My Thoughts on Katrina’s Tragedy

April 4th, 2013 by admin

While I watched TV coverage of hurricane Katrina in horrendous desperation and deep sadness everyday, I decided to go to Houston by myself to see if I could not do something and find out from people what they really feel and need. I’m writing this letter as a report after coming back from Houston.

I volunteered for two full days without sleeping. In Houston, there were 45000 refugees who were rescued from New Orleans. By the time arrived, the AstroDome and other nearby facilities had received 35000 refugees. I rented a car and drove there from the airport. Everything in Texas is just huge!! This whole sports complex seems to equal to the half of Manhattan, and the site of one building maybe equal to the size of 20 blocks in Manhattan. Somehow, I was led there smoothly even though I didn’t know where to go. Right after I registered at the Astrodome, I first went to the temporary dormitory. 24000 temporary cots were placed in lines. I felt dizzy. The facility was overflowing with crowds of people. All of the refugees there were Afro-American. I didn’t see any white refugee. One of Red Cross workers asked me to organize a huge pile of clothes stacked like a mountain. It was a tough work, and I worked up a sweat. But, it was a very important and urgent work because no one had any clothes to change into, and of course, there was no laundry so the refugees had been wearing the same clothes for more than one week. They left New Orleans with one set of clothes and some of them had even lost their shoes. They made a long line and picked up whatever clothing they chose. There were also a lot of shoes, but there might not have been even enough. I saw many trucks arriving with donated goods. In the afternoon, I went to the medical center and helped volunteer doctors and nurses to register, check in & check out. They came from many different parts of the world. We had enough doctors, but nurses were in big shortage. I worked there until dawn.

Then I was sent to the “Isolation room” where sick people were held. I also went to “quarantine room” where people were held until they were released by doctors. They were all healthy there, but I was supposed to talk to them and comfort them so that they don’t just leave. They were restless being confined into one area. Later, I was assigned counseling and evaluation work with those who were suffering from trauma and perhaps mentally unstable. I was very glad to have had an opportunity to talk to them one on one. I consoled them and give them a hug. I have spent my birthday in Houston and came back to N.Y. on the next day.

Things I found out and felt 1) Those refugees were very poor. They did not own cars, nor did they have money for transportation, so they couldn’t get out before Hurricane Katrina hit. But, they now can start a new life with supports from government and volunteers and generosities of people.

2) America is the richest country in the world. However, most rich people in America have never fully known how those Afro American populations lived in the ghettoes of the Deep South and had no opportunities to escape from their poverty.

3) To my surprise, most of those I met had hope in their face. They were calm, at ease, and relieved. Children were playing. They escaped from the hell of Katrina and their lives were saved. They now had at least three meals a day, clean water, no crimes, and be able to sleep at night safely (Many police officers were around 24 hours a day). Their medical needs were all met, and many volunteers were helping and taking care of whatever they needed. They watched T.V., went out and so on (curfew was 11pm). They even went downtown in groups with taxies. I asked a police man how do they have money. He said, they received some money from FEMA. In New Orleans, these refugees perhaps had not much to start with. At least, their lives were saved, and they felt at ease for now. However, I felt deep sympathy and compassion for those people who have been separated from their family and close friends, and their pets. Over a hundred of people borrowed my cell phone, but none of the people they were calling were reachable. In a hotel, Holiday Inn, when I checked in order to take a shower, a group of refugees were expressed that they felt lucky to stay there, swimming in a pool in their underwear at night with lots of excitement. I spoke to them and found out that they had never stayed in a hotel. Of course, the government will pay for their expenses.

4) I thought this disaster was one of purifications for our humanity, (I was surprised that the name, Katrina, has a meaning of “purification.”) and the God is teaching us, that we all should save those people who are so poor at this time. When I thought like this, in my mind, I was able to turn this natural disaster around to the positive energy even though there was much sadness and suffering, it is the great opportunities for us all to give compassion to fellow human beings. As we think about how to shelter 500000 people and secure and restore their basic living, all of us have to support them. The American government has been criticized, but I feel the change will happen. In the beginning of the last century, Afro American had been released from slavery and emigrated to many different places. Once again, the great number of them will emigrate this time all at once from poverty to better life (I hope!). This could not have happened artificially. We could not have done it even if we wanted to do it. God or mighty of Universe, in its mysterious way, did this to lead us to take care of fellow living beings. These deeply poor people’s lives must become better than before. All people, not just government must help, and this is now happening!!! I wonder how it will be in few years. Our humanity is getting one step closer to a better and happier way with our compassion. Since I came back from Houston, I feel full of positive energy. This experience was very precious, and I really appreciated this opportunity to serve our humanity in a small way. I will do my best, so everybody please join together.

5) The whole world is criticizing US government. I see all the criticism on media everyday too. I think we need to be grateful that there were much fewer casualties than other disasters like the earthquake in Kobe and Tsunami in Sumatra area because US government, in spite of the late start at the beginning, mobilized many of their helicopters and ships in order to rescue people. People in general have arrogance to think that humans can control universe and nature, and therefore they only criticize other humans. It can be seen all over the planet. Maybe this is also true, but this will only increase the flow of negative energy. We need to be grateful for the fact that the lives of many thousands of people were saved. To think like this will create the positive energy. I also see that the extraordinary compassion shown by ordinary people is the source of the positive energy.

6) I also think that this kind of disaster is a result of global warming. It may be a punishment from God to us humans who have been selfish for a long time. I suspect that there will be more and more large scale of typhoons and hurricanes coming. Humans are wasting energy for our convenient life style and causing global warming. We need to stop thinking that individuals cannot affect the bigger picture, and we should stop wasting the energies in our daily lives such as producing unnecessary garbage, overusing electricity. We need to be humble in front of nature. We can save energy by using a broom instead of vacuum when it’s enough, use dishwasher and washing machine as less as possible, take public transportation when you can, and so on. If we are aware of the consequence of our actions, we can make the difference.

On the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11, I confirm in my thoughts: These two major catastrophes, one caused by human being, one by natural, are our greatest lessons for compassion. And, when I accepted this thought, I felt these events, despite the tragedy, we need to think about what positive lessons we can draw. We now can not waste the sacrifices of those who suffered and perished in these events. We must think “positively.” Those who perished have sacrificed their lives for us to change, to wake up. We must not waste their lives in vain. Then, if we think this way, their spirits will be lifted up. We cannot let all these who suffered down now. There is better future for all of us. We should stop judging and criticize, and we must go on to take care of unfortunate people.