Book Excerpt: 'Americans At Risk"

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, most disaster experts remain convinced that America's disaster preparedness is woefully inadequate. Irwin Redlener, who founded and directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, has written a compelling new book, "Americans At Risk" that outlines a pattern of incompetence and a paralyzed bureaucracy.

(For more information on Irwin Redliner and "Americans at Risk" visit his Web site:

www.americansatrisk.com

Here is an excerpt: Help on Hold, Lives at Stake

Almost a month to the day following the devastating landfall of Hurricane Katrina, I made my third of many trips to the Gulf region of Mississippi. I was there to meet with members of the Operation Assist medical relief team who had been working nonstop to treat the unending flow of displaced and disoriented people who needed medical care. Operation Assist is the collaboration singer-songwriter Paul Simon and I organized between the Children's Health Fund and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health to bring emergency relief to people who had survived the storm. On the way from the Biloxi-Gulfport airport, I asked to be driven by some areas that had been particularly hard-hit. I had been to these neighborhoods before but was anxious to see what progress had been made.

We drove down I-90, heading into D'Iberville, a community of some 7,500 citizens, with a Wal-Mart, a Winn-Dixie supermarket, and a couple of dollar stores. The weather was balmy and slightly overcast. It felt like a normal day in a typical small southern town?until we looked out the window. In some neighborhoods, whole blocks had been flattened. Storefronts had been ripped off the buildings and overhead signs were left dangling from one corner of the store or had been blown away entirely. There were about 1,830 homes in D'Iberville before Katrina came crashing through town. In Katrina's wake some 1,250 homes had sustained wind or water damage. Nearly 400 had been destroyed.

In 2000, the median income for residents of D'Iberville was about $34,000 a year, about 20 percent under the national average of about $42,000. People were more or less middle class and mostly white, with fewer than one in five residents African American or Vietnamese. Many families were living at or below the poverty level; few had substantial investments or savings?in other words, little or no financial safety net was readily available. The storm damage, the disruption of the social networks, and vastly diminished public services were taking a toll on the community.

On my first visit, just days after the storm, I was overwhelmed by the extent of the damage, and perplexed and infuriated by so little evidence of any organized governmental response?or even presence. Now, just four weeks later, it seemed that nothing much had changed.

I saw high in the still standing trees of a destroyed middle-class community what seemed to be some toys and children's shredded clothes. Sifting through the wreckage of what had been a home, a family was looking for something to salvage. A few crews of Central American workers were beginning to reconstruct a roof or a house here and there, but in general, time seemed to have stopped altogether.

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