and in this entry we read the latest, possibly the most intense installment of Messages from Mississippi, written by our friend Tim:
- this was written in stages, so keep that in mind as you read it. As usual, I'm angry, guilty, sad, and scared at different times that I wrote. That might explain some of the miss-matched tones of the writings.
I've written this email once before, and somehow deleted the draft before I could finish it and send it. Therefore I'm afraid this version won't be as detail oriented as the first. It wasn't at all easy to write the first time, and not really any easier this time either. I get angry and wrought with emotion whenever I think about my state lying in ruin and all the attention and relief that Louisiana is getting. Now it's not that those people don't deserve help, Lord knows they do, however, a country shouldn't overlook an entire state simply because that's where CNN cameras were first!
After a long week of our Denver/Los Angeles/ Dallas triangle run, we volunteered for extra duty when we arrived back at the hub in Memphis.
They gave us a choice between New Orleans and Gulfport. I'm partial to my home state so I chose the Gulfport/Hattiesburg.
On the way down interstate 55 we saw convoys of pickups pulling campers. At first we didn't really know what to make of it, but later during the trip and in lieu of the destruction we recognized this as people bringing them down to family and friends as temporary housing. It soon became very obvious that Mississippi was having to help itself, because the rest of the country, and world for that matter, was and still is, transfixed on New Orleans.
South past Jackson is where the damage begins to be really noticeable. Trees are down, power lines, including main transmission lines are down and lying everywhere. We knew the route well down US49 to the coast, but those trekking it for the first time would be having a difficult time. Most highway signs and street signs are down south of Hattiesburg. The interchange at I59 and US49 is now completely unmarked. Even though I have driven that route as a connector route to US98 to Mobile literally hundreds of times, I missed my exit by 15 miles and had to backtrack. That's just how different the landscape has been changed.
We saw points along the way where the National Guard had blocked US49, then moved the check-point further down as the roadway was cleared. They left behind saw horses, burn barrels (mosquitoes?) Burned flares and such at these points.
Wiggins, MS was where the severe damage became apparent. We saw mobile homes that had been rolled across fields like they were soda cans. I can only hope no one was in them. From this point on the guardrails along the sides of either side of US49 were damaged from trees falling on them. They looked like someone had hit them with huge sledge hammers every 25 feet. Piles of pine tree trunks and limbs that were in the road lay in large piles all along the roadway, not unlike snow piled up after a winter snow storm.
Entry into Gulfport was made through a check-point of National Guard Soldiers. I saw no electricity anywhere save where there running generators. The confusion was so apparent when we crossed under I-10 that you could see it in everyone's faces, save two groups of people. The National Guardsmen had missions, orders and knew why they where there and what to do. The Mississippi Power & Light and it's hired outside contractors knew why they were there and what to do. Thank God for these two groups of people, because they were the only resemblance of order and the closest thing I saw to order on the coast that afternoon.
Some good people from all over everywhere I would imagine, took the time to donate clothing for those that had lost everything. Some other people took time to box these clothes and find a way to transport them to the area. Some truck driver probably helped load those boxes and drove his truck to Gulfport to get clothes to the needy. When he got there however, there was no one in charge. No one knew where to tell him to take his load to. Eventually a police chief decided to get him to unload all the boxes of clothes in the center of a large parking lot. He did. They were still there when we drove by, all mixed up, all sizes and everything. You just walked up and started digging, no order whatsoever.
There were no large signs like I would expect. There should have been huge signs that read; "Hurricane relief victims sign up here for FEMA" or " RED CROSS " but there was no red cross, not any large scale operation anyway. Yes, there were two vans that I saw with a red cross on them, but I think they were operating under licence or something, as in they were actually a private outfit.
I saw no police patrolling Gulfport. I saw police, in traffic, driving just like I was, but they weren't patrolling. I saw out of town police working the railroad tracks to the beach road blocks. The two that We spoke with that were stopping traffic on Cowan going to Beach Blvd. Were from Ohio! Back on US49 we saw looting of a self storage building in broad daylight in view of the police I spoke of cruising the street. That's why I said they were't patrolling. If they were, I guess they were afraid.
There was a severe lack of leadership, and control at Gulfport, or at least from my point of view. I think we should seriously consider giving the task of emergency management to whom it belongs to in the first place: The National Guard. Once rescue measures and emergency mode are over, then maybe local, state and even federal government can handle the tasks that remain, so long as the Guard are staged nearby.
I'll probably take a big hit for this idea, but....
I have a novel idea.
Let's leave the Guard at home so they can guard the nation. I mean gee whiz people, isn't that why we started the guard in the first place? To have a force to defend the homeland should an outside force invade the country while the active duty forces were out fighting on foreign soil. What about natural disasters? Wouldn't that apply to? I think we need to seriously consider this.
There are those that say my idea has a flaw, that people will use the guard to stay out of active duty. Well then, make a guard force from veteran active duty forces. I'm sure we can work out manageable programs to satisfy all sides.
I've always thought some of the military's best assets are being wasted in its veterans. The veteran has much to offer in the way of experience, leadership, and patriotism. He is a lost asset.
Tonight our commander-in-chief has taken personal responsibilty for the late and in some cases the inaction of the Federal Emergency Management Agencies. In the following weeks and months to come we will hear many senate and congressional hearings about the days before and the days after Katrina. The President tonight spoke of giving more authority to the military after such a disaster as Katrina. I couldn't agree with him more. I seriously suspect that in the weeks to come you will hear stories like I have from other truck drivers whom had trailers of ice, water, blankets, medicine, and food ready to deliver to New Orleans, Louisiana. They were hired by FEMA to deliver those loads over 40 of them, that made it all the way to the Louisiana scales, where the Louisiana state police stopped them on TUESDAY and would not allow them into the state by order of both the Governer of the state of Louisiana and the Mayor of the city of New Orleans.
Don't take my word though, just wait, that will come out. Those trucks (you saw some, by the way, at the convention center Thursday and dome same day - red tractor, white trailers, they were U.S. Express trucks, based out of Chattanooga, TN) were finally let in on Thursday. People died from need of water and medicine that was on those trucks. Bad, huh? Well, the story is and I can't confirm this part, is that Nagin was concerned about letting more people into the city right after the hurricane, because he was worried about looters. A local cop stationed at the French Quarter was quoted as saying that Mayor Nagin said to protect the French Quarter at all costs. It makes me wonder what this Mayor was really concerned about.
Back to Mississippi:
It is my opinion that in Louisiana the local and state level governments are going to take some percentage of the total blame.
Haley Barbour is going to emerge from this in much better shape politically than he has ever been in. Trent Lott will even score several points from this, as he is handled this quite well, considering his foul-up and career nose-dive last year.
Still, I see Mississippi getting screwed again, as normal. Dead last at everything, and now even last at getting aid. President Bush tonight spoke of the Federal Government's plan to allow homesteading on public land in Louisiana.
Okay, what about Mississippians? Oh were going to try and hire Mississippi Natives to do the clean up so some of the relief money stays in Mississippi. Gee, thanks.
Do I sound bitter?
I guess the old adage is true. You know the one, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease". Louisiana cried more than we did. Oh yeah, and they had an Ace in the hole as well...
The Race card.
I've said it once and I'll say again, it (the worst affected areas of New Orleans I.e. St. Bernard Parish and Orleans Parish) had nothing to do with race and everything to do with class. Poverty does not know to stop at certain race homes or areas any more than Katrina knew to stop at Waveland, Mississippi.
While I understand the intent and desire to promote and grasp any opportunity available to minorities to afford minority advancement, the jumping on the bandwagon of celebrities to badmouth the President and his staff, for what obviously appears to be personal gain by self promotion is sickening to me. It would seem to me that if these images outraged them that much they would have boarded their private jets and personally helped some of "our peoples" get the hell out of there. At the very least, open his wallet instead of his/her mouth.
These are my thoughts and emotions. I'm stuck constantly between angry and sad. I imagine those in Oklahoma City not directly affected know what I mean, or those in Florida after Ivan. Maybe those in New York City after 911 or any other serious disaster.
Maybe I do think too much as some have suggested, but what if nobody did any thinking?
I wish I could grab up a whole bunch of those skater type kids that talk so much about anarchy and let them experience New Orleans after dark without benefit of police and ask them their opinion of anarchy now.
I wish I could grab up a whole bunch of the crabbiest most hating racist I could find and take one starving, dying, swollen black innocent infant child and force him to hold it while it died. Do you think he would beg for food then?
I wish a lot of things, but right now I wish for my country to learn from this, to not have let these images of floating bodies go in vain, I beg of us all, please let retain these memories and not allow our country to rule us, but for us to rule our country. I pray that we remember these things as we vote, as we renew our coast and that we retain leaders with strong but fair hands.
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