From Levees Not War, an appeal for donations to the American Red Cross + a reply to the question asked after Hurricane Katrina, “Why do they live there?” This question could perhaps reasonably be asked of people on any patch of earth, wet or dry—but it should not be asked with contempt or without compassion. • Plus, see the illustrated version at Levees Not War for a portfolio of dramatic and awe-inspiring photos of damage and recovery from Hurricane Sandy gathered from slideshows at the New York Times and NBC News and other sources.

Please Give to Red Cross

We just made a donation to the American Red Cross. We’re asking all our readers to please make a donation if you can. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities for people hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Thank you.

Click here and here for lists of volunteer opportunities and relief efforts that could use your help. Merci.

Ask “How did you do?” and “How can I Help?”

Who can forget the question asked repeatedly after Hurricane Katrina, “Why do they live there?” The question was usually spoken with a tone of contempt or exasperation, and without sympathy, perhaps out of impatience after days of seeing “those people”—poor, forlorn—on TV screens where faces of “that complexion” were rarely seen. Maybe it was a Fox News–type of question. If those people just had sense enough to evacuate . . .

Now the same can be asked of those who live—as we do—in the largest, most densely populated metropolitan area in the United States, along the heavily populated upper Atlantic Seaboard. “Why do they live there?” is a fair question, as long as it’s not asked with contempt, without compassion. It could be asked as well of those who live in other at-risk areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Netherlands, or low-lying coastal areas of India, Bangladesh, and so on. It can also be asked of people in Tornado Alley in the central United States. Just about every spot on earth has its hazards, as we know.

The fact is,  for very logical, practical reasons, humans have always tended to live near water. And, though it may seem strange, water often tends to be near coastal areas, which are sometimes prone to high tides, severe storms, and more. Inland people, too, can be flooded: Just ask Cairo, Ill., Memphis, Vicksburg . . .) On Wednesday Rachel Maddow showed a map identifying the population centers along the coasts of the United States: some 63 million residents, amounting to one-fifth of the U.S. population. Nineteen million in and around New York City, nearly 13 million in metro Los Angeles, and millions more in and around New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and so on. Is “Why do they live there?”—in the sense of “How could they be so stupid?”—a reasonable question of all these people?

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times dated Oct.30, printed Nov. 1, Suzette Marie Smith of New Orleans wrote a simple and eloquent rejoinder to the question "Why do they live there?":

What not to ask survivors of Hurricane Sandy: Why do you live in [your hometown]? Is [your hometown] worth rebuilding?

As any survivor of Hurricane Katrina can tell you, these questions don't help; they are painful to hear, and they won't be forgotten. Ever.

The proper question is, "How did you do?" Follow that with "how can I Help?" These words won't be forgotten either.

We could not have said it better. We hope everyone will take Ms. Smith’s lesson to heart. Have compassion for your fellow Americans. We live in a time of extreme weather in all forms, and, though we hope not, next time it could be you, whether you live on a coast or in the middle.


Please go to Levees Not War for a portfolio of dramatic and awe-inspiring photos of damage and recovery from Hurricane Sandy: New Jersey, Staten Island, Queens, etc.

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