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FIRST-PERSON: Katrina’s lessons – so far

MELISSA, Texas. (BP)–Millions of Americans must now change their daily practices because a major hurricane hit our nation’s Gulf Coast. Thousands are without homes and jobs, many lives were lost, and it will take years to rebuild. Stories of both sorrow and joy have filled our airwaves since the storm began. All of us have been affected by this tragedy.

While watching hours of television news coverage, I have pondered our nation’s future and our ability to recover from yet another national catastrophe. I have asked myself if New Orleans should be rebuilt and how we could help those families who are in need. As a pastor, I have spent hours at our local evacuee shelters, trying to minister to those who have lost everything.

As we look back at two weeks of rescue efforts and blame-shifting, what have we learned?

We have learned that:

— The city of New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast were woefully unprepared to evacuate the many thousands of people that could not leave the city on their own.

— Leaders at all levels of government chose not to spend the necessary dollars preparing for the hurricane that experts knew would come eventually, so we taxpayers will be forced to spend many more dollars repairing what should never have been destroyed.

— Most American cities and most American households have no detailed escape plans in the event of a similar tragedy.

— Even detailed warnings given in advance are not enough to convince many Americans to disrupt their daily routines in order to evacuate or prepare for a major storm.

— One’s economic status, more than race or religion or gender, directly affects one’s ability to prepare for and recover from a crisis.

— Millions of Americans will respond willingly and generously to the emergent needs of their fellow citizens.

— Americans are much more likely to respond after a crisis than prepare before a crisis.

— Amazingly, some people respond heroically and some people respond reprehensibly to the same crisis.

— Many politicians have no misgivings about using even the direst human tragedies to make political gains.

— Some people have no regard for the rule of law and will take advantage of a crisis for greed and personal financial gain.

— Most media outlets continue to earn their reputations by covering bad news much more frequently and vigorously than good news.

— One’s opinion on the correct way to deal with tragedies and rebuild communities should be weighed against one’s potential political benefits.

— Effective, clear-thinking, capable leadership (not political affiliation or financial strength or philosophical bent) in any organization is often the single best indicator of that organization’s likelihood of dealing with and overcoming tragedy.

— Local churches and religious organizations, staffed by selfless volunteers, are often more effective than national relief agencies to meet victims’ immediate needs.

— Although shaken by tragedy, faith in a loving God is the solid foundation that ties people together and helps most of us handle the painful storms of life.

Is your family prepared for a crisis? Is your community? I suggest that we all begin now to prepare for tragedy’s inevitable next arrival. As a nation, we must apply these lessons learned, any many more, if we are to be prepared to handle the next horrific tragedy better than we have handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. God bless America.
Trey Graham, a writer, speaker and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Melissa, Texas, is the author of “Lessons for the Journey” (America House, 2001) and “Light for the Journey” (PublishAmerica, 2004). He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • Trey Graham