I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the vast implications of the disaster down south. Hundreds of thousands of people left without homes, without access to...everything. Their banks, their schools, their jobs, their stores, their friends and neighbors and relatives. Their stuff. Their daily routines. No checking their e-mail. No stopping by the gym. No TV. No phones. No lights. No fresh water. No indoor plumbing. Hell, some of these people are probably still trapped on roofs and inside attics. WIth much of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast essentially uninhabitable for the near future, the diaspora of displaced persons is just...beyond my ability to conceptualize in practical terms.
It's easier to conceive of a disaster in a far-off land, stricken by war or famine. NGOs will come in, set up refugee camps, and make do until the situation improves, trying to save as many lives as they can. But here in America, it's such a foreign concept to have so many people in such desperate straits. It's one thing to be homeless in a city with a functioning infrastructure and economy—the average homeless American faces terrible risks, yes, but he or she lives at the edges of a society where food is plentiful.
My city was largely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Yes, it was rebuilt, bigger and better than it had been, but there were only a few decades of development to replace; New Orleans has so much more history than Chicago had in 1871. Interesting fact, though: The population of Chicago was about 330,000 when the fire hit. Seeing how solidly the city grew after a catastrophic fire gives me hope that the hurricane- and flood-damaged areas can rise again, too.