Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Requiem in Four Acts

I guess, like many others, I had forgotten about Hurricane Katrina, when it quickly disappeared from regular news bulletins after the immediate flooding had subsided. Perhaps it became no longer newsworthy to international media.

But over the past few nights, the BBC has been screening Spike Lee's HBO film 'When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts' about the hurricane and its aftermath, several months later. It uses a good mix of footage from the period of the hurricane, combined with a broad selection of interviews, conducted months later, with people involved in different capacities, from residents of New Orleans telling their stories, to civil engineers, lawyers, politicians and news reporters. The use of jazz and blues as part of the musical background to much of the footage is really excellent, being both celebratory and mournful in different ways.

Although the Louisiana State Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team closed the Victim Identification Center in March 2006, the impact on survivors' health and in Post Traumatic Stress related deaths escapes theses official statistics. The death rate in New Orleans stands at over 30% higher than before the hurricane... serious illness, depression and suicide all different responses to what happened in August 2005. Debris was still being cleared 6 months on, while homeless residents had to wait months just to be offered temporary housing in trailers.

Apart from being obviously heart-rending in hearing peoples' experiences, the film leaves a really depressing realisation that so many deaths and personal tragedies could have been prevented, with a less inept response from various authorities involved. Presumably it is the huge price paid by those living in a relatively poor part of the USA, where political capital to be made from that area is limited, once the natural gas and oil supplies have been mined and the profits channelled off to central Federal funds.

Canadian Mounties and offers of help from Central America came within 2 days... while Bush and his cronies were shown fly-fishing, shoe-shopping at Ferragamo and attending lectures on disease control, all nowhere near New Orleans. It was pointed out that the USA mobilised aid for the boxing day Asian Tsunami within 2 days of it happening, while it was 5 days before federal involvement in one of their own States. But the Mayor was eventually summoned to a meeting with Bush on his presidential plane, Airforce 1 (or his 'pimpmobile' as Nagin called it...) and hey presto! Military help rolled into town led by 'a Black John Wayne'.

So many of the people interviewed had an incredible spirit and attachment to the city, with family roots in that area going back generations. The HBO site has links to various organisations continuing to help rebuild both the city and people's lives.

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