15 Jun 2008

Iowa’s Not New Orleans

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And Tigerhawk is proud of the difference.

The flooding in eastern Iowa has reached the point of catastrophe. Towns are overwhelmed, businesses destroyed, and crops are gone. A fifth of the corn and soybeans are gone. Fox News is calling it “Iowa’s Katrina.” Here is a gallery of aerial photographs at the web site of the newspaper I used to deliver every afternoon, the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

The thing is, though, the people of eastern Iowa seem to be stepping up in the Iowa stubborn way. I have seen any number of man-on-the-street interviews, and nobody is complaining. They all seem to be working to solve their problem, which is not surprising because Iowans do not complain about tragedy. They complain about hot weather and dry weather, but not tragedy. And I have looked for reports of looting and come up empty so far.

Katrina has become a metaphor for many things beyond natural disaster, including governmental and individual incompetence (depending on your point of view). In Iowa there is a 500 year flood, but the people are not paralyzed, whining, or looting. There will be no massive relief effort from around the world, and nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans. Yet years from now, there will be no Iowans still in FEMA camps.

The difference is not in the severity of the flood, but in the people who confront the flood.

19 Feedbacks on "Iowa’s Not New Orleans"

Scott D

Midwesterners tend to be very personally and community reliant. When someone is in need, friends, family and neighbors habitually volunteer to help. They do not presume that some stranger, whom they have never met, will or should be forced to assist them. They do not live their lives as perpetual victims.


The difference is that Iowan’s are used to hard work and taking care of themselves. The vast majority of the people “stranded” in New Orleans were already on some sort of government relief. It makes perfect sense. In New Orleans when the going got tough, the tough waited for government rescue. In Iowa the people rescue themselves.

Beryl Jones

I have found it amazing the news media has not picked up on this…they don’t dare show the difference in the way these two catastrophes have been handled by the public officials and the people themselves. I was just in New Orleans a month ago and there are people living in tents under an overpass..still whinning. Mexicans had to be brought into New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast to work on the much needed construction..jobs were and are very plentiful.

Matt Hoostal

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) – Two Waterloo teenagers have been accused of looting at some apartments that were evacuated because of flooding.

Matt Hoostal

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Some people who were already victimized by raging floodwaters in their homes are falling victim to crime during the cleanup.

Columbus flood victims have many of their belongings in yards to dry out and sort through, but thieves have seen that as an opportunity, 6News’ Ben Morriston reported.

Looters have carried off appliances, such as washers and dryers, to sell them for their scrap metal.

Matt Hoostal

Yes, the media is making MidWesterners out to be “self-reliant” and there’s much talk about “community spirit”. However, is this biased reporting, in contrast to Katrina? The stories of neighbors helping neighbors were downplayed during Katrina compared to the midwest floods, supporting mythological views of idealic “small-town” America.

Matt Hoostal

Last one, sorry…It’s a crime of opportunity. As flood victims pull precious belongings from their homes outside to dry out, looters are taking advantage. Lt. Joe Richardson with the Columbus Police Department told 24-Hour News 8 the first arrest came around 3 or 4 p.m. Tuesday. And that was just the first of many.


How can you compare the two?
I love out on Long Island. This is a huge island that has three main arteries to the mainland. The population here is such that it would take 4 days for all the cars to get off the island. That is, if they weren’t flooded.

Iowa, etc. had days of warning. Warnings to New Orleans poo-pahed the immediency of the storm. There are so many differences, that one can only assume that lazy thinking and racism is behind all this blather.


How sad, in the face of such tragedy, that there are some who use this just to smear my city, New Orleans. Let’s be fair here. Did the people in the midwest sit on their rooftops for days on end, in 90+ degree heat and punishing sunshine with no help, or neck deep in water in their attics, some for up to 5 days? Were the majority in the midwest who did not evacuate, in effect, stuck on an island with no way out? Were they given more than 48 hours notice? (That’s what I had…when I left for work on Friday, August 26, Katrina was a tropical storm projected to hit the Florida panhandle. That evening, when I got home, things were changing. Though off work the next day, I got up at 5am, prepared for the worst, hoping for the best. We were miles away in a hotel room that night…and not ALLOWED to go back home for six weeks.)

Did the levees in NOLA fail in 1993 like they did in the midwest? No. Did they fail during all the times we’d evacuated previously? No. (Hurricanes Ivan, Georges, and Lilly were all projected to head towards NOLA. We left for each one.) I have seen a report of murders after the recent flooding. I saw where a woman in Iowa was arrested for looting a liquor store. I also saw where fights broke out in Wisconsin amongst those standing in line for food vouchers and a man rammed a state trooper’s car when not allowed back in to check on his property. Were there as many people left behind in such a small area in the midwest? No. Did cars and buses flood in the midwest too? Yes.

Now, I am NOT condoning the behavior of some of the people, stealing plasma TV’s, nor am I condoning thugdom in general. But there were some MAJOR differences here and I think you know it. The lack of immediate response during and after Katrina has taught the governments and our people a lot. I’m glad the lesson was learned for the sake of the people who are suffering today.

BTW, I’m sick and tired of reading posts like this. All up in the kool-ade and you don’t even know the flavor.

This is all something I try to forget, but it will remain with me always. Everyone here has a different story, each swept under the rug, but brought out whenever he/she makes a new acquaintance or runs into an old friend. The stories that I hear, live, breathe, are not like the stories I read, most of which come from outside this area. I saw friends, on CNN, standing outside the Convention Center. There were no riots there. I know others who stayed for days in the Superdome. No riots. Others who baked on the interstate, days on end. No riots. I know many who have lost all they own and some, family members, family pets. They don’t talk like that. They help each other here too. People are people and most are good. For the most part, they’re getting on with their lives and going about their ordinary workaday businesses. Folks like these, they don’t fit into that type of story. They don’t make the news.

You know, if there is such a thing as a gentler, kinder disaster, I hope these recent floodings are just that.

John Thompson

“nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans … The difference is not in the severity of the flood, but in the people who confront the flood.”

Hmmm – the Governor declares disaster areas and that qualifies the victims for Federal Relief loans. You promising no one in Iowa is going to use Federal money?

Katrina did $150-200 BILLION in damage; Iowa sustained about 1-2% of that damage. So, how can you make assertions that dismiss the enormous difference of severity?

I read there were 1300 BLOCKS flooded in Cedar Rapids. Are all those people turning away ‘out of state’ (ie, Federal) Help (like Federal Tax Dollars from my fellow Coloradans)?

I heard the Red Cross was there – I think that’s an International Organization. Are you sending them away, too?

You see, Sir or Madam, we’re glad to help out with the suffering and misery of your fellow Iowans – our FELLOW AMERICANS. But we don’t like to be told you’re all really ABOVE IT (and, by implication, that others we choose to help are not WORTHY of our help). So, you should probably TONE DOWN your attitude and stop hurting the chances of your neighbors for a little help.

John Thompson
Colorado, USA

John Thompson

Please delete my comments – the ‘holier than thou’ remarks of some of the other commenters makes me embarrassed to have spent my time among them.

And, to you self-impressed, rugged individualists here, takin’ it on the chin and still standing, shooing away support – good luck when your 500-year flood becomes your new 10-year flood. I’ll still be sending in my Federal Income Taxes to the pool which your disaster recovery aid and your Farm Bill “support checks” are drawn from.

To the rest of you, I wish you good luck and the best with your recovery.


Keith M.

Government estimates say that approximately 2.2 million people were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Less than half a million by the midwest floods. Economic losses from Katrina were estimated between $250 and $300 billion Dollars. Estimates of the economic loss from the midwest floods are approximately $2.6 to $3.2 billion dollars. There is no comparison in terms of the scale of human and economic tragedy from these two events. Any attempt to compare them is disingenuous.

Ridiculing poor people for being poor only adds insult to injury. It doesn’t excuse incompetence. It doesn’t excuse apathy and it doesn’t hide racism.

Do some good in this world. It needs your help.


Larger numbers of people impacted & bigger damage totals moves an episode of flooding into a new dimension in which personal and local responsibility vanishes and it suddenly becomes appropriate to look for free ATM cards and to expect Washington to fix your roof?

The principal incompetence in the case of New Orleans was that of representatives of a democrat party machine elected by none other than the victims themselves.

Nobody in this country is poor who gets up and goes to work everyday.

Brett Carlton

I understand where you are coming from as far as who is acting on the tragedy and what they are doing about the floods, but by no means can you say the severity of the floods relates at all to what happened in the Gulf South due to Hurricane Katrina. What happened in Iowa is terrible, but by no means can you compare the floods to the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Yes, individuals are reacting better to the tragedy, but to inference that the people brought the problems on themselves after Hurricane Katrina is ludicrous. And another point, I’m sure people learned how to deal with a similar situation because of Hurricane Katrina, and I’m almost positive the people of Iowa recieved some kind of national assistance.


JDZ, stop pushing for a separation in this country. People relied on government help when they could no longer “help themselves”. And matter of fact, people have jobs and are still homeless and cannot help themselves because they have to choose between paying for disabilities and health problems or somewhere to live. You ever have to make a decision like that? Why don’t you stop judging others and maybe worry about how you can help someone in the future. Have a nice day.


>What happened in Iowa is terrible, but by
> no means can you compare the floods to
> the worst natural disaster in U.S. history

Ever hear of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900?


I think the main diffference is that the people affected by Katrina were black and the people in the midwestern flood and primarily in Iowa are white. And also that white people are good, smart and self reliant whereas blacks are bad, dumb and welfare dependent. So in a sense, Katrina was as much their own fault as Mother Nature’s.

With regards to noone who gets up and goes to work everyday being poor in this country, give sobriety a chance. I know it sucks trying to go thru life without crack, crystal meth, percoset, oxycontin or whatever your particular get high is, but give it a shot.

LeAnne Kilman

God bless you for having the guts to speak the truth and showing that Iowa is AMERICA’S TOUGH PEOPLE!! PROUD AND HONORABLE!!

Carlos B. Cooper

I can not help but respond to some of these comments. I think that many of you are trying to compare daylight and dark. First, let me say that New Orleans (And Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc) have many people at the very bottom of the economic ladder that are also without jobs, money, cars and probably even the will power to care for themselves. Most are also on some kind of government assistance and probably had no means for either leaving the city or capability to plan for adequate food and water to survive in a disaster. These are primarily the people that you watched on TV asking for help. Hundreds of thousands of people did leave (and had to take refuge in places from the east coast to the Midwest) and did take care of themselves. If memory serves me right, New Orleans had about 48 hours of warning. And many of them paid their own expenses just as I did. Most of you (primarily because of media coverage) are not aware of an additional loss of homes, boats, cars and lives in the small town of Slidell just across the lake from New Orleans where water was 7 feet deep downtown where minor street flooding and an occasional home have been the norm for the 50 years I have been in Slidell. The storm also completely obliterated thousands of homes near the lake (nothing was left but occasional piles of debris). 90000 square miles of area were considered a disaster area. Mississippi was less affected by flood in that the water came in and drained out. Also remember, not only did the water rise but winds of 175mph were recorded which was probably the cause of much of the damage. I have traveled as far north as Hattiesburg, Mississippi (60 miles from Slidell and 100 miles from New Orleans) and observed trees just crisscrossed like giant matchsticks all the way.
Secondly, the storm hit at night, and most thought it was over – then levees broke and flooded thousands of homes up to the eves of the houses and higher. This water remained their for weeks, soaking up all dirt, oil and garbage from the city. You could not go in or get out except through planned boat, bus and airline travel supplied by the government – martial law was declared (And I might add that this martial law and a lot of other idiots prevented many plain, common, poor southerners from moving in with boats to save and help the people. Because of the low land level, almost complete destruction of the existing utilities and food, water and supply places occurred, including massive home damages – individuals simply could not just walk in and start “fixin” things up. Water supplies and lines had to be sanitized, gas lines had to have water blown out and checked for leaks (many needed replacement) and exterior power (electric lines had to be replaced) and wiring in houses (including the Power panel) had to be replaced and inspected as though it were completely new construction.
I have lived in Louisiana most of my life and seen many hurricanes. Never have I witnessed such massive destruction. Even though water came in and drained right out in the Mississippi area, the coast (from New Orleans to Biloxi was and is un-recognizable. Almost all homes and businesses (100+ year old, beautiful old southern homes -never to be replaced – only chimneys and steps left) have been completely destroyed, including the highway – the entire coast line.
Yes, we did have incompetence and ignorance in trying to prevent destruction and/or fix things after the destruction. I believe that some of our politicians and government officials simply were not able to handle the situation. However, in this situation, I think that it was just too difficult (and too big) for probably anyone to handle.
I have seen comments similar to those you have written here about the California fires (How well a few thousand Californians handled their problems (as they were sitting in bright sunshine, surrounded by cars (transportation), portipotties, food, and pads for resting – many in motels and apartments within walking distance of their homes) – compare that to hundreds of thousands of people with no transportation, shelter, water or food – much less a sleeping pad or air-conditioning for hundreds of miles. And these horrible conditions lasted for months – not to mention the few thousand people that were totally surrounded and even in the water.
I have no doubt that the the people of Fargo (190000 population and 35 miles of levees) handled themselves well in the recent flood conditions. And I am sure the people of California did a good job during the fires. However, you can not compare the kind of conditions present for Katrina in New Orleans (Metro population of 1.3 million with 350 miles of levees) to that of Fargo or California. I can only hope that those that make unkind (uninformed) remarks like those below never have to experience a similar tragedy or even see the aftermath. I can assure you that it will last me for the rest of my life. Yes we have dumb hicks down here, yes we have crooked politicians, (but there seems to be plenty to go around in Chicago, New York, California, Alaska, Boston and Illinois, etc.) and their are people that think we speak funny, but the people of this area (black and white) will work just as hard and be just as nice as those anywhere – and most pay their taxes, go to work everyday and are not on welfare. Incidentally, their are probably thousands of people still without their homes (over three years later), many because insurance claims were never paid. I have had the privilege of living and working in Louisiana, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Iowa, Greenland, Florida, England, Germany, France and Mississippi – and the people of the south are without doubt the nicest people in the world and are always ready to help their neighbor.
I have no doubt that the people of Iowa suffered tremendously. I have no doubts that the people of Iowa withstood many hardships and worked their collective butts off to fight off the ravages of the floods. I think that they also did not get the FEMA attention that New Orleans did (they might have also been sorry if FEMA had showed up). Iowans should also thank their lucky stars that all the movie stars and celebrities did not show up – this only means that things were probably quickly corrected before they woke up to the problems. Louisiana has received extensive help and kindness from peoples of many states and even other nations. Louisiana has appreciated it. No one wants to have to depend on charity and help from strangers or friends. They would prefer that the conditions caused by Katrina, the floods of Iowa, or the fires of California would never happen. However, If these conditions rear their heads again, I have no doubts that Americans everywhere will stand up and be counted. It is a shame that some few people want to make a show of the suffering of others and try to have people fighting each other for reasons I will never understand. I only hope that those that find time to criticize others as to how they reacted to a disaster, will never have to face one themselves.


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