There’s been a recent spate of right-wing blogs all saying the same thing:
“Now, I’m not racist, but how come all those small-town Iowans are so much more supportive and self-reliant than those big city New Orleans folks were during their disaster?”
It’s important to make a few points here.
1.) Reports of looting and violence during Katrina were wildly exaggerated during news coverage of the storm and aftermath. The murders at the SuperDome? Didn’t happen. The shooting at rescuers? Didn’t happen. The widespread looting? Was largely confined to food and fresh water, which in time of crisis is legally allowable. After all the dust (and water) settled down, and police went through all their reports, the total number of murders in New Orleans over the course of the hurricane and immediate aftermath was four – not unreasonably high for a city with New Orleans’ crime rate.
So right off the bat, when someone complains that those horrible New Orleans folks (who just happen to be black) were so horrible with their looting and murdering, feel free to smack them. Given the size of Katrina’s wake as compared to Iowa’s flooding (and this isn’t to dismiss Iowa’s flooding damages as “small”, because they obviously weren’t, but come on, the two events simply aren’t comparable in size – Katrina turned the entire Gulf Coast into one big disaster area while the Iowa floods left Des Moines, the largest city in the state, relatively untouched), New Orleans residents largely behaved in an orderly and civic-minded fashion.
The point here is simple: it’s entirely fair to congratulate Iowans for their civic pride in failing to loot during a much smaller disaster. But comparing to New Orleans, even ignoring the respective difference in scale, is kind of stupid because for the most part New Orleans residents were just as proudly conscious of their duty towards their fellow citizens.
2.) Iowa residents had the good sense to evacuate, while those stupid N’awlinsians stuck around for the hurricane. First, let’s completely toss aside the fact that Iowa residents had Katrina as a fairly effective learning experience. While we’re at it, let’s ignore all those Floridians who survived Hurricane Andrew and then decided to stick around for the next one when given the chance.
No, instead let’s discuss something really, really simple: hurricanes and floods are different things! I realize this might be revelatory to some, but bear with me.
See, hurricanes, before they are hurricanes, are tropical storms. Nobody is going to evacuate for a tropical storm; no politician would order it and most citizens, other than the most storm-paranoid, aren’t going to bother. Because it’s a tropical storm. If you’re not out at sea, that means a lot of rain and probably some wind damage, but stay indoors and you’ll probably be fine. Katrina, like most serious hurricanes, upgraded from tropical storm to category 1 hurricane (rough, but probably not worth evacuating) to category 3 hurricane (time to beat feet) in rapid succession, so much so that New Orleans’ mandatory evacuation was only ordered with less than 36 hours’ worth of notice to get out of Dodge. And when the damage happened, it all happened at once, quickly and with very little opportunity to prevent damages – primarily because of the massive levee breaks.
Now, Iowa. Iowa wasn’t a flash flood; when flooding began on June 8th, it was a steady, lengthy process. People could see the danger coming because floods, unlike hurricanes, are relatively predictable, and this in turn let them do things like reinforce levees and evacuate people by moving them to high ground. (FUN FACT: moving to high ground is not that useful in a hurricane!)
And of course, there are those piddling little details like there being only one major traffic artery in and out of New Orleans (the I-10) whereas Iowa, as a state, is basically roads and fields; the fact that Katrina victims were largely and systematically prevented from fleeing the city, sometimes at gunpoint; and that 20 percent of N’awlinsians don’t own a car as compared to 6 percent of Iowans, and in both cases those percentages tend to be the people too broke to easily afford, say, a bus ticket.
3.) Iowans are self-respecting, self-reliant salt-of-the-earth folks who don’t need no government dollar to get their lives back on track. It’s entirely possible that Iowans believe this, but they’re entirely too happy to apply for that federal aid they don’t need and don’t want (nearly 15,000 applications in the first week), which incidentally is currently estimated to top out between $3 and $4 billion.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s good that they’re getting that money, considering that’s probably close to the total damages suffered. But it takes a special sort of blinded gall to ignore Iowans getting reimbursed almost entirely for their damages and then complain that Katrina victims are sucking on the government teat when total damages from Katrina are estimated between 125 and 150 billion smackers and Katrina’s victims have received only $114 billion, or in between 70 and 90 percent of damages depending on whose damage estimate you believe.
All of this, incidentally, ignores the fact that Iowans are about as likely as New Orleansites (Orleanians? Orleandos? I dunno) to be on welfare or to receive food stamps, so in that regard they likewise suck about the same amount of government teat. Of course, Iowans are a lot more likely to receive giant agricultural subsidies, but I understand that accepting such money does not in any way make you less self-reliant or salt-of-the-earth.