that Amtrak offered to provide free trains, but the city turned it down. The Levees weren't funded properly, leading to detoriation and busting up. FEMA didn't know what was going on, and followed every little procedure by the book, leading to necessary help not happening for days (for instance, FEMA officials were instructed not to help any locals unless they asked for help.) Later, a Lousina representative declared (off-the record) "We finally cleared up that public housing problem…"

For a step-by-step detailed look into what happened in the Deep South in August of 2005, pick this up, and prepare to shake your head in bewilderment at the people who run the United States. Reggie Bush or no, New Orleans has been forever changed.

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