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It can't happen here

It can't happen here.

Some might recognize this as the title of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel, in which an American president becomes the dictator of the most powerful country in the world. Throughout the book, characters scoffed when they heard about the impending fascist state. It just can't happen here in America, says one character, as he listens to the barroom debates of his colleagues.

As I watched news coverage of Hurricane Katrina -- as I saw image upon image of stranded people, waving flags on their rooftops reading HELP US, and of weeping, tired children sitting on curbs outside hastily assembled shelters -- I was thinking along the same lines.

And yet it was happening. Somehow a storm that everyone from the National Weather Service to local waitresses saw coming hit the ridiculously unprepared Gulf Coast, causing tremendous damage (the least of which is monetary) and sending thousands upon thousands of homeless New Orleans citizens reeling to find any shelter they could, whether it be on a bridge overpass or the unsanitary, airless, crowded Superdome.

Somehow a storm with a misleadingly beautiful name could bring one of America's most charismatic cities to its knees, and -- what's even more astonishing -- somehow, we allowed it to. As local, state, and federal government leaders turned away from warnings about weak levees and unavoidable flooding, the elderly stranded in the Big Easy's nursing homes floated away in their wheelchairs and drowned, while sick babies were trapped on the top floors of dark, stifling hospitals.

American refugees? Americans starving to death in their own country, stranded on their very own rooftops? Americans without food, water, sanitation, or anything remotely resembling health care? Nah. It can't happen here.

Countries around the world were stunned as footage began to seep into their living rooms. The United States, which was always the first to offer aid to other countries during catastrophes, seemed to be the last to notice its own. New Orleans, a veritable disaster-waiting-to-happen, slipped under the radar of the Department of Homeland Security, as did the hundreds of thousands of poor who were trapped there, and the government officials responsible for these cleaning up these debacles tripped and fell flat on their faces before the storm even hit. Add to that the Louisiana National Guard, sitting halfway across the world in some Iraqi desert, and it starts to become a little clearer how this all happened.

It's easy to blame the government for every mishap known to man, but eventually the responsibility has to be passed. You can't ask your government to do everything (and in this case it seems you can't ask them to do anything), but where elected leaders fail, the American people become the pillar, the rescuer, the source of strength. People throughout the nation have posted their homes on Web sites, offering them for the displaced of New Orleans. Radio stations have loaded up semis filled with donated water and food and sent them a-chuggin' down to the affected areas on the Gulf Coast.

Random strangers have whipped out their checkbooks and made donations, just because it was the "right" thing to do. And in the wake of this devastating crisis, everyone can do something. Below are the phone numbers and Web sites of organizations that are accepting contributions to help those affected by the storm, as well as the first responders working round the clock to help them and even displaced pets that aren't allowed in regular shelters. With your help, we can remedy this disaster which shouldn't have been allowed to happen in the first place. And then maybe, in the future, it won't happen here.

The Salvation Army, 800-SAL-ARMY

America's Second Harvest: 800-344-8070

American Red Cross, 800-435-7669,

Habitat For Humanity, (229)-924-6935.
The Humane Society, 318-219-PETS.

Caitlin Moran is a junior at Attica Central.

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