Slightly more than four years ago, our nation faced arguably the worst natural disaster in its history when Hurricane Katrina raged against the Gulf Coast, finally striking land on August 29, 2005. Katrina unfurled her fury on its ill-prepared victims, demolishing virtually everything that dared to remain within her path, as all living creatures scurried to escape her calamitous clasp. Within days, an endless barrage of images showcased by the media offered a stunning reality: nearly two thousand people lost their lives, roughly a million and a half lost their homes, an estimated $81 billion in damages were amassed and the devastation that remained sprawled across four states.
The wreckage left some to speculate as to whether we could recover from such havoc, particularly whether New Orleans could rise from the soaked debris that lay on its streets. As Tulane University history Professor Lawrence Powell wrote, we asked, “Will its recovery result in one of those ‘lost cities’ that have been restored solely as sites of tourism and myth? Will this quirk and endless fascinating place become an X-rated theme park, a Disneyland for adults?” The days that followed proved illustrative of the depths of our nation’s compassion juxtaposed against the institutionalized horrors that produced the conditions that allow tens of thousands to suffer those travesties. The passing of time has produced no shortage of criticism tossed at the feet of our federal government that tragically failed to respond in a timely fashion as throngs of its citizens drowned before its eyes, media coverage that spewed implicitly racist and classist biases and prejudices, along with state and local government who buckled under the pressure of the calamity.
Nevertheless, for a few moments, Hurricane Katrina reminded us our own humanity. It offered us glimpses of our own frailty as we witnessed our powerlessness to master the winds and the waters. It revealed our faces on the faces of our brothers and sisters. We grieved as we saw fellow sufferers in this journey of life struggle so mightily to procure some semblance of normalcy as their beloved city sat below that water. Beneath the surface of that deep was more than a sunken city, thousands knew under the high water was their homes, their schools, their churches, their favorite restaurants, all swept away. Our nation, and the world responded ardently, for a season. After news reports began to wane and the waters began to subside, we as a nation began to forget. We became consumed with the endless current of events as New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast pieced itself back together with declining support.
We received a jolting reminder of our frailties this past week as it rained in Georgia. Some may remember it was not too long ago that Governor Sonny Perdue and fellow Georgia residents prayed for rain, when the State experienced a historic drought that produced perilously low water levels. It took some time, but the rain came, and it came in epic proportions over the past week. Last Saturday, as many ATLiens danced the night away at the Goodie Mob Reunion Concert, it rained. The rain continued into Sunday afternoon. It was first deemed an inconvenience, but nothing worth noting. Then an odd thing happened; the rain continued, and would not cease. Those who I spoke to in the area did not initially describe the rain as a torrential downpour that one would associate with a historic flood. They merely noted that the rain would not stop. By Sunday evening Georgians knew they had a problem on their hands.
The Atlanta-metro area received over twenty inches of rainfall over the course of last weekend. According to a U.S. Geological Survey, the flood were a “once in 500 years flood.” Georgia State Insurance Commissioner John Oxedine estimated the cost of the flood damage had reached $250 million, while Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has estimated the damage has soared to $1 billion. Regardless of the actual dollar figure lost to the city and surrounding area, one thing is certain; thousands of Georgia’s citizens have lost all of their earthly possessions.
This storm resonated with me deeply, in large part because I called Georgia home for many of my formative years. On this occasion, the city submerged beneath the deep was once my own. As I scoured the Internet in search of updates, I found the surreal images of fixtures throughout the metro area—highways I-75 and I-85, Six Flags Over Georgia, etc.—all under the muddy waters of the Chattahoochee River that climbed over its banks. I was disheartened to see it, and remembered how quickly our lives can be disrupted by the most unlikely of events. Our brilliant technological advances could not protect us from the rain that has slipped from the clouds since the beginning of time. Atlanta will recover, but it will need some help. You may, wade into the water, and join in the efforts. It will remind us that we too may need the help of others when we cannot escape the troubles of life.