Help Me Understand
by Marilyn Mackenzie
When Hurricane Katrina hit in August, 2005, my son and I watched with interest.
We had lived in areas where hurricanes often hit - in Florida and in Texas. In fact, my son's father (who had been my husband for 20 years), had continued living in Florida after we left. Central Florida didn't usually get hit by hurricanes, or if it did, they had calmed down tremendously by the time they got to the middle of the state. But one year, his property was damaged by numerous hurricanes coming through. And our son ended up going to Florida to help his dad fix the house and get rid of the debris. His dad received FEMA money, but could not get a contractor interested in helping him. The repairs were extensive for a mobile home, barn and laundry shed, but not enough money was involved to interest most contractors. Or if they were interested, they wanted to charge two and three times the money given by FEMA.
Anyway, my son and I watched the TV reports and early on we were confused about something we saw.
As the news media was rushing to New Orleans, the news crews encountered people on walking on the routes out of the city, on highways and interstates. Many of them were young. And many were not from the United States. These people were escaping the flooding that happened. They didn't know where they were going, but they were getting out.
The news people seemed to be surprised that people were leaving and taking responsibility for their own lives. The young people who were interviewed said that they had checked out the shelters and saw total chaos. They didn't want to be lost in that chaos. And the ones who were not from the United States - college students and young professionals - were not sure that the U.S. government would offer them assistance anyway. And so they packed up meager supplies and took off on foot.
What I don't understand is why more people didn't do that. Oh, I understand why the elderly or disabled might have stayed in town hoping for government assistance. But what about the others? Where was their self-preservation? Why didn't they try to leave, especially after they saw that the shelters were not equipped for all of the people who showed up? How does one adopt a mindset that says that only the government can help and that individuals are not capable of taking care of themselves?
When we lived in Pinellas County, Florida, we lived in sturdy houses that were far enough from the Gulf that we were never in automatic evacuation zones. My parents, who lived in a senior citizen mobile home park did have to evacuate if a hurricane was coming towards us. They knew that they could come to our house, but they usually made other arrangements to be with other senior citizen friends who lived even farther from the normal path of a hurricane. It never occurred to them to wait for the government to offer them assistance. They had their own survival plan set up if they needed it.
Just months after we moved to Central Florida, we received the first threat of a hurricane coming through. We lived in a mobile home at that point, and knew we had to evacuate. My son and I packed up the car with our small doggies and went to a motel that was safer. The motel owner allowed us to bring our pets, and only charged us $15 for the night - for our family and pets - since it was an emergency. (The normal cost at the time was $59 per night.) My ex stayed back at our home to make sure windows were boarded up. As he listened to the weather reports, he decided that the storm was not going to get as close as they originally thought, so he never did join us at the motel.
When I was a single parent, I found ways to make ends meet in ways that were best for our situation. My son was home schooled, so I took a job at our church so that he could go there with me. I only worked part time, and churches are not known for being the best paying employers, so I learned to supplement that income. I did online surveys, mystery shopping, freelance writing assignments. My son didn't realize how poor we really were, until he started working himself.
We didn't have insurance. But I discovered that the doctor across the street from our apartment would let me see his physician's assistant for less money than seeing him. I also discovered that in the same building there was a medical research company, and when either of us showed symptoms of illness, I called them before calling the doctor's office. When my son had the flu, we participated in a study, and not only were his doctor visits free, we also received payment of money for filling out a daily diary. When I started into menopause, I contacted the research company. My exams were free, plus I was paid for participating in a study. That's how we survived.
Meanwhile, one of my neighbors who was also a single mom, kept the government offices on speed dial. Whenever anything came up that was outside of her normal ability to cope and survive, she contacted the government, then complained when they didn't have a program that fit her need.
Why does that happen? How do people get so dependant on the government that they don't know how to escape a flood on their own? Help me understand.