World media paints grim picture

The massive destruction and loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina has captured media attention worldwide.

BY PJ HELLER | CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand | September 2, 2005

From Australia to Zimbabwe, the massive destruction and loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina - and the lawlessness that has followed - has captured media attention worldwide.

Newspapers around the globe, from the Aftonbladet in Stockholm, Sweden, to Zero Hora in Porto Alegre, Brazil, have splashed color photographs showing scenes of devastation and death across their front pages. Television newscasts lead with the hurricane story, showing scenes of stranded people being plucked from their roof tops by helicopters and of widespread looting. One New Zealand newscaster described the situation in New Orleans as a "national disgrace."

"Anarchy" has become a word widely used to describe the situation in New Orleans as the media outside the U.S. painted a grim picture of the situation there.

"New Orleans in anarchy with fights, rapes," read a headline in the China Daily.

"New Orleans slipping toward anarchy," reported the International Herald Tribune, published in Paris.

"Superdome is seething scene of last resort," said another headline in that same paper.

"Anarchy in New Orleans," blared The Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom.

"The effort to rescue as many as 200,000 people left stranded and hungry in the sinking city of New Orleans ran the risk of catastrophic breakdown last night, as underprepared and under-resourced federal authorities faced the hostility of heavily armed residents seemingly intend on shooting their way out of town if necessary," The Independent reported.

"Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as hurricane-flooded New Orleans descended into anarchy," the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia told its readers.

Reporter Ryan Parry of The Mirror in London described New Orleans as "a city of hell."

"There's no food, little water, the power is out and no one can escape," he wrote. "And as the water covers the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there's very little hope."

"Houston, we have a refugee problem," said a headline in The Press in Christchurch, over a story reporting storm survivors being moved to shelter at the Astrodome in Houston. 

Even as rescue operations continued, publications were speculating about the future of New Orleans -- or if it even had a future -- and the economic effects of the storm not just on the U.S. but on other countries.

"Americans outside Louisiana and Mississippi who thought the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina had failed to affect their lives are in for a series of nasty shocks," warned the British Broadcasting Company.

It noted that while experts predicted the shocks would be short-lived, Americans could expect to see higher prices at the filling station and in supermarkets and the prospect of airline bankruptcies.

"Hurricane Katrina will be as big a test for the United States as was the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001," the BBC said. "It will test not just the leadership of President Bush but the whole country."

The Independent agreed, saying that, "What happens next will be an extreme test of America's mettle and the administration's political will."

In a commentary entitled "A disaster that will test Mr. Bush and all U.S. society," The Independent reported that it was hard to imagine the situation in New Orleans.

"New Orleans is to be abandoned. Until this week, the very notion that a major U.S. city was to be emptied of people and left to its own fate would have been the stuff of disaster movies and desktop planning exercises," it said. "No longer. The breaches in the city's flood protection opened by the storm surge that followed Hurricane Katrina have rendered New Orleans uninhabitable."

The effects of Katrina were already being felt. In Puerto Rico, the Primera Hora newspaper headlined what motorists were discovering: the price to fill the tank of a car cost was at a record high. In New Zealand, petrol prices jumped five cents a litre, to an average of $1.53 per litre. The increase prompted outcries that such an increase was premature given fuel supplies already on hand. Some complained that the increase was driven by what they said were greedy oil companies seeking to profit from the storm.

There was widespread debate in the media about whether global warming played a part in the powerful storm. There was also discussion and finger-pointing about President Bush's handling of the disaster, including a headline in the Zimbabwe Herald saying, "Bush abandons hurricane victims, protests break out." Other headlines reported criticism of Bush for his handling of the disaster so far. And there were questions about the feasibility of building a city such as New Orleans below sea level in an area know for hurricanes.

In Germany and elsewhere, some in the media said that Katrina "should be a lesson to the U.S. on global warming." Others dismissed such claims.

"For some, the powerful storm which slammed the Gulf Coast on Monday is a symbol of the sort of environmental terrors awaiting the world thanks to global warming and proof positive that America needs to quickly reverse its policy of playing down climate change," said the German magazine Der Spiegel. "For the more conservative, it is simply another regrettable natural catastrophe."

The Gazette in Montreal opined that the real issue wasn't climate change but where cities were allowed to spring up.

" . . . Building big cities on land below sea level in a region known for hurricanes is plainly imprudent," it said.

The Independent expressed a similar sentiment.

"The worst has happened in New Orleans and not everyone is surprised," it said. "For years, specialists worried that the city, built partly below sea level in an area of radically depleted wetlands, was a disaster waiting to happen. When it did, they said, we could only blame ourselves."

The Gazette in Montreal said that while building, planning and zoning codes could help in the reconstruction, what wasn't so easy to rebuild was New Orleans' "antique charm that has long made the Big Easy a prime tourist destination."

"How well the buildings and fragile monuments have endured remains to be seen, but it's hard to be optimistic," it said. "Buildings can be rebuilt more easily than atmosphere."

Writing in The Independent, Christopher Hirst said he had no doubt New Orleans would be restored to its past glory, "music, food and all."

"New Orleans will undoubtedly return," he wrote. "One reason is that cities always do . . . It will be a long and expensive task, involving heightened levees and increased investments in pumps and flood protection, but New Orleans will recover."

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