Science/Environment

Looting In Katrina’s Wake

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In situations like this, looting is inevitable and heartbreaking.

NEW ORLEANS — With much of the city flooded by Hurricane Katrina, looters floated garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street in a dash to grab what they could. In some cases, looting on Tuesday took place in full view of police and National Guard troops.

At a Walgreen’s drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers.

When police finally showed up, a young boy stood in the door screaming, “86! 86!” — the radio code for police — and the crowd scattered.

The thing that struck me is that people are stealing diapers. Sure, this could just be an off-hand observation by a reporter of one person, but it definitely speaks of the desperation some feel to get their family the resources they need.

And really, can you blame them?

“To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society,” he said.

A man walked down Canal Street with a pallet of food on his head. His wife, who refused to give her name, insisted they weren’t stealing from the nearby Winn-Dixie supermarket. “It’s about survival right now,” she said as she held a plastic bag full of purloined items. “We got to feed our children. I’ve got eight grandchildren to feed.”

The police are even taking part in their own authorized type of looting.

At a drug store on Canal Street just outside the French Quarter, two police officers with pump shotguns stood guard as workers from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel across the street loaded large laundry bins full of medications, snack foods and bottled water.

“This is for the sick,” Officer Jeff Jacob said. “We can commandeer whatever we see fit, whatever is necessary to maintain law.”

Another office, D.J. Butler, told the crowd standing around that they would be out of the way as soon as they got the necessities.

“I’m not saying you’re welcome to it,” the officer said. “This is the situation we’re in. We have to make the best of it.”

The insurance companies will figure it out. Let’s keep an open mind during a time like this. It’s not like we’re talking about the LA riots where people simply acted out of rage.

This is an extreme crisis, and if people abuse the system, well, that’s life.