Thanks to Tim Blair in Australia, some new information on the older victims of Hurricane Katrina has been brought to our attention: at least 60 percent of the dead identified so-far were age 61 and older.
"’You had a combination of devastating flood waters and elderly and infirm populations with fewer resources. That equals fatalities,’ said Dr. Jullette Saussy, director of Emergency Medical Services for the city of New Orleans and one of those who fielded desperate cell phone calls from New Orleanians trapped by water.”
- The Times-Picayune, 23 October 2005
Many drowned, said Dr. Saussy, but others of heat, dehydration or lack of attention to chronic medical conditions. She related a heartbreaking story, that must have been one too many like it, regarding:
“…frantic call from an eastern New Orleans woman who asked for instructions replacing an oxygen tank an elderly relative needed to stay alive. The coaching didn't work, and Saussy doesn't know if rescuers made it to the home in time.
"’She couldn't get it,’ Saussy said. ‘I couldn't talk her through it.’"
- The Times-Picayune, 23 October 2005
And, according to the coroner, the vast majority of victims in St. Bernard Parish were people in their late 60s and 70s. Only one child’s body has been found there so far.
I don’t mean to be an I-told-you-so, but as Tim Blair kindly pointed out, I predicted this in the immediate aftermath of Katrina:
“Although Louisiana nursing homes are required by law to have a detailed evacuation plans and signed contracts with private transportation companies, 70 percent of them were not evacuated. Thirty-two people died in one flooded home in Chalmette, Louisiana, when the staff ran off abandoning the residents in their beds.
“In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s were dumped and left alone on the auditorium floor of a local high school without food, water or their medications.”
And, as we now know, the majority of victims of all ages were the poor. Those without cars, without money, without means, without good health were the ones left to die.
It is unconscionable that the authorities – local, state and federal – were so derelict in preparation for this disaster, but already public discussion of the poor in our country has subsided while their numbers grow each year. As The New York Times reported on 30 August [no link]:
- Household income has failed to increase for five straight years
- Median pre-tax income for 2004, accounting for inflation, was at its lowest point since 1997
- The poverty rate increased in 2004 to 12.7 percent, from 12.5 percent in 2003
- 16 percent of Americans are without health insurance
“’It looks like the gains from the [economic] recovery haven’t filtered down,’ said Phillip L. Swagel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. ‘The gains have gone to owners of capital and not to workers.’”
- The New York Times, 30 August 2005
As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announces indictments (or not) later this week in the CIA leak case, and as the 2006 mid-term election campaigns for Congress heat up in the next few months, let us not forget the dead and the poor of the Gulf Coast and the rest of the Americans slowing sinking below the poverty line.
And let us not forget either who is responsible: it is every member of Congress who lacked the backbone to stand up to the imperial presidency and its Republican support – the ones who squandered President Clinton’s budget surplus on an unwarranted war, on tax cuts for the rich and reductions in social programs while increasing their pet pork projects into the billions of dollars.
To again quote George Lakeoff: “The central role of government is to use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives.”