Insensitive title puns aside, this hurricane Katrina was truly a terrible disaster. As with any natural disaster, no matter how much news coverage we watch or read about what happened, we can’t possibly know what it is like for the people going through it. Thankfully we have the mayors of the affected cities, such as Biloxi, Mississippi telling us what it’s like. Numerous times on CNN yesterday afternoon, I saw his quote, “This is our tsunami.” Phew, thank goodness we have our own “tsunami” now. We certainly wouldn’t want the US to be out-natural-disastered by the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Just how much like the tsunami was hurricane Katrina?
Death toll: “In the hundreds,” with roughly 250 confirmed, last I read. Let’s go with what seems like the current worst case, say 1000.
Homeless/displaced: “Experts say as many as 1 million.” Current totals are about 1/3 to 1/2 that.
Warning: At least 2 days with known landfall on the Gulf states, with hurricane tracking for a full week prior.
Indian Ocean Earthquake/Tsunmai
Death toll: Somewhere in the range of 200,000 – 300,000
Homeless/displaced: Roughly 1.3 million+
Warning: None (big wave on the horizon is too late)
I’m sorry, Katrina is definitely tragic, but this was not “our tsunami.” To jump to an illogical conclusion, the Mayor of Biloxi seems to imply an American life is worth 250 South Asian lives. I know that’s not at all what he’s saying, but why the need for any comparison at all? Why do we feel the need to equate the relative scale of disasters to one another? As if that weren’t enough, on the news this morning, I heard another quote saying, “it is like Hiroshima.” I can’t remember for sure who it was, but maybe it was the same Mayor of Biloxi. For comparison sake:
Death toll: 80,000+ outright (double that, due to radiation over time)
Homeless/displaced: 150,000 – 300,000
Warning: None (although war could be considered warning for some possible form of destruction)
On top of that, the circumstances of Hiroshima (civilian vs. military casualties, lives saved by ending the war, etc.) are so entirely different from Hurricane Katrina, it is almost ridiculous to associate the two at all, let alone claim that one is like the other. In this comparison, one American life is given the value of 225 Japanese. There are already claims of racism in regards to the disaster coverage, so I won’t continue to go down that route. But why do we have this need to one-up existing disasters? These comparisons are like apples to… no, not even oranges… more like, paper-clips. Yeah, like apples to paper-clips.
I just couldn’t help getting this sinking feeling in my gut after I saw those quotes. At first they seemed like simple, but misguided, attempts to humanize an unspeakable tragedy. In reality they’re just dehumanizing these historical disasters, and at the same time dehumanizing this event. The news organizations already do an excellent job of senseless desensitizing, we don’t need to homogenize every disaster into the same historical pile of generic “bad things.” Katrina is like the tsunami, which is like the Holocaust, which is like 9/11, which is like Hiroshima. No. Not at all. Embrace the shittiness of each one of these tragedies. Let them stand on their own life-altering, jaw-dropping merits, and pitch in.