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Thursday, October 06, 2005  

News: New woes for hurricane survivors

There is a tendency in the blogosphere to move on to the news du jour. I had prepared an entry about stealth U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers. But, I think that the consequences of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are just as newsworthy as who sits on SCOTUS. There is much happening to survivors and evacuees that we still need to be concerned about.

~Gone, but not forgotten

Scout, at Scout Prime has learned that some areas of New Orleans twice deluged Ninth Ward have not been searched for bodies, despite the official end of the body retrieval program. Survivors told CNN that searchers have ignored about 150 homes in their neighborhood. They believe there are bodies in those homes.

Five weeks after Katrina, New Orleans is calling off the house-to-house search for bodies. Teams have pulled 964 corpses from storm-ravaged areas across southeastern Louisiana. Authorities admit more bodies are probably out there. They'll be handled on a case-by-case basis. The count is far short of the 10,000 dead once predicted by New Orleans mayor. As of today, the death toll from Hurricane Katrina stands at just under 1,200.

Searchers and residents insist there are still plenty of dead to find in New Orleans.

Scout believes that the decision to end the official search just when the Ninth Ward became searchable is a judgment about the worth of the lives lost there.

As we ponder William Bennett's racist comment the evidence of American racism is going almost un-noticed in NO. Tell me if this was a white neighborhood that those homes would go unsearched. We went to great pains to recover every little bit of human remains at Ground Zero but in Black America we won't even bother to pick up bodies. This is an outrage. That practically no one is saying so is even more outrageous. How quickly we forget. Let's not forget these people's dignity. Again.

I foresee quite significant discrepancies between the number of people reported dead in New Orleans and the number of bodies retrieved. Sadly, I also foresee that the survivors' concern will be cavalierly dismissed.

~Don't let the door knob hit you

The people more or less imprisoned in the fetid purgatory that the Convention Center and Superdome in New Orleans became probably would have given a not particularly useful body part for a clean hotel room. But, only a few weeks later, some hotels are ordering Hurricane Katrina evacuees to move out. The San Jose Mercury News reports.

BROOKHAVEN, Miss. - At least one hotel chain has asked some Hurricane Katrina evacuees to check out so it can honor the reservations of incoming guests. Hilton Hotels, the parent company of Hampton Inn and other brands, is trying to find other rooms for the evacuees but said they were warned when they checked in that their stays would be limited by room availability, said Hilton spokeswoman Kathy Shepard.

"We're doing our very best to accommodate these people," she said.

It's an uncomfortable situation for the hotel industry: risk bad publicity for kicking out hurricane evacuees, or anger big-spending repeat customers who travel for business.

Hurricane evacuees - often several family members packed into a single hotel room - can be a burden on hotel staff. They also use more water and electricity, and do not spend much on food and incidentals.

They "could be occupying a room that could otherwise be occupied by a higher-paying guest who's spending lots of money on telephone, food and beverage," said Bjorn Hanson, a hotel industry analyst with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in New York.

The 'business necessity' argument does not really hold up, in my opinion. There has been adequate time to inform people that reservations made weeks or months ago cannot be honored. After all, those would-be guests can either pay for other lodging or reschedule their meetings and conventions. The evacuees, however, may be rendered homeless after being forced out.

A Lousisiana evacuee says that she was more or less kicked to the curb. Her disabled, elderly parents barely escaped the same fate.

A Hampton Inn in Brookhaven, about two hours north of where Katrina struck, asked Barbara Perry of Folsom, La., to move out last week. She was living in the hotel with her parents and her three young children, and she was driving almost 90 miles a day to work.

"They told me if I didn't pick my clothes up, they were going to call the police," Perry said.

Her mother, who uses a wheelchair, and her father, who is blind, were also told to check out, but they were granted an extension after a Red Cross volunteer intervened, said Perry's mother, Betty Myers.

I guess charity, even when it is being paid for, does not begin at Hilton Hotels.

~Keeping the home fires white

To have the bodies of one's loved ones ignored by FEMA and other agencies must hurt. To be evicted from one's temporary home in a hotel despite having donenothing to deserve it must be disheartening. But, to learn that a shelter will not be approved by a zoning commission because residents of an area claim, without proof, evacuees would be a danger to them, is outrageous. Anyone who doubts that irresponsible behavior like Bill Bennett's contributes to racism need look no farther than what is happening in northwest Ohio, to confirm it does.

RIDGEVILLE CORNERS, Ohio - After an emotional public hearing last night in this Henry County rural community, the welcome mat was pulled from a temporary housing project for hurricane evacuees.

Opponents of plans to convert portions of Christ Community Church raised concerns and questions during the session attended by about 150 residents in the fire hall in Ridgeville Corners. Following a closed-door executive session, the Ridgeville Township board of zoning appeals unanimously rejected the church's request for a conditional use permit that was needed to allow the relief project to move forward.

Work on the renovation of the second floor of the church, begun a few weeks ago, was halted after Don Barnett, pastor, and his wife, Carol, assistant pastor, learned that zoning and building permits would be needed before they could proceed.

. . .Mr. Barnett said that the media has portrayed the hurricane victims as "angry blacks" who have a welfare mentality, and who have been in the welfare system for a long time. "It does not take a rocket scientist to look around and see that there are no black people among us," he said, adding that "there is a lot of racial prejudice in northwest Ohio, in this area."

He further said that blacks are not here "because they are not welcomed here."

The minister had offered to pay for background checks to be conducted on evacuees who moved into his facility, quite a compromise when one considers that most people have no criminal background information on their neighbors. There is no evidence that evacuees commit crimes at a rate any higher than other Americans.

Kudos to the Toledo Blade for following this story through several zoning meetings. But for the newspaper's attention, racial discrimination would have been under rug swept.

We are a society with a short attention span. Already, attention is shifting away from the survivors and evacuees to the Miers situation and a likely groundless terrorism alert. But, the difficulties facing hurricane these people will be present for weeks, months and years to come. Since they are largely defenseless, it is our voices that must state their case. We must call or email FEMA and the governor of Louisiana in regard to sloppy body recovery procedures, Hilton Hotels about evicting the already traumatized evacuees, and the decisionmakers in Ohio who paraded their bigotry. (The inspector who led the charade is Ed Nagel.) If Americans who care about the survivors and evacuees are not vigilant, the victims will be further abused.

8:30 PM