At Gulf Coast We Pray For Deceased And Also To Dispel The 'Spirit Of Death'
By Michael H. Brown
The death toll from the Great New Orleans Deluge will tell many things, as we pray that it is nowhere nearly as high as officials suggest and take heart in indications that it may not be. Hundreds? Thousands? It is already hundreds, of course, but thousands of body bags are ready. Hopefully they will not find use.
We pray about that and also for the deceased at the same time that we continue to take stock of the spiritual side.
Up until Katrina, the United States had seen incredible displays of God's mercy. When earthquakes have hit California, and with Hurricane Andrew, as well as the Great Mississippi Flood, phenomenally few died; they were counted in the dozens. Many don't realize that while Andrew was the most vicious and costly hurricane ever to hit the mainland (until Katrina), the number of deaths directly attributed to that storm stood at "only" 26. The additional indirect loss of life brought the death toll to 65, according to the National Hurricane Center. There have been nightclub fires that killed as many.
Compare that with the thousands who died in Indian cyclones or the hundreds of thousands who died during the Asian tsunami.
The U.S. had been witnessing incredible displays of mercy.
Even last summer, the combined death toll of four major hurricanes -- Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne -- was less than 200.
That included those who were electrocuted by fallen wires or killed by generator exhaust days after the storms.
It's clearly miraculous how few have succumbed in recent events, but that could change; as they count bodies in New Orleans we will ask if the period of mercy is leaving.
The official death toll surpassed 300 in the two hardest hit states when Louisiana officials said Thursday that they had confirmed 118 deaths, on top of 201 in neighboring Mississippi. Thousands more may still be missing but the extent of the carnage remains unknown.
That toll is already beyond other recent disasters in the U.S. and so while God is always merciful to those who pray, the period of mercy, it appears, as far as large events, is dwindling.
If more than a thousand have died, then it will mark a sharp upswing in judgment. In many ways, it is already an unprecedented disaster. And if the tally is more than 6,000, it will take this event, in human terms (which is how it should be gauged, not in terms of property loss), into the ranks of the 1900 Galveston flood.
It would also allow some to argue that this is the long-expected mega-storm -- though our own view is that without prayer the mega-storm will be a larger and more intense storm that hits at an even more populated region.
Katrina is hardly as strong or large as an Atlantic-Gulf storm can get, and significantly smaller than what has been seen in the Pacific.
The need for prayer is evident, as is the need to face spiritual truth:
There is a spirit hovering here. There are hidden lessons. As they count the bodies, let us pray away the "spirit of death."
There has long been such a spirit over Louisiana.
I remember my first visit to the state, which I grew to love because of its warm, good-hearted people. Incredible folks! It was 1979 and I was there to report on the toxic contamination and a cancer rate that had reached epidemic proportions in the corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The most highly toxic compounds known to mankind had been thrown willy-nilly in the bayous and in inadequate land pits or pumped deep beneath the ground when they didn't simply drain into the Mississippi.
I stayed with a man named Dave Ewell whose family plantation was in ruins due to the toxics. Known as "Devil's Swamp," the woods reeked of creosote and solvents. Not a bird in sight. From the creek came silvery chemicals. There were cattle bones nearby. No more turtles. I visited a poor black man across the way whose coffee table held his only consolation -- a Bible. His wife had recently died when a waft of smoke erupted from an incinerator.
In New Orleans, women complained that airborne caustics near the refineries were causing their nylons to dissolve.
No state ever has had as many pressing problems of contamination. On cancer maps, this stretch is the blackest. Some years New Orleans has led the world in lung-cancer rates in black males and in one study of white males, 38 of Louisiana's 64 counties were in the nation's top ten percent! About 33 percent of those in New Orleans could expect to develop cancer. Remember, this was twenty years ago -- before cancer rates increased. For white males it was a jolting 40 percent!
Such is not a New Age tree-hugging issue. This is about human beings.
"Thou shalt not kill," says the Bible. This is a hidden evil -- one brought to light as the toxics now resurface in the floodwaters we all see on television.
I smelled the chlorinated compounds. I saw the way nature had been mauled. I met the victims
The state's very motto, the brown pelican, had disappeared.
The spirit of death?
Yes, there is such a spirit. Evil begets evil.
It is not so much God sending disasters as we who push away His protection through our transgressions.
We bring such spirits upon ourselves. They come with voodoo curses and haunted cemetery tours and fortunetellers and evil revelry. There are various forms of evil, and too many were on exhibit here.
In the aftermath of the storm, many have run away from any thought of God's purification. It is important to think of means to help the victims first (most of whom are very good people caught in the event -- victim souls, some even martyrs), but if one can not see a connection between this disaster and the tempting of fate (with the open voodoo, deviant sexuality, and flagrant paganism, as well as disregard for life, as exhibited by the petro-chemical industry), one will not be able to see it anywhere; one would not have seen it in Gomorrah itself.
Spirits over an area?
When I returned to Devil's Swamp in the 1980s (with a crew from the Today Show), an uncanny black cloud hung low over the swamp, while the rest of the sky was clear.
[Michael Brown's books about toxic contamination included The Toxic Cloud and Laying Waste, no longer in print but available at most public libraries]
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