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Commentary: The Horror of the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

By Ed Kopek

Buffalo, NY – Horror novelist Stephen King put out a book in 1978 entitled "The Stand." For those not familiar with its subject, it is a story of how a biologically altered "superflu" kills the majority of the people on Earth. Particularly chilling is King's account of how quickly human society crumbles once the trappings of civilization disappear. In watching the truly tragic images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, especially in New Orleans, I can't help but think how scarily accurate King's depiction was.

Within 72 hours after the storm had departed, we saw people driven by hunger, thirst, and exposure to heat begin to slip off the mantle of civilized behavior and have it be replaced with anarchy and mob rule. We've seen truly horrific images of people left to die on doorsteps, heard stories of rape and even murder, and had roving bands of armed looters fire on police.

It is certainly understandable if those stranded in a flooded city with no real recourse break into a supermarket to take food and water to keep themselves alive. However, we've heard stories of looters taking jewelry and blue jeans. It makes my heart ache to think that there are people living in the United States whose standard of living is so low that they consider a natural disaster like Katrina an opportunity to elevate their station in life by taking jewelry out of ruined shops. Surely, at least for the next few weeks, that jewelry won't be worth much in barter. Those who took bottled water, non-perishable food and tents will have the bargaining power. Cameras, televisions and blue jeans won't have much value until after the Crescent City is rebuilt.

All this has made me stop and think of a saying we've all heard recently: "What would Jesus do?" Except that in this case, I think we should paraphrase that, saying instead, "What would YOU do?" If Western New York were to suffer a disaster the magnitude of the present Gulf Coast tragedy, would you be one of those checking on elderly neighbors to make sure they were safe and had enough to eat and drink? Or would you be one of those jumping through the broken windows of a K-mart to steal guns and cheap watches? We all tend to think the best of ourselves, but when it really comes down to it, what kind of person are you?

What about when there is no disaster? Do you do anything to give back to the community? When was the last time you donated blood or cooked a meal for an infirmed neighbor? How about something so simple as to let someone merge onto the expressway in front of you when traffic is backed up?

If any of the images you've seen or stories you've heard about those trying to survive on the Gulf Coast have touched you in any way, please, please do these few things: Make a donation of money, food or blood to aid those in dire need in the decimated areas. Give your children an extra hug and kiss when you put them to bed tonight. Say hello to a neighbor and ask if there is anything you can do for them. Smile at the person in front of you in line at the bank. Every day that you live, be thankful that you have a home, clean water and plenty of salty snacks in the kitchen cabinet. Let that spirit of giving stay with you EVERY day, not just when disaster strikes. Do that, because, God forbid, there may be a day sometime in the future when you might be the person on the rooftop, or sleeping on an expressway off ramp waiting for someone to extend their hand in assistance to you.

Listener-Commentator Ed Kopek is a technical support specialist and platelet donor at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

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