NEW ORLEANS — Every disaster is different. And yet, the questions that result are often the same, or at least similar.
How many people are stranded? How will we save them? Are there enough shelters? And food? And water? How many bodies? How will we find them? Store them? Identify them?
Ray Nagin took a lot of criticism 12 years ago for failing to call for an evacuation until the day before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Should Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have evacuated the nation’s fourth-largest city? Would it have saved lives? Or would trying to move 6.5 million people out of the path of a fast-forming Hurricane Harvey have been a road-clogging, dangerous folly?
“We would be putting people in harm’s way,” Turner insisted last week.
Will the reservoir dams in Houston hold? Or give way like the flood walls of New Orleans?
“We’re kind of reliving the whole thing again,” former New Orleanian Barbara Spangenberg said last week in a phone interview as she and her husband Rob — chased from New Orleans to Houston 12 years ago — kept tabs on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
Who will have jobs when they come back? Who won’t have a job? Who won’t come back?
There will likely be curfews in a lot of places so authorities can keep people safe and prevent looting.
Nagin promised a crackdown on looters 12 years ago. Looters should be arrested, shouldn’t they?
But where does looting end and surviving begin? There was this guy who walked out of the Rite Aid in New Orleans 12 years ago, clutching boxes and bottles to his chest. He spotted a reporter and photographer and didn’t turn away. “Look at this,” he shouted repeatedly and defiantly as he walked toward them, his arms laden with soap, mouthwash, toothpaste.
Lately, in Texas, reports of shots being fired at, or maybe just near, volunteer rescuers from Louisiana are still being sorted out. Twelve years ago, reports that shots were fired at helicopters over the city were never substantiated and reports of rapes and murders among the desperate hordes at the Superdome and Morial Convention Center were debunked.
Can we trust everything we hear? Should we give in to our worst fears?
“I think many Americans don’t understand the extent to which fears about savage behavior during Katrina were just flat-out wrong,” said Tulane University historian Andy Horowitz, who is writing a book about Katrina.
How do you get rid of black mold? How long will food last in the refrigerator after the power goes off? How do you register with FEMA?
How do I file a flood insurance claim?
Why the hell didn’t I get flood insurance?
When are those poor folks in Texas and southwestern Louisiana going to start feeling normal again? How long will it be before they stop getting knots in their stomachs and sweaty palms every time there’s a report of a tropical wave off the coast of Africa or a low pressure system forming in the Gulf of Mexico? Will they ever get over it?
“My heart goes out to them because this is going to be something that’s going to affect them the rest of their lives,” New Orleans resident Donna Banks told The Associated Press as she sat on the porch of a friend’s home. Harvey had pounded Houston and Port Arthur and nearby points in Louisiana and the city’s residents were beginning to feel the relief of knowing New Orleans would be spared. This time.
“I think you should get more doctors down there,” Banks said. “Mental doctors as well.”
Louisiana is providing shelters for displaced Texans. Louisianians are providing boats and personnel for rescues. New Orleans bars and restaurants are collecting donations or dedicating a portion of proceeds to the Harvey victims.
At least there’s one question with a multitude of good answers.
How can I help?
EDITORS NOTE: Kevin McGill is an Associated Press reporter based in New Orleans.
An AP News Analysis