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Anorak | Made In Orleans

Made In Orleans

by | 6th, September 2005

‘AT first the hurricane blew in as a Silly Season story. America is hit by hurricanes all the time. The locals put up signs saying things like “Keep Out Hurricane” and “In Your Face”. It’s nothing serious. It’s a bit of fun with the weather.

So on Tuesday we were not surprised to see the Telegraph’s headline: “Wish you were here? Britons bask in sunshine as Americans flee hurricane.”

The story was served up to make us feel good about things at home. The skies in Blighty may be grey, but at least they’re not in the habit of moving faster than Princess Michael at a free lunch.

Then things changed. After a couple of weeks of non-news about non-events (Why can’t we see Tony Blair? Why can’t we deport mad mullahs? Why is John Prescott afforded a spell as the country’s leader every year?), nature has given the papers a real event to get stuck into.

Hurricane Katrina had not hit Britain, but it had destroyed large bits of the United States, and that was close enough for it to get on the Times’s front page.

“Mississippi drowning,” said the Times tastelessly on Wednesday. Given the news that many people had died – “the mayor is talking of bodies floating through the streets” – this was a cheap headline to herald a disaster that has “washed away escape routes and swallowed whole streets”.

This was a story made for the broadsheets. An entire city was underwater. It demanded the big page treatment. But the Times is small these days, and is unable to give such stories the full hit.

The city resembled Atlantis, immersed under flood waters, a non-place to be talked about in stories.

But while the Times was constrained by size to showing the little picture, on Thursday the Telegraph led with a huge shot of coast guard officer Shawn Beatty peering out of his helicopter, scanning a watery landscape for signs of life.

The Times gave over a part of its ever-shrinking front page to Ray Nairn, the mayor of New Orleans. He said it was likely thousands had died. “There are dead bodies floating in the water,” said he. “The rescuers were basically pushing them aside as they rescued people.”

While the Times looked to the internet for freely available copy, those ubiquitous blogs, to pad out its coverage of the disaster, the Telegraph showed how things can be handled.

The stories of people who have lost loved ones were heartbreaking. The tales of looters showed the baser side of human nature. But it’s the universal struggle to cope with the disaster that was the real story.

The Independent recognised this and showed pictures of the “toxic soup” that had engulfed New Orleans and large areas of the region’s coast.

It said that residents were at risk from all manner of disease. E.coli and salmonella are possibilities, as is everything from diarrhoea and malaria to dengue fever and West Nile disease.

It was clear that the trauma was far from over. The Guardian’s leader was right in saying, “The storm has gone, but the crisis keeps rolling along.”

On Friday, A J Holloway, the mayor of Biloxi was horribly right when he looked at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and declared, “This is our tsunami.”

Just like in the aftermath of that hideous disaster in the Indian Ocean, we were affronted by tales of the lowest sink of humanity.

“ANARCHY IN NEW ORLEANS,” yelled the Independent’s cover. “Chaos rules with 20,000 still stranded in the city.” And: “Looting, gunfire and a death toll still unknown.”

While not quite to the level of those sickening post-tsunami tales of children kidnapped by paedophiles, this news of human depravation stuck in the craw.

The Telegraph’s said that a convoy moving patients from New Orleans Charity Hospital came under sniper fire. The Independent talked of robberies, carjackings, rape and even murder.

The Times said that efforts to evacuate the city had been suspended after shots were fired at rescue boats and a military helicopter. “A National Guardsman was shot. Gunfire rattled through the city.”

But surely the might of the American machine was not being stymied by gangs of mindless thugs high on crack or whatever running amuck?

Or was America struggling to cope?’



Posted: 6th, September 2005 | In: Broadsheets Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink