In this month's column, Wayne Nash proposes a Jeffersonian approach to disaster response.

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of the NOAA.
I sit and watch the terrible events surrounding Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and have the same feelings I have when I pass a traffic accident. I don't really want to stare, but I can't take my eyes off of it. The difference between the reactions and behavior of the population of New Orleans and the people of Houston were striking and amazing. It illustrates the old adage that natural disasters - and wars, for that matter - bring out the very best and the very worst in people.

The best I can figure is a person's basic reaction to adversity is guided by their education, moral grounding and overall outlook on life. Some people depend upon themselves for success, some depend on the government. The choices, conscious and unconscious, that one makes in life have consequences. In the case of these two storms, the results are clear. For example: Louisiana, in general, and New Orleans, in particular, have been known for years to favor the type of political corruption usually reserved for Third World countries. This helps explain about a zillion Huey Long bridges all over the state.

They apparently elected the mayor they deserved: “Never mind the folks, let the busses flood while I move my family to Dallas.” And then get on national TV and say things that my momma would have washed my mouth out for saying. With modern weather forecasting, everyone had ample warning on the danger of staying in a place BELOW SEA LEVEL in the face of such a storm. Some people just plain didn't want to leave, but a lot of people figured that someone else would come save them - like their foul-mouthed mayor, with his flooded busses.

As anarchy spread, the looting started. I saw a reporter ask a man why he was doing this, and he said, “I've got a family to feed.” He was carrying a TV. The police were filmed on network TV “shopping” at Wal-Mart. When asked what they were doing, one young officer replied, “Just doing my job.” If my local police chief had seen any of his officers behaving this way, I suspect there would have been summary justice.

An interesting side note: On the day Katrina struck, a trial was due to start. It was the trial of members of the levy board, accused of pocketing large amounts of federal funds meant to maintain the levies and keep the water out of the houses of their constituents - bet they all live on high ground. The trial was postponed due to inclement weather.

Contrast this with the behavior of the people in Houston. They had about the same warning time. The independent souls of Texas who historically have relied on themselves and their own grit to survive and prosper knew what to do. They loaded up their families and got outta Dodge. They had the biggest traffic jam in history, but they “got-er-done.” They didn't depend on the government to save them.

It turns out that Rita missed Houston and Galveston to the east, but you never know, and they took matters into their own hands to survive. Of course, there were exceptions. Here's the quote of the day from someone waiting for government to evacuate them out of Houston: “I done called for a shelter, I done called for help. There ain't none. No one answers.” Perhaps they done left, too.

I watched a reporter walk down the streets of Beaumont after the storm. As he described the devastation, he came to a jewelry store that had had its windows blown out. There, within a foot, were rows of watches, jewelry and fine crystal, untouched. If that had been New Orleans, even the floor tiles would have been gone! I guess the locals figured those watches weren't theirs, so they left them alone. What a difference the Sabine River makes.

Now it comes time to rebuild. The city of New Orleans wants ME to help them rebuild in a swamp BELOW SEA LEVEL! Let me tell you something: When the Great Hurricane of 1900 blew Galveston flat and killed more than 6,000 people, the government contributed a pittance to rebuilding. After the Great San Francisco fire, Washington said, “Gee, that's too bad, hope everything comes out all right.” When Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern and half of Chicago burned to the ground, the government just got out of the way and let the free enterprise do what it does best: Decide what's worth rebuilding and what's not - without looting my wallet and giving it to local bureaucrats to build bigger houses on higher ground.

The bottom line is this: Depend upon yourself for your survival and success. The government can't and won't do anything for you except steal your money to stay in power. Hey, Congress has a lot on its plate: They've got wars in two different countries, they've got a border more porous than a Johnson screen, Social Security has been revealed as the Ponzi scheme that it is, and what do they do? They schedule hearings about steroids in baseball, fer cryin' out loud! I'm thinking if they can't steal enough in one term to last a lifetime and go home, they don't need to be re-elected.