Prayers, aid, resilience

September 01, 2005

A BLANKET of tropical air settled over the Mid-Atlantic region yesterday - a harmless side effect of the remnants of Hurricane Katrina but a sobering reminder of the cataclysm that has washed over much of the Gulf Coast.

The time for the first round of prayers - as the terrible storm gathered force across the Gulf of Mexico last week - has long passed. Now is the time for this nation to rush to the region's aid, an effort likely to be unparalleled in U.S. history.

But there remains plenty of room for prayers. This natural disaster - the scale of which is still not fully known - is just that vast. A major city, among America's most distinctive places, is flooded back into the Third World, replete with public health dangers and armed gangs. A long coastline is as devastated as parts of Southeast Asia after last year's tsunami. Hundreds of thousands of refugees strewn across the South. Many, many Americans worried over family and friends.

Just to witness this disaster from afar is to feel emotionally overwhelmed - much as during the aftermaths of the tsunami and 9/11. The work ahead is unimaginable, starting with the engineering nightmare of draining and drying out New Orleans - which experts estimate could take months. The unknown weighs heavily as the horrific devastation comes into sharp focus at an excruciatingly slow pace - including the new fear yesterday that there could be hundreds of dead yet to be found in the city.

Reconstruction likely will go on for years and years. But Americans have long proved themselves resilient in the face of such challenges. One of the more stirring statements yesterday came from Texas Gov. Rick Perry as he announced that Houston's Astrodome would become home to 25,000 refugees, most trapped in New Orleans' Superdome - and any children among them, he said, would be welcomed into Houston's schools. "We're a nation," Mr. Perry said. "We're going to pull together as a nation."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Pentagon, the National Guard, the American Red Cross and thousands of volunteers are getting aid to the Gulf Coast. Before Katrina, there were concerns that FEMA, now a Department of Homeland Security agency, had become weaker, and there doubtless will be coordination problems - as seemed to occur with the initial attempts this week to close the breaches in New Orleans' levees. But if the past holds true, we believe a nation's prayers, an outpouring of aid and Americans' resilience will prevail.

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