Progressive Writers Bloc

Letter to the Editor: Southern Sierra Messenger

By David Chandler

In his November 11, 2005 column Montie Montana Jr. quotes an incredibly stupid and mean spirited pseudo comparison between Hurricane Katrina and a blizzard that recently hit North Dakota and southwestern Montana. (Check out, the "urban myth" debunking site for the even more virulent original version that has been circulating on the Internet.) The "report" was blatantly concocted to contrast the noble, self-reliant, "we don't need no government assistance" ways of "real" Americans with the hand-out-dependent welfare leaches in New Orleans. The author avoided citing race, explicitly, but all the code words and cliches are in place. (I will give Montie, or his prior source, credit for omitting the most explicitly racial elements of the original, although the implicit racism that pervades the entire piece is thinly veiled.)

Everything about the comparison is a stretch. There is no such thing as a "Category 5" blizzard, and if there were, 2-feet of snowfall and 50 mph winds wouldn't hack it. The Saffir-Simpson scale applies to hurricanes, and you need 74-95 mph winds and 4-5 feet of storm surge even to qualify for a Category 1 hurricane. The energy of wind varies as the square of the velocity, so 90 mph winds have over three times the destructive capacity of 50 mph winds, not even counting the storm surge. The wind alone in a Category 5 hurricane would be 25 times as destructive. Stranded motorists and downed trees don't compare with people stranded for days in attics and on rooftops without food or drinking water surrounded with floodwaters polluted by chemical spills and decaying, floating bodies, compounded by the demolition of the infrastructure of the entire region.

Furthermore, the contention that "No one howled for the government" in the blizzard-struck region is false. It was primarily the (government funded) State Highway Patrol and National Guard, rather than the self-reliant local residents, who rescued stranded motorists, and the Governor of North Dakota did in fact appeal to President Bush to have the area declared a disaster area and to obtain FEMA assistance (the text of his letter is available on the site). That assistance, by the way, did not arrive, possibly because this disaster was so short-lived. After the storm North Dakota continued to seek compensation from the federal government for the state expenses, which the governor estimated as exceeding $2 million. (That's million with a mere "M"!)

We take this kind of innuendo-laced diatribe seriously because my wife, Billie, happened to be in Alabama when the hurricane hit. Even from the distance of Birmingham she witnessed the impact of the tragedy as it affected even its most fortunate survivors who got out in time. She woke up with nightmares for a week. She wrote of the experience for the Visalia Times Delta. This was a catastrophic event that had been warned of for years compounded by denial and neglect by the most powerful forces in the region and in Washington. To blame the poor and disenfranchised who had minimal options for response and who suffered the most is to regress into the racism that has torn our country apart in the past and continues to poison civil dialogue to this day.

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