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For months now, I have kept in touch with folks who live all over the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans.  I try to raise the issue of Katrina and its aftermath (and Rita, which followed so soon thereafter and devastated the Texas coastline as well) here on FDL, and the continuing mess that exists in that region of America, because I think we all have a responsibility to at least care about our fellow citizens and to realize that all is still not well for them.

I got an e-mail this week from a long-time reader, with a link to an article on a newspaper photographer in New Orleans who tried to get police officers to kill him…just to escape the hopelessness and fear and despair that had been building up from everything he had seen since the disastrous hurricane ravaged his city.  And all that he had documented in its aftermath.

The above photo was taken by an AP photographer.  I found it in a blog post by someone from the GuardianUK, with only AP as its label.  I have no idea if the photographer in the New Orleans article snapped this shot of a firefighter wading out into the muck to look for more of his fellow citizens…but the picture was so evocative that I thought it was perfect for this morning’s post.  (Before I move on to the article’s contents, let me just take a moment to say thank you once again to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every single day for all of us as first responders.  Thank you, for everything that you do.)

Here is a portion of the article that was sent to me:

"There are all these things you’re trying to deal with in your own life — not enough insurance, family problems, your health problems," said Arey, who already knew McCusker. "And then day in and day out, we get to see the wreckage of our city and people’s lives. It’s not easy to handle."

Stress is keeping law enforcement officers in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish busy these days, as they answer many more calls than before the storm for domestic abuse, drunkenness and fights. Involuntary commitments to mental hospitals are up from last year, and suicides in Orleans Parish have tripled since Katrina.

What’s more, psychologists say the city’s mental health environment is likely to get worse as the anniversary of the Aug. 29 storm approaches, sparking post-traumatic trauma in those who suffered losses….

"You have to understand the depth of the horror that the city was," McCusker says in the article. "Tens of thousands of people on the freeways stranded. The children begging for food and water. The looting at the Wal-Mart. It was of biblical proportions."

This marks an especially dangerous time for residents in areas still largely destroyed by Katrina, said Dr. Jessica Henderson Daniel, director of training and psychology at Children’s Hospital in Boston….

Suicide rates in New Orleans have nearly tripled in the 11 months since the storm. Experts blame an epidemic of depression and post-traumatic stress that crosses all socio-economic lines.

Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the deputy New Orleans coroner who handles psychiatric cases, estimates the annual suicide rate was less than nine per 100,000 residents before the storm. It’s since increased to more than 26 per 100,000, he said.

Along with the general stress, there are more people with chronic mental illness not getting medication in the area now, Arey said. There’s also far less professional help for them.

These are our fellow Americans. They bleed just like us. They cry just like us. They hope for their children to have a better future just like us. And they despair, because they feel forgotten and thrown away and abandoned by their fellow countrymen at their time of greatest need.

George Bush is on vacation in Texas…again…and it is hurricane season again as well.  The anniversary of Katrina and Rita and all the other major hurricanes that hit last year is fast approaching.  We are told in news reports that the President will take a break from a portion of his vacation to tour the Gulf region to look Presidential for the Katrina anniversary time period, and will then go back to whatever shrubbery he was clearing once a pre-determined respectful period of Presidentialating has passed.

If I sound disgusted and peevish, it’s because I am.

NPR has had an ongoing series of reports on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  One of my favorites included some music from Eddie Bo, who recorded a track of "When the Saints Go Marching In" for a tribute album that raised money to help New Orleans musicians.  Click through here and then on the Eddie Bo link at the left for a fantastic version of the song.  One of the more powerful series that NPR has done is to follow the Bordolon family’s attempts to rebuild their lives, with so much that was shattered by the storm.  (This link has the links for every story in the series to date.)

I feel like I should be doing more to help.  As I sit here in my comfortable home, with my happy child and my loving husband and our content and comfortable life, I feel guilty for not doing more for my fellow Americans in need.  But then, when I start to dig into what needs doing, I get blown away by how little has been done thus far.  And how many different areas of need are out there.

So I’ve compiled some links to local charities that I thought might be a good start:

– Katha Pollitt put together a list in the early aftermath of the storms last year, and it still contains charities that could use some help.  So it’s a starting point. 

– There are several charities set up to specifically help the musicians of New Orleans.

Scout Prime of First Draft has done some fantastic guest posts for us, including one that contained a number of local NOLA charity links.

But it seems like there ought to be more.  So I’m asking for some help this morning from everyone.  To our readers in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans and Texas and wherever else in between that the hurricane devastation still remains — what can we do to help?  Are there charities or organizations that need particular assistance?  Do you have a link? 

Please know that you are not only NOT forgotten, but that we think about you often and worry and fret…and feel helpless that we don’t know what to do to help.  I still go back and re-read this letter from one of our regular readers, and worry about how they are doing when I haven’t heard from them in a while.

Let’s talk about some comfort and some caring and some warmth.  Whatever is on your mind, let’s talk about it.  Maybe share some comforting recipes or talk about what we do or listen to or read or whatever to alleviate stress (no graphic kama sutra descriptions please…I haven’t had nearly enough coffee for that yet this morning…).  Pick up a cuppa and a beignet…yeah, that is a hint of chicory in the coffee…and pull up a chair.