Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Katrina's Victims, A Year Later

Editor & Publisher has a heartbreaking story about a Times-Picayune photographer, severely traumatized by the devastation of Katrina, who had a nervous breakdown in the streets of New Orleans, begging the police to kill him (emphasis mine):

A photographer for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans who has undergone severe personal trauma since Hurricana Katrina hit was arrested Tuesday after trying to get police to shoot him to death. Police said he claimed he was depressed after he found out he didn't have enough insurance money to rebuild his Katrina-damaged home.

They said he was seeking "suicide-by-cop," but police who found him tasered him instead.

Earlier published accounts had revealed that he had recently taken a leave of absence from the paper and was undergoing therapy.

John McCusker, the photographer, was being held under psychiatric observation and faces unspecified charges.
Police said they noticed McCusker driving erratically in the city on Tuesday evening, then hit several parked cars when they pulled him over. McCusker rolled the window down and said several times, "Just kill me, get it over with, kill me."

When that didn't happen, he put the car in reverse and pinned one of the officers between the rear bumper of his car and the officer's cruiser, police said, and he suffered minor injuries. McCusker drove away, to fabled St. Charles Avenue, "going out of his way to knock down any signs advertising construction," police told the newspaper.

When he finally stopped, police had to taser him -- as he again begged them to kill him.

The police official said, according to newspapers, that this was only one of many examples of the mental damage that Katrina has caused, "and he sees it all the time now."

Immediately after Katrina struck, numerous Times-Picayune photographers fanned out on their own in the city, but McCusker was the only one who traveled with a key reporting team as they roamed the city. In fact, they stayed at times at McCusker's mother's house.

McCusker is a graduate of local Loyola University and worked on the paper there. He was a staff writer at the Times-Picayune several years ago and often wrote about jazz, including a three-part series in 1993.
Besides losing his house, McCucker had photographed that post-hurricane catastrophe. "You have to understand the depth of the horror that the city was," McCusker says in the article. "Tens of thousands of people on the freeways stranded. The children begging for food and water. The looting at the Wal-Mart. It was of biblical proportions." Devastated, he was not able to help his own family very much, he admits.

First Draft points to an article at about the mental health crisis still going on a year after Katrina. Another article on the same site reports that New Orleans is experiencing a severe shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals at a time when the need for such professionals is very high, and increasing.

Medical help is not the only necessity in short supply, still, one year after Katrina struck:

It has been 11 months since Hurricane Katrina hit and Janice Tambrella still does not have a home. She doesn't even have a trailer of her own.

Tambrella is currently jammed in with 10 other relatives in a single trailer delivered to a luckier relative. Sleeping on the floor, living out of cars surrounded by overgrown grass and storm-felled trees, she sighs, "I need a place to stay."

Nearly 1,200 St. Bernard Parish families are still waiting to get into trailers that sit locked on their home sites but need utilities or other services; another 400 families waiting for trailers have none at all, FEMA said.
In this parish adjoining New Orleans, virtually no one was spared massive flooding from storm surge and breaks in the flood control system; all but a handful of the 27,000 homes belonging to mostly working-class residents were inundated with water. Almost none are yet repaired.

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said he understands people are frustrated with the wait but workers are filling requests as fast as they can. He notes the agency has provided housing assistance to more than 900,000 people regionwide since Katrina. Most years, the agency handles only 2,000 to 3,000 people.

"If you look at the sheer numbers, we've been very successful," he said.

What a bunch of crap. It's not Walker's ass living in a tent or on the street or in a vacant, gutted house still not fit for habitation 12 months after the storm ended. And the number of people needing help does not explain why parts of New Orleans look like Katrina happened only a week ago.

And if trailers are so hard to find, why are there 10,000 of them sitting in Hope, Arkansas, and only now -- maybe -- making their way to New Orleans? (Via Pam's House Blend. )

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