The Fury of the Storm

CARL T. ROWAN

August 28, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- In a world where men and women boast of their economic, political, pillow, black and other kinds of ''power,'' along comes Hurricane Andrew to remind us of just how powerless we all are in the face of nature's fury.

No government, no armies, are a match for a little atmospheric depression that arises off the coast of Africa and grows into a monster killer, a destroyer of a military base and of many billions of dollars worth of other property.

Yet, we are seeing from the Bahamas to South Florida to Louisiana one of the grim demonstrations that ''life is not always fair.'' In all the disasters provoked by nature, and those caused by politicians, it is the poor who turn out to be pitiably powerless.

In Psalms IX, 18, we are told that, ''The needy shall not always be forgotten''; Luke VI, 20, declares, ''Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God''; a modern wit assures us that ''God must love poor people; he made so many of them.''

Contrast those quotations with the reality of Hurricane Andrew, which comes as close to being an ''equal opportunity destroyer'' as any natural disaster I can recall.

The people most devastated were poor old folk living in badly constructed shelter; poor people in trailer camps; poor blacks in ghetto houses with tin roofs; poor rural whites in fragile houses on stilts; people too dumb or poor to evacuate areas of obvious peril.

The special curse of being poor will be intensified in the wake of this monstrous storm. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has admitted that it can't get food, water, medicine and other badly needed help in any timely manner to those who need it most.

The poor will be the last to get temporary housing, or electrical power. The sheer bureaucracy of getting the disaster aid that President Bush has ordered makes it a certainty that most of the available money will go first to those still affluent enough to hire lawyers.

Andrew did severe damage to some homes of the wealthy, who will get fairly prompt responses from their insurance companiesm, and temporary living expenses.

Contrast that with a poor family with a demolished home and only $60 with which to buy bottled water, ice and other bare necessities -- a family which has no insurance, or hears an agent say, ''We'll get to you when we get to you.''

Yes, John F. Kennedy spoke a cruel truth when he said, ''Life is not always fair.''

The unfairness is perpetuated because the Americans who are most helpless in the face of a Hurricane Andrew are also the ones who have least power in the American political system.

All Americans know this. I saw a poll showing that only one percent of Americans think President Bush cares for the poor, whereas most Americans said he cares most for the rich. Sixteen percent said Bill Clinton cares about the poor.

But does this give a 16-to-1 political advantage to Mr. Clinton? No. Because the poor who are too educationally deprived and economically weak to protect themselves from a hurricane cannot protect themselves from politicians who hold them in contempt.

Every calamity of nature or tragedy of politics suggests that the poor who are vulnerable and powerless today will be victimized and powerless tomorrow. Only the most devout, even blind, believer can ever imagine that the poor will own what Luke called ''the kingdom of God.''

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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