Grisham: Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Grisham: Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast

This may be the best thing John Grisham has ever written, today in the New York Times. This is the last section, but read the whole thing:

Unlike New Orleans, where the floods were heaviest in the poorer neighborhoods, the Gulf Coast experienced damage that cut across social and economic lines. Hurricane Katrina did not discriminate here. Wealthy people now dwell in FEMA trailers that are exactly the same size as the ones handed out to those who were living in subsidized apartments.

When it's warm enough, the trailer people spend as much as time as possible outside. Porch sitting, a way of life, is still carried on, though radically modified. Tarps and awnings are affixed to the trailers and provide cover. The families and neighbors gather in folding lawn chairs and chat deep into the night about their lives before the storm and about the struggle to get through another day and find some measure of normality. There is guarded talk of the future.

The defiance that came so naturally in the aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina has gradually yielded to weary determination. Four months have passed with little improvement, and the challenges ahead are forbidding.

Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour, has said his state needs $34 billion to rebuild. The state's annual budget is about a 10th of that, with virtually nothing set aside for such emergencies. The bold promises made in the heat of the moment after the storm have so far been pathetically empty. Congress has so far authorized nearly $100 billion for emergency relief and cleanup, but only a third of that has hit the ground.

Not lost on the people here was the recent rush to pass more tax cuts for the rich. And a question often heard is, "Why are we spending billions to rebuild Iraq and not a dime down here?"

There is a fear of being forgotten by the government. Washington is preoccupied with a war and its glut of messy side issues, and attention will soon turn to the midterm elections. There is also the very real fear of being forgotten by the press. The satellite trucks and cameras have long since gone. If the news media forget, then so will the people with the money in Washington. Pollsters are already noting the rapid decline in the disaster's importance on the national radar screen.

THE fear of being forgotten is soothed somewhat by the seemingly inexhaustible waves of church folks, students, retirees and private relief workers who've dug in and done the dirty work. Tons of food, clothing and supplies continue to pour into the region. Countless hours have been spent hauling debris, cutting trees and patching roofs. The volunteer spirit of the American and Canadian people lifted the Gulf Coast from its knees and continues to sustain it.

But volunteers cannot build bridges, ports and highways. New infrastructure will require lots of federal aid, and Congress has been slow to respond.

Americans have short memories. Life moves so fast and one catastrophe shoves away the last one. The horrible images from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are fading. A year ago we watched in disbelief when a tsunami hit Southeast Asia and killed more than 150,000. We sent checks and food and two months later we'd practically forgotten about it.

The tragedy of Katrina will worsen if the Gulf Coast is forgotten. People can't survive in tents. And FEMA trailers aren't meant to be longtime homes.

If there is a common Christmas wish from this torn land, it is simply this: Please don't forget us.

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