September 4, 2005

Bad news and good news coming from small towns

We've been hearing for several days that the plight of the big city blacks in New Orleans shows how racist America is, but it's starting to look like small town whites may have been hit harder by Hurricane Katrina, but nobody started to notice until today.

Almost forgotten in the hubbub over New Orleans is the fate of small town folks in the Delta. Here's the LA Times report about Chalmette, LA, south of New Orleans. It looks like nature did much worse outside New Orleans, but humanity did better:

Stranded in New Orleans' Shadow
Isolated in the storm's aftermath, the residents of Chalmette banded together for survival.
By Ellen Barry, Times Staff Writer

CHALMETTE, La. — Chalmette has been cut off from the world for six days... The losses were just coming into focus Saturday. A storm surge estimated at 25 feet had receded, leaving yellowish watermarks along the retail strip, but parts of the city were under an expanse of water, with a sheen of oil and a sickly sweet smell. On the front of houses, search-and rescue teams had spray-painted the numbers of dead found inside. One house had a blue six.

The water rose 10 feet in 10 minutes on the morning of the storm, residents said, so fast you could watch a wall of water advancing down residential streets. Sheriff Jack Stephens would not estimate a death toll, but spoke of several large groups of people who had died together.

Thirty-one elderly residents of a nursing home died "in their sleep" when their facility was flooded, he said. And in a subdivision, rescue personnel had found the bodies of 21 people who had tied themselves together, he said, probably in an attempt to evacuate. The scenes were so disturbing that 30 of his deputies could no longer work because of fatigue and emotional overload, Stephens said.

The federal response, he said, has been "woefully inadequate." ...

Over the next two days, she and Lobre played endless games of Yahtzee as they waited for the water to go down. It didn't. What happened instead was this: Boats began to pass under their window, driven by local people offering to throw necessities up to them. Batteries sailed up and so did cigarettes.

"It was like a Mardi Gras parade, but instead of beads, it was food, and lighters, and dry towels," Lobre said.

On the third day, the two hitched a ride on a boat to Chalmette High School, which had been made into a shelter. A woman bore a child there -- named Katrina -- and dead bodies were stored behind a stage, where the children couldn't see them.

Michael Couture, 31, is an avid fan of the reality show "Survivor," and always thought he would be good at it. What happened over six days, he said, was a real-life version: For the first few days, most of the stranded people focused on themselves. But then a community of interests developed. People raided local stores and distributed what they found.

Bruce Velez, a construction worker, made his way to houses all over the city; among the people he rescued was an elderly woman who had climbed on top of her refrigerator to escape the rising water.

Larry Strahub spent much of the week with 17 strangers in an apartment building. Personalities clashed at times, he said. But before he left -- he paddled 15 miles to find help on Saturday -- they planned a reunion.

Being one of those evil readers, you're probably wondering if the demographics of Chalmette had anything to do with how much better the local survivors self-organized for mutual aid than did the New Orleans survivors. Well, here's Chalmette's population:

White Non-Hispanic: 89.2%

Hispanic: 4.8%

Black: 2.4%

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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