State and government officials were clearly unprepared for the devastation and chaos resulting from the category four storm. This is not comforting for a country living under the growing specter of terrorism, where disaster preparedness, large-scale evacuations and relief efforts will become increasingly necessary. How citizens—especially those in densely populated urban areas—will handle themselves during said disasters, is anyone’s guess. If New Orleans is any indication, the average big city dweller is a few ticks away from madness.
As the United States scrambled to send troops and aid into areas devastated by the storm and subsequent flooding, chaos erupted in the streets. Desperate refugees rioted, looters ravaged abandoned stores, snipers fired on rescue teams, and corpses littered public areas. The L.A. Times (Sept. 2, 2005) reported:
The rushed mobilization of federal troops to the storm-desolated Gulf Coast was outpaced Thursday by New Orleans' rapid descent into chaos. Sniper fire threatened hospital evacuations and a mass bus caravan to Texas, corpses were found outside the city's decaying convention center and weakened refugees collapsed amid enraged crowds on city streets.
At nightfall, heavily armed police and National Guard troops took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance.
About 5,000 people filled the city's convention center and the trash-strewn streets outside on a city plaza where tourists once strolled. Outside the dank, cavernous hall, where temperatures soared and lights winked out, seven corpses lay sprawled, covered by blankets. Other deaths were reported nearby, and there was an increasing number of accounts of rapes and beatings, city officials said.
An attempt by New Orleans police to take control of the convention center collapsed in a shoving match as an angry mob ran off a team of officers who tried to force their way inside.
"We have individuals who are getting raped; we have individuals who are getting beaten," said Police Supt. Eddie Compass, who confirmed the attempt to quell the crowd. "Tourists are walking in that direction, and they are getting preyed upon."
People who, maybe hours before, had been civil, courteous, friendly and compassionate, suddenly became animals.
Terry Ebbert, head of emergency operations for New Orleans, summed it up this way: "This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace."
That’s how I feel: disgraced.
It’s safe to say that, below the façade of American society—below the convenience stores, designer malls and supermarkets, below the Gucci’s, the Oakley’s and the brand name perfumes—lies a barbarian horde. All we’re waiting for is the next disaster, the next verdict, the next election, to unleash our fury.
The shocking turn of events has raised many questions and enflamed already heated debates. Some have suggested global warming is to blame for the increased power of hurricanes. Others have used this as an opportunity to criticize the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. The price of oil, gas and the depletion of natural resources have been revisited with passion. Some have even suggested that Katrina was an act of God, judgment upon a depraved city. (It’s interesting to note that the Festival of Southern Decadence, billed as “A Celebration of Gay Life, Music & Culture,” was scheduled for August 31st through September 5th.)
After having endured the L.A. riots, watching a city’s rapid descent into mayhem and the sociological and political posturing which followed, I’m convinced more than ever, that our society hangs by a thread. Given the right combination of events, decent, law-abiding people can become crazed, and those already given to darker sensibilities, can blossom into full-fledged monsters.
The Bible teaches that God actively restrains the onslaught of evil on earth:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed. . . (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NKJV).
It’s interesting to note that God (or His Spirit, depending upon one’s interpretation) is called “He who now restrains.” Critics tend to see God as uninvolved, uncaring, turning His back on injustice and evil. Yet here, God is portrayed as actively holding back mankind’s wickedness. And just as the levees of New Orleans broke, allowing floodwaters to breach the walls and engulf the city, so one day, God will release His hand and the full-force of human depravity will flood the earth.
If not for God’s grace and mercy, our society would quickly descend into anarchy and ruin—one vast, godless mob. Could it be that what we’ve witnessed in New Orleans is not an aberration, just people on the edge, but a prelude to the unabashed, brazen barbarism that will ruin the earth one day. I hope not. But if it is, then the thread we dangle by is really a noose.