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The Color of Disaster Relief

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“We must fight for meaningful relief of those still living. We must advocate for humble remembrances of the Black and Brown lives tragically lost in disasters, whether man-made or natural.”

As the nation honors those who perished on September 11, little attention is paid to the watery graves of the Gulf Coast. The 13th anniversary of Katrina’s devastation barely gets a blip in the news. The names are 9/11 victims are read aloud, one by one, so that their precious lives are remembered. Katrina and Maria victims deserve the same. What constitutes the differences in our recognition, in our grieving?

Since August 29, 2005, the trauma of Katrina still haunts this nation and for the residents of the Gulf Coast, life will never be the same. A year out from Hurricane Maria, the lives of Puerto Ricans are still turned upside down with no relief in sight. The facts are clear and irrefutable for both situations.

World renown chef Jose’ Andres called out the U.S. government’s insensitive response to Hurricane Maria. Andres took initiative and his culinary skills and organized getting food to people in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disaster in the island’s history. He righteously questioned the concept of “emergency” in the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Thirteen years out from Hurricane Katrina, it appears that there’s little change in FEMA’s effectiveness when it comes to Black and Brown people.

President George W. Bush patted then-FEMA head, Michael D. Brown on the back for a great job during the Katrina un-recovery efforts. Williams Brock Long was appointed to head FEMA by trump who declared he was doing a “fabulous” job in the Puerto Rican un-recovery. I’m thinking if you look at both these president’s racist policies towards Black and Brown people in general, then you can conclude that Brown and Long were doing a great job of following policy.

The levees broke in New Orleans based upon governmental negligence. Unconfirmed reports state that approximately 1800 people died directly or indirectly because of Katrina. The storm’s damage was estimated at $125 billion. One million people were displaced. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that about $1 billion of the FEMA payouts were fraudulent. Translation to me is that the hustlers who knew the system were the beneficiaries and the others who didn’t have the hook-up were taken through miles of red tape and most never received the funds needed to rebuild. The population of New Orleans was cut in half with many residents never able to return.

Puerto Rico is a colonized island of the U.S. and has no political representation in Congress. Like Katrina, the death toll is under-estimated. We now know the death count is way more than the original count of 64; it’s closer to 5,000. After a year, the island still doesn’t have complete power. There are food shortages and other services are not at capacity. The estimated cost of fully recover is set at $140 billion but Congress has only approved $5 billion in aid.

The World Trade Center is a distant memory. The only way to remember it now is through photographs. In the place of tons of rubble and human carnage has emerged the tallest building in the country at 104 stories, 1 World Trade Center. There’s also a memorial and a museum over 16 acres. The whole project—delayed for years due to infighting—cost about $4 billion, double the original estimate. But who care? It was for a worthy cause.

In rural Pennsylvania, a new structure now sits on the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. It’s called Tower of Voices, a memorial for the 40 passengers who lost their lives on September 11. There will be 40 chimes on the monument to memorialize their silenced voices.

We must fight for meaningful relief of those still living. We must advocate for humble remembrances of the Black and Brown lives tragically lost in disasters, whether man-made or natural.

The grand piano of Fats Domino was almost a casualty of Hurricane Katrina. The piano was literally dismantled piece by piece to be cleaned of mold and debris. It was restored to its original and historic status because somebodies thought it was worth it.

The same passion and serious attention to detail must be applied to the restoration of human lives and their communities. A life is worth more than a piano—even one owned by Fats Domino.

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