I should say before I begin, that I have a hard time understanding how this could happen. The story I'm about to relate seems to me more appropriate to old Pompeii than 21st century New Orleans. And before we let certain politicians get too cozy in their new-found ability to actually respond to emergencies, we should realize that not all of the New Orleans bodies have yet been recovered.
Earlier this afternoon, I was informed by a man with whom I had corresponded about the depth and time of the flooding that his relatives' bodies had been discovered Friday by the husband of one of the parish officials who took it upon himself to go see whether these people were still in their houses. I feel a personal responsibility to those to whom I've tried to offer direct help, so I find this news hard to take.
I looked into the story a bit, and it is extremely sad, and their deaths were truly unnecessary. The dead are Dorothy Hingle, age 83, and her son Russell Embry, a quadriplegic, bedridden man, age 54. (The image to the left is a NOAA aerial photo of their house at 2625 Rosetta Drive; the black arrow is approximately in the back yard.)
Here is an account from a missing persons report written by a relative:
He is a quadriplegic and lives with his mother. They were supposed to be evacuated to a medical facility. Someone last talked to his mother Dorothy Hingle Monday morning and they were still at home. Please contact Margaret at [email address] with any information.
Here is another, dated August 31st:
Subject: Dorothy Hingle age 83, Russell Embry, 55 quadriplegic
Abandoned at time of rescue. Has been on the list of evacuees for several years. They were told they would be rescued by offical rescue operations. All procedures were followed, many calls and pleas were made by the elderly woman, a deputy came to her house and promised they would be evacuated only to be left behind.
What a tragic thing to allow two helpless individuals to experience. Only by the grace of God will they survive. Shame on all responsible for neither evacuating nor having the respect to inform them that other means of rescue would be necessary.
So finally, Friday, September 23rd, the family is informed that the bodies have been discovered at home. Dorothy Hingle was found with her arms around her son in their home on Rosetta Street in Chalmette.
How could this happen? It was so unecessary. These people didn't have to die. Why did they die? The family deserves to know what went wrong. Why weren't they evacuated? Why did it take weeks for anyone to go to the house and check despite the family's continual pleas?
I just don't understand.
Can people still react to this, or are we already too desensitized by wanting that chapter of our history to be over? And can't we of the twenty-first century get past the desenisitization of so much death?
UPDATE 9/30: See also, Michael Bérubé's post Disability and Disasters.