The rain and wind from Hurricane Katrina, which passed near, but not directly over, New Orleans was bad enough. But then the worst-possible scenario unfolded: The levees that held Lake Pontchartrain at bay began to leak.
By Wednesday, 80 percent of the city was under water and all its residents were ordered to leave. There was also devastation in other areas of Louisiana and in Mississippi.
As the scope of the disaster grows, Americans must, as they do in difficult times, pull together to help. People around the country have offered temporary homes to those displaced by the flood waters. Texas schools have been made available to children whose families were left homeless in the storm- ravaged Gulf Coast area.
In Maine, Gov. John Baldacci ordered state departments to survey their staffs for available resources and expertise that could help in areas devastated by Katrina, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Health care workers, logistics personnel, public safety officials, equipment operators, veterinarians and others from Maine could be dispatched to flood-ravaged areas.
“Maine has a rich history of helping other states with disaster response and recovery, and this event should be no exception,” the governor said in a memo to his Cabinet. In 1998, Maine was the recipient of international help when the state was paralyzed by an ice storm. Now, it and other states, along with the federal government, will work on the largest rescue and rebuilding effort the country has seen.
Maine participates with the other 49 states in the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which coordinates help for disaster-stricken areas. EMAC has already received requests for water rescue teams, incident command teams and public information officials.
The first teams to go into affected areas are usually from nearby states that can quickly mobilize. But other states may also be asked to send volunteers to assist during the recovery period, which will take months.
The first tasks have been to rescue people trapped on house roofs or other perches by the swirling water and to try to repair the breaks in the levees. The city’s mayor estimated it would be two weeks before the water, which was still pouring into the city Wednesday afternoon, could be pumped out of the city, which is below sea level. The lack of power, food and water is another major concern as officials worry about sanitation and disease.
Officials expect some people to be displaced for months with tens of thousands needing temporary homes.
While the governor organizes Maine’s contribution to the relief effort, the best way citizens can help is by sending cash contributions to reputable relief agencies, such as the American Red Cross.
“We are looking now at a disaster above any magnitude that we’ve seen in the United States,” said the agency’s spokesman, Peter Teahen. He expected the organization’s relief effort to be the largest it had ever undertaken.
Rebuilding cities – and lives – will take as much help as America can give.