We are international

An old hometown needs help
By Greg Brozeit
Reprinted from the Akron Beacon Journal. The writer, director of public advocacy for the International Myeloma Foundation, is a resident of Fairlawn.

I wasn't born in New Orleans, but I consider myself a native of it.

I graduated from high school and college and began my professional career there. Seeing the devastation from Hurrican Katrina, knowing intimately where events are happening and understanding the culture of the area's people, the frustration of not being able to do anything for the people of my old hometown is a special kind of torture.

This was more than an unimaginable catastrophe. This was personal.

Watching the aftermath of Katrina's roaring into the Gulf Coast brings back the shock, horror and disbelief of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the roller coaster of emotion for which no one is prepared. But as a people and a nation, we cannot give in to hopelessness. That would be fatal to those most in need and to our national character.

Victims of Katrina will need an unprecedented amount of public resolve and support -- financial, logistical, emotional and in so many other ways we have yet to envision. We will have to prevent further damage -- now. We will have to build not-so-temporary refugee camps for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people -- now. We will have to feed, clothe and provide minimal levels of health care to them -- now. We will have to rebuild destroyed cities, towns and critical infrastructure -- now.

Refugees from the region destroyed by Katrina will be spread throughout the nation. If they are lucky, they will be with family or friends. They will have few if any papers normally needed to make claims for aid. They will have no work for the mid to long term, and most will have lost all their worldly possessions and mementos. And far too many will have died.

Our nation's response to Katrina must be massive, coordinated, consistent and compassionate. We should not judge this tragedy by its worst human elements. The looters do not represent anything about the people of New Orleans and the gulf region. They are, however, symbols of the overwhelming poverty in New Orleans. Their actions, which need to be punished harshly and cannot be ignored, should not diminish the obvious desperation of those in the area.

So what are some things we should do? As we give donations to churches, synagogues and organizations such as the American Red Cross to provide relief to the people devastated by Katrina, let us make sure efforts are focused and accountable. Let us carry that over to support as much federal engagement as is possible, because that is where the most effective resources are.

Katrina's refugees will be stressed and challenged in ways few of us can imagine. Congressional offices throughout the nation should treat the refugees living in their states and districts as constituents, and assist anyone who needs help through the federal system of disaster relief.

People should demand that their senators, representatives and the Bush administration provide timely aid to make sure all federal resources are brought to bear to assist the people as a great nation should. Recovery of this region should be among the highest of national priorities.

The national impact of this disaster -- gasoline prices, insurance rates, rising prices due to energy costs -- will continue for months and years. If we do too little, too late now, we likely will have seen the beginning of a long, agonizing death of one of the world's greatest cities played out right in front of our eyes. We can't let that happen.

As Americans, we will have to do it for the selfish reason that the longer the negative effects of this disaster linger, the longer it will weaken our national economy. More succinctly, we will have to do all we can to save one of the few truly distinct American cultures. And if we don't, we may well lose that culture forever. If that happens, the nation will have lost an irreplaceable part of its identity.

Lastly, I suggest we all read John Kenney Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces to help us laugh through our tears and to remind us of why, together, we must do all we can to make this tragedy a distant, bitter memory.

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