Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

Lotsa blogs

I’m sitting here in the Benton Room of the Renaissance Hotel, for the Unitarian Universalist Blogger’s Reception. We have several well known UU blogs sitting around the table: Philocrites, Jess and John, Ministrare, and several others. There are two laptops and a PDA out, live blogging is happening even as we speak.

As one person just said, “How self-referential can you get?”

A bit of conversation about what topics people write about on their blogs. Many of the bloggers here wrote about Hurricane Katrina, but no one wrote about the tsunami that happened just before that (although many of the bloggers here hadn’t started their blogs at the time of the tsunami).

More conversation about who we write for: friends, family, the people who comment on the blog, people who are new to unitarian universalism, for ourselves, lots of different reasons. (But you know, dear reader, that I write just for you.)

Six months after Katrina

Someone I know went down to Mississippi a couple of weeks ago, to do a week’s worth of volunteer clean-up work with the youth group from her Unitarian Universalist church, the Winchester Unitarian Society. The photos her group brought back show a devastated landscape: ruined buildings, smashed cars, huge piles of junk surrounding what used to be a middle-class houses. Volunteers in hazmat suits, with faces hidden behind respirators. Desiccated carcasses of dogs. These pictures shook me up. They show a devastated landscape, one that should not be this devastated by now.

A few of these photos can be seen on the Winchester Unitarian Society Web site [link], along with some comments from youth who went on the trip. Two of the comments:

“I think people need to understand the extent of the damage that we saw. It wasn’t just one road or neighborhood, but actually miles and miles and towns and towns of obliterated houses and lives. The damage is ineffable, and you need to know that even though Katrina may not be on the front page anymore, it doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere near taken care of.”

“New Orleans is hurting just as badly, or worse, than everybody says it is. Also, it’s virtually empty of assistance to the naked eye. There’s no one there. Just residents trying to rebuild their lives. Who’s going to help them?”

Six months ago, my sister Jean asked the rhetorical question: How would the federal government have responded if Katrina had hit Connecticut? Let’s ask another version of that rhetorical question today: If Katrina had hit Connecticut, what would Connecticut look like today, six months afterwards?

Christmas gifts

It’s “Holiday Shops Days” in downtown New Bedford this weekend, with an antique fire engine carrying Santa Claus, rides in horse-drawn carriage, tree-lighting in front of the Public Library, people singing carols outside our building, marching bands going up and down the downtown streets, sleigh bells jingling.

I’ve been sitting here in our apartment enjoying the festive sounds outside our windoww while I’m paying bills. I just opened up the year-end appeal from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and found the enclosed:

Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005

As a point of information to donors considering philanthropic gifts to humanitarian agencies and other organizations… you may be interested in knowing about a recent tax relief act that affects philanthropic giving.

President Bush has signed into law a measure that allows donors to deduct qualified charitable gifts in amounts up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income. This temporarily suspends the current limitation of 50% of Adjusted Gross Income….

OK, I doubt that many readers of this blog are able to donate 100% of their adjusted gross income to charities providing services to Gulf Coast relief. But if there are such people reading this blog, I just wanted to let you know that you might want to talk with your financial advisors about whether you’re able to benefit from increased giving this year. There is still a great need for Gulf Coast Relief. Remember, too, that if you want to donate to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a minimum of 95% of those donations will go directly to services (i.e., the fund has very low administrative costs).

Even those of us who can’t give 100% of your adjusted gross income in charitable donations should consider giving a gift to Gulf Coast Relief. There are lots of people along the Gulf Coast who could still use that kind of Christmas gift. Carol and I are planning our year-end giving right now, and we plan to give generously to Gulf Coast Relief.

From Buttonwood Park to New Orleans

I was out for a short stroll this evening, and I ran into a couple of people I know.

“We’re off to meet Fred Kalisz,” they said. It’s election season, and with nine mayoral candidates in New Bedford, this is the time of year when the candidates are all trying to meet the voters. “And after that, we have two or three more candidate meetings to go to,” they added.

That made me curious. Not many people would go to three meet-the-candidate events in one evening. It turned out that they are active in the “Friends of Buttonwood Park.” (For out-of-town readers, Buttonwood Park is a beautiful park just west of the downtown.) It’s an Olmsted-designed park, but it is not quite what it once was. Thus the “Friends of Buttonwood Park,” a non-profit citizen’s advocacy group, was formed to try to restore some of Buttonwood’s fading beauty.

The city has not been entirely responsive to this citizen’s group. Cities often seem designed for efficiency, not for higher purposes. Don’t plant more trees in the park because then you have to rake more leaves which costs more money. Yet Buttonwood Park was explicitly founded, not for the sake of convenience in raking leaves, but for the pleasure of workers who live in the city and need a place to go to restore their souls.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but I will have to tell these members of the “Friends of Buttonwood Park” about the concept of “ecojustice.” Ecojustice is shorthand both for economic justice and for ecological justice. For, you see, economic justice and ecological justice are so interwoven you really can’t separate them out. For example — we never hear about the problem of too many trees in the suburbs, and the wealthier the suburb, the more the trees, and the more leaves there are to rake. But you’d be crazy to complain about too many trees in a wealthy suburb. Yet for those who find it difficult to escape from the city, or who are bound to the city for most of the week because of their work schedule, trees somehow become an inefficient nuisance. Funny how that works.

You can think about the recent tragedy in New Orleans in terms of ecojustice, too. Notice how the poorest neighborhoods wind up in areas that are prone to ecological disasters like flooding (and toxic waste dumps, and major sources of air polution, and so on)? Funny how that works. Looks like economic and ecological justice really are linked.

More on Katrina

(1) My older sister wrote the following on her blog:

I try what I am now calling my “Connecticut Theory” on a friend: “If this were Connecticut, not New Orleans, our president would have cut short his vacation on Saturday, not Tuesday; if this were Connecticut, our government would have sent troops and supplies and help before the hurricane, not five days after it; if this were Connecticut, everyone would have gotten out, not only those who could; if this were Connecticut, the rhetoric emanating from the White House would match the reality unfolding on the ground.” My friend just nods, both of us perhaps remembering Bush’s infamous line in Fahrenheit 911 to the wealthy white patrons at a fundraising dinner: “You are my base.”

(2) Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, has expressed anger at the response to the people trapped in New Orleans. You can read his comments on the online magazine, uuworld.org. Most importantly, you’ll also find many links to ways you can help with relief efforts.

(3) Just heard from someone here in New Bedford who works for a non-profit agency that is helping the evacuees who have now been flown in to Otis Air Force Base, and is feeling some stress. It’s a huge effort just to care for the few evacuees who have come to Massachusetts.

(4) Here at First Unitarian, we’ve been getting some information about what’s needed at Otis Air Force Base. The following emergency supplies are needed at Otis as of Sept. 8, according to Rev. Bob Murphy:

NEW clothing, diapers and “baby wipes,” bottled water, and toilet (personal hygiene) items. Clothing for all age groups is needed. New underwear, especially, is requested… Supplies for Otis can be taken to the Falmouth Service Center, which is located at 611 Gifford Street in Falmouth. TELEPHONE: 548-2794… The Service Center is open on weekdays, during the day, to receive deliveries. When you bring supplies to the Service Center, let the volunteers know that “these things are for the people at Otis.” (The Service Center has collections for several community projects.)

(5) Bob Murphy also says that if you’re looking to volunteer at Otis, you should contact the American Red Cross — call their Hyannis office at 508-775-1540.

Please remember that if you volunteer at Otis, you will be going on a military base during wartime, so be sure you have proper ID, and be respectful of the already stressed military personnel at the base.

Odds and ends

The first week or two of September has been the busiest time of year in all the Unitarian Universalist congregations I have served, as we rev up again after summer slow-down. This week at First Unitarian has been no exception. Church phone ringing, meetings, people stopping in to say hi, lay leaders trying to get thigns done — the usual. On top of that, Carol and I still don’t have DSL service at home, and there’s something wacky with the DSL service here at church. Net result — I haven’t posted anything to this blog since Saturday.

But here are some odds and ends from notes I’ve accumulated over the past few days….

Sunday evening: Candleworks restaurant, two blocks from our apartment, had an outdoors band which was, um, pretty mediocre (to be charitable) and all too audible from our windows. Rather than suffer, um, listen, we took a walk down by the waterfront. Talked with a crew member from the cruise ship docked at the end of state pier — fascinating guy, loves to travel, hiked most of the Appalachian trail a couple of years ago, has gone all over North America, has found perfect job working for a cruise ship. He’ll take a couple of weeks off in the fall to go deer hunting in Michigan, where he comes from. Also spent a couple of hours talking to J. S., director of the port facilities. He regaled us with tales of what it’s like to run a port as a local official having to intereact with state and federal agencies. He grew up on the water in Revere, and rowed all over Boston Harbor in his youth — salt water runs in his veins.

Monday: Carol and I drove to Horseneck Beach in Westport, the big state beach for the Southcoast region. All the lifeguard chairs had already been removed from the beach and stacked behind the showers building. I wandered over to the snack stand, which was still open. “Hi, any hot dogs left?” I asked. “Well if you want hot food, we have fries and clam cakes,” he said. The clam cakes looked soggy. I had fries. I could see the staff emptying out the shelves and scrubbing everything down. The end of summer.

Tuesday: The news from the Gulf Coast continues to be depressing. Might be some refugees coming to Otis Air Force Base near here, and one member of our congregation is working for a non-profit agency that will probably provide services to them. I am following the “blame game” that’s going on in the press — Bush is to blame, the Louisiana state governor is to blame, the Army Corps of Engineers is to blame, local governemtn is to blame. I’d love it if someone in authority just said, “Things aren’t going well, I’m sorry” — but we no longer say “I’m sorry” in our culture, do we? Bush is taking heat for his “weak leadership” — too early to second-guess anyone right now. As a minister what I’ve noticed is that Bush, an avowed Christian, has insulated himself from the poor and destitute. This, too, has become a national trait — those of us who are comfortable don’t want to get too close to the poor, the hungry, the destitute. It’s easy to write a check for disaster relief in a place a thousand miles away, but much harder to have to deal with hunger in someone standing next to us. Maybe that’s why some Americans are so angry at Bush for avoiding the poor and destitute — his actions are merely a reflection of our actions. No one likes to see an ugly reflection of themselves.

Wednesday: Had an appointment over at the Standard-Times, the daily newspaper here in New Bedford. Fun to walk through a real newsroom, although it looks nothing like the photos we have of the newsrooms my grandfather worked in. One picture shows him with the green eyeshade, sitting at a big wood desk covered with papers, sleeve garters, a couple of guys witting near him smoking cigars. The Standard-Times newsroom — big modern open space, fluorescent lights, windows looking out over the downtown, cubicles, computers on every desk. I was talking with Linda Rodrigues of the Standard-Times, and we discovered we are both interested in the new news media. Newspapers are moving more and more to Web sites, blogs, and so on. But I’ll bet the move away from newsprint will not change the basic newsroom — the computers are already there on everyone’s desk.

P.S.: Latest news this morning is that no one will be relocated to Otis Air Force Base.

Update — September 10, 2005: Evacuees have been relocated to Otis.

More on Katrina

My younger sister, Abby, writes:

Hi Dan,

As you suggested, I sent a donation to the American Red Cross for hurricane disaster relief. But I saw something on the Today Show this morning that got me thinking — a man on a rooftop in New Orleans with his three (rather injured) dogs. It got me thinking about how we need to remember the pets, wildlife, and farm animals who were also affected by the hurricane, and whose needs will, by grim necessity, take a back seat to those of the humans who are suffering.
“Anyway, is there any chance that you could mention on your blog that donations can be made to the Humane Society of the United States Disaster Relief Fund, www.hsus.org? I know you reach a lot of caring, concerned people via your blog. Which I do read regularly, by the way….

Great idea — and anything for a regular reader, Abby!

Worse than we thought

The news from New Orleans and other areas hit hard by Hurricane Katrina just keeps getting worse. Now it looks like it will be months before New Orleans will be habitable again. All along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through Mississippi and into Alabama was hit hard, with storm surges in excess of 20 feet in some places, and of course flooding from rain and rivers overflowing. Thousands of people may be dead, once we get the final death toll. This may turn out to be the biggest natural disaster in the United States since the legenary 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

The emergency response by governmental agencies appears to be unable to keep up with the magnitude of the disaster. (And before you blame those crazy people for staying in the face of evacuation orders, my sister’s blog makes a good point — many of them had no means to get out.) Worse yet, it looks like many areas that were hardest hit were woefully underinsured. All this means that voluntary contributions are going to be critical. Give what you can now. One way to give is through the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Gulf Coast Relief Fund. They have pledged to keep administrative costs below 5%, and they have people on the ground in the affected areas with local knowledge of wht needs to be done.

Nor is this problem going to go away any time soon. Maybe we should all start a move to give donations to rebuilding the Gulf Coast in lieu of half our Christmas presents this year. Or something.

One last suggestion: before you send your donation to the aid agency of your choice, see if your employer will match it. Carol’s employer will match her donations, so we will send in our donations in her name.

The news from down there is so bad that when we saw gas prices of $3.49 today, it just didn’t seem that important. At least we’re alive.

Storm water

We had pouring rain here in New Bedford last night. I could hear it pounding on the skylights of our apartment. When I got to the church this morning, I knew there would be water in the basement. An underground stream flows under the Parish Hall, and the whole foundation is less-than-waterproof. And I was right — there was water in some of the rooms in the lower basement.

Six hours later, most of the lower basement had up to a couple of inches of water. Towards the end of the afternoon, as the water kept rising, I decided to rescue some nice child-sized oak furniture that had been stored down there. I saved a few other nice things as well. By the end of the afternoon, I was hot and sticky and dirty, and feeling pretty cranky.

But I got to go home to a nice clean, dry apartment, with electricity and running water. I got to have a nice dinner in my own apartment. Unlike people in New Orleans, who are dealing with up to twenty feet of storm water — not just a couple of inches in the church basement.

From all accounts, it’s a disaster down there. I don’t pray, but I’ll be sending good thoughts. You can, too — send prayers, good thoughts, positive energy, whatever you got, they can use it. It wouldn’t hurt to send money, either. I’ll be sending my donation to the American Red Cross because I’ve seen first hand the work they can do in responding to emergency situations. Pick your own organization, but do send what you can.

Read BBC News coverage.

Read American Red Cross response. Includes a link to donate online.