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Gustav’s Path of Destruction

by BILL QUIGLEY

Hurricane Gustav killed 18 people in Louisiana and displaced 1.9 million.  Over 800,000 homes are without electricity, nearly half the state, and some will not see power for up to a month.

In Haiti, Gustav killed 77 with another 8 missing and damaged nearly 15,000 homes.  Tropical storm Hanna, which closely followed Gustav, killed at least another 60 people.  Tens of thousands of people have sought safety on rooftops and temporary shelters.  Rotting cows drift in the flood waters.

Louisiana is the poorest state in the U.S., home to nearly 4 million people, with per capita income of around $16,000 per year.  Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, home to nearly 9 million people, with a per capita income of less than $400 per year.

In Louisiana, gas and water are scarce.  On Thursday September 4, 2008, authorities reported a 3 mile line of people waiting for food and water outside of New Orleans.  The evacuation of 1.9 million people in Louisiana went relatively smoothly.  The return has been much more difficult.

Reports from community organizations in Haiti say people have not eaten since Monday.  Melinda Miles from Konpay reported: “Twenty four hours of rain drenching the huts of the poor, perched on the cliffs, and drowning the slums, huddled on the edge of the sea. Homes were washed away by overflowing rivers, and others had flash floods tear through their walls. Fields of plantain trees are now stagnant puddles – breeding ground for mosquitoes – and agricultural fields were destroyed throughout the region. Almond trees floated into the sea and coconut trees were uprooted.”

Tens of thousands of people in Louisiana remain displaced.  A thousand people in one shelter reported there were no bathing facilities at all.  People washed up in a bucket.  Another shelter reported 30 people arrested outside a nearby convenience store.  Buses will start bringing people back on Friday.

Haiti was in deep trouble before being hit by a series of storms.  Hunger is widespread.  Sky high food prices sparked riots and turmoil as people could not afford to purchase enough food.

Louisiana had not yet recovered from Hurricane Katrina, three years ago.  New Orleans still has over 65,000 vacant and abandoned homes and over 100,000 fewer people since Katrina.  Many of the elderly, disabled and African-American working poor remain displaced.

“There is no food, no water, no clothes,” the pastor of a church in Gonaives, Arnaud Dumas told the Associated Press.  “I want to know what I’m supposed to do. … We haven’t found anything to eat in two, three days.  Nothing at all.”

Critics question why prisoners in New Orleans were returned by public transportation days before tens of thousands of citizens had the same opportunity.

President Rene Preval of Haiti told Reuters, “We are in a really catastrophic situation.  There are a lot of people on rooftops and there are prisoners we cannot guard.”   In Gonaives, a city of 160,000, half the homes remain flooded, according to UN troops.  People begged for food and water outside the UN troop base.

“All and all, the response has been excellent,” U.S. President Bush told the nation.  The U.S. Embassy in Haiti announced it was releasing $100,000 in emergency aid to Haiti.

In Haiti, the situation is critical.  “If they don’t have food, it can be dangerous,” Haitian Senator Youri Latortue told the AP.  “They can’t wait.”

“We expect a surge of evictions and power cutoffs,” said Brother Don Everard of Hope House, a social service agency in New Orleans.  “People were having trouble making rent and utilities before evacuating for Gustav, now it will be worse because they have spent all their money to evacuate.”

Haiti is 1300 miles away from New Orleans.  Other hurricanes are now approaching the Caribbean.

BILL QUIGLEY is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  Bill has visited Haiti nearly 20 times in his human rights work.  People who would like to make a financial contribution to the emergency needs of poor people in Louisiana and Haiti can send a check to Hope House, 916 St. Andrew, c/o Brother Don Everard, Haiti-Louisiana Emergency Fund, 916 St. Andrew St.  New Orleans, LA 70118.  Any funds received will be given directly to poor people, half to those in Haiti and half to those in Louisiana. Contributions to Hope House are tax deductible under 501c3 of the tax code.  Contact Bill directly at quigley77@gmail.com
 

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Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.

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