Monday, July 17, 2006

Americans Trying to Evacuate Lebanon Brings Back Memories of Hurricane Rita

As I listen to the plans being made to evacuate American citizens from war torn Lebanon, memories come to mind. Last September I attended the annual meeting of Community Health Centers in Miami Beach, Florida. The attendees heard much about the federal government’s and community health center’s response to Hurricane Katrina’s widespread disaster.

As the meeting progressed a new Tropical Storm formed, Rita. In no time our waterfront hotel was included in a hurricane warning area. That meant hurricane force winds could be at our front door within 24 hours. Forecasters noted Rita could strengthen to a Category 2 storm by the time it reached South Florida bringing a 6 to 8 foot tidal surge. Miami Beach’s local government called for a voluntary evacuation.

It seemed the appropriate strategy, so I called the airline about moving our departure flight up a few days. Despite already having purchased a ticket, it would cost an additional $300 per person to fly out that evening. That we did. The security of seeing the outer bands of Rita in our rear view mirror provided profound relief. However, it did chase our plane to Texas.

What is similar about my experience and Americans in Lebanon? First, both of us face dangers. Mine happened to be natural in origin, while Americans are in peril from our country’s "greatest ally", Israel. The current disaster is completely man made, thus immediately stoppable. What is wrong with this picture? Are 25,000 Americans collateral damage in our President’s mind?

Second, the poor are “on their own”. Reports indicate a taxi to Damascus is not available at any price. Only those with resources can afford to buy the bus or plane ticket, to pay the fee to board the boat to Cyprus. The federal government has little responsibility in keeping its citizen’s safe at home or abroad, however it will contract with the private sector for such work. And the companies have their profit motive, which must increase quarter to quarter. The end result is Americans having to pay for their own rescue and companies profiting from the work. How uniquely American! Is this the way it will play out in Lebanon?

Three, the federal representatives attending the Miami Beach meeting were whisked out due to their importance. From bird flu plans to any other crisis our elected leaders ensure they are taken care of first or early on in the process. I noted non-emergency employees of the American Embassy have been released for evacuation. What method are they using to leave the country? How many dependents of Embassy staffers were in the first 64 people evacuated?

Will Americans in Lebanon have the best evacuation money can buy? Stay tuned.

Update: A State Department spokesman said Americans will pay for their evacuation. Those who cannot will be issued an IOU. Keep an eye out for which companies will profit from this "humanitarian" response!

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