Friday, June 22, 2007

Thoughts on rural America in times of crisis...

Unfortunate, out-of-my-hands kind of circumstances found me trapped near Ground Zero, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina. I weathered the storm in an area generally known for its friendliness and charming hospitality.

After the hurricane, I emerged into a totally changed world. All the old rules didn't apply anymore. Nothing was as it should be. As if the devastation weren't enough, I saw some of the darkest anarchy I ever dreamed would be possible in the otherworldly polite pre-Katrina society.

True, there were places where there was no anarchy to speak of, but rather a walking-dead kind of numbness, an unreal-ness to it all. Nothing even remotely like this had ever happened before.

What really struck me, was the suddenness of the looting and brutality. As the hurricane winds stilled, something else evil and palpable was stirring. I can almost pinpoint the loosening of it...just as soon as people realized there were no real boundaries, little to no law-and-order, or communication...that's when anarchy quicky broke loose in places. It wasn't just a case of food and water deprivation. It started long before that.

Armed-to-the-teeth thugs and looters are not far behind any major crisis, anywhere. They are equal opportunity workers. Some are highly organized and brutally efficient, and wait for opportunities such as this.

For a week, gunfire could be heard in pockets here and there all along Katrina's path. Communications were next to impossible, radio/cell towers were down, gasoline to escape was scarce or non-existent in many places. No police (did the hurricane blow them all away?) law and order! Funny thing, after Katrina passed, just when I thought it just can't get much worse than this...then even more pockets of anarchy popped up here and there...these were insults to injury. Looting, murder, rapes, beatings, you name it...a man shooting his sister over a bag of ice... In places, the anarchy was totally senseless!

I saw first hand just how transparent the skin of polite society really is...even in rural America! It's NOT just about big cities, you know.

On the other hand, many neighborhoods banded together and organized armed street patrols to protect themselves, family and friends (and their homes if they still had one). Some of those without guns grabbed knives and baseball bats.

At first, the more visibly organized neighborhoods had almost no trouble with gangs and looters. It was like an oasis...folks helping one another in many ways. Things were fine, as long as food and water were abundant. As time wore on, and supplies stretched thin, things changed...

I will say this: if a widespread crisis is given the opportunity to last longer than a few weeks (or months), even the nicest, most helpful and organized neighborhoods won't be so warm and fuzzy anymore, as soon as food and water supplies start to become scarce in a prolonged crisis.

Count on it.

Edited on June 14, 2008 to add author's note:

I had a recent convos with someone who misunderstood my intentions with this article. She thought that I was trying to paint Katrina in Mississippi as a 'worse than it really was' Jericho-style anarchy situation. Although I have not heard any other viewpoints like hers from anyone else, I suspect that if one person spoke up, surely there might be more. If so, then maybe I need to clarify a few points:

1. In a severe crisis situation, given the right ingredients, things may suddenly turn ugly in places you think not.

2. In places where neighbors banded together, it was an oasis of law and order that was most unattractive to looters.

3. When supplies stretch thin enough, the' warm fuzzy kittens and rainbows' pictures will begin to fade, even in the most helpful and organized of neighborhoods.

4. Like the saying goes, "When the SHTF it will not be distributed evenly". In some rural areas, there were small pockets of lawlessness scattered in Katrina's path. This article is a snapshot of what some of them looked like. This is NOT to paint Mississippi in a bad light, nor to paint the entire tri-state area as a lawless wasteland. Violent trouble certainly did erupt in places in Louisiana, and to a lesser degree, Mississippi and Alabama because of loss of vital communication, and lack of law and order (either uniformed or in the form of neighborhood patrols).

On the brighter side of the coin, Katrina and many other disasters show many people everywhere pulling together with a community spirit that is most heartwarming. If you are well prepared, then you can be an asset to your family and possibly your community.

My entire point of this article is for people to see a need to prepare for the possibility of having to deal with sudden anarchy situations (be it large or small ones), where you live or work. Please don't be too smug or complacent about your disaster preps in this regard.

This may be reprinted by you for noncommercial use, if the following credit is given:

This article is an excerpt from Mrs. Tightwad's Handbook #1: HOW TO SURVIVE DISASTERS AND OTHER HARD TIMES. For more information, see the left sidebar on this site:

No comments: