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September 27, 2005

Death in the dome

One of the things that struck me about the coverage of hurricane Katrina was the enormous death tolls reported from the "Superdome" in New Orleans.

Tracking this via. the BBC, we hear detailed tales of suicides, rapes, murder, gangland violence...

I've searched out several articles which may prove illuminating.

The first consists of eyewitness accounts from Britons caught up in the superdome. This tells of the inevitable suffering in the environment, of people with little food living in their own filth. It also begins to reveal a more sinister side...

"I heard stories of violence. I heard people were getting stabbed, getting raped... a guy committed suicide," he said.
...
"By Tuesday night you heard of some suicides, people had jumped from balconies, or people being pushed, there were all sorts of rumours flying around. I honestly didn't think I was going to wake up on Wednesday morning."

This is getting serious. The second article comes again from the BBC. It refers to many acts of evil:

"Stories of rape, murder and suicide have emerged."

"One guy jumped off a balcony," said Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer who was beaten and injured during his time at the Superdome.

"They killed a man here last night," Steve Banka, 28, told the Reuters news agency before he left on Sunday.

"A young lady was being raped and stabbed.
"And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them.

"He jumped up on the truck's windscreen and they shot him dead," Mr Banka said.

I have to say, that looking at this I do find Mr. Banka's testimony quite hilarious in a way. But hang on, surely these are terrible acts of great violence in the aftermath of a catastrophe, which are sickening and wrong. Maybe, but the latest article doesn't entirely agree.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies."I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying. The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide.

Ah, but now we have the question of whether to believe this latest article.

I have to confess that initially, it doesn't seem too good. It's origins seem obscure, and it hasn't been much reported elsewhere.

Interestingly though, it does mention something which is corroborated by mainstream news agencies: the suicide off a balcony. Both BBC articles mention this, though one goes on to say that loads of people were involved. This gives reasonable evidence that the article may be true, and also gives indications towards the real nature of the BBC reporting.

Looking back at the BBC article, hindsight clearly reveals a rumour-driven story-telling style of reporting, which is embarassing, to say the least. And you thought the BBC knew what was going on?

This article reveals two things of great interest.

  1. Human nature, as always, is to exaggerate and gossip. This aspect of our behaviour was clearly revealed in the tales of the Superdome. Many people report "tales of stabbings and rapes," though finding witnesses to these crimes is somewhat harder. It isn't difficult to believe that people exaggerated the dangers involved.
  2. News coverage of the disaster often mentioned that race was a factor in treatment of victims. One thing I notice, though, is that the perpetrators of violence in the Superdome were often referred to as "black," either explicitly or buried in terms like "gangland violence," or "ghetto culture." I think this is just as racist, and I think that those who moan at the government for "racist evacuation schemes" in the same breath as denouncing "superbowl violence" are fundamentally hypocritical.

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