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Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Danny Westneat

A flood of public response

Seattle Times staff columnist

Last week in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I wondered: Why aren't we taking care of our own?

The question touched a chord, as more than 200 of you wrote to agree that our national government is no longer tending to some of its most basic functions, such as helping the neediest cope with a natural disaster. It's a disgrace; we've become like a Third World country, wrote some.

We can't expect the government to work when we bash it all the time, said others.

We seem to care more about the citizens of Iraq than the citizens of New Orleans, dozens of readers said.

What's heartening is how many of you took the failures of the past week so personally.

Like Bothell's Ray Brown. He was appalled at what he saw on TV about New Orleans. He got angry. He got depressed.

Then he got busy. He heard the mayor of New Orleans plead Friday for somebody, anybody to "get off your asses and do something."

The mayor said he needed 500 buses. Brown, sitting 2,600 miles away in his living room, thought: "I ought to be able to come up with at least one bus."

Today, after working nonstop over the Labor Day weekend, Brown's got that bus — chartered in Houston at a cost to him of $8,600. He's also got signed commitments from 29 Seattle-area families to host 50 Katrina evacuees for three months to a year, should they wish to come.

That includes providing housing, food, clothing and help in finding schools and jobs, if evacuees choose to stay in Seattle.

"We're not part of any official group," Brown, 41, said yesterday from Houston, where he and his wife, Lucy, 43, flew Monday to get the bus. "We put this together in a weekend. We felt we had to do something, because it seemed like so little was being done."

The way to combat that sickening feeling that nothing is being done is to do something yourself, said James McDaniel, 37, who offered to take a family into his Redmond home and is now helping coordinate Brown's effort.

"I asked myself: 'What can I do?' Well, I have a home; I can cook meals," McDaniel said. "It's a simple thing, but that's what we can do — just take care of each other."

So far, the Red Cross hasn't agreed to accept the Browns' guerrilla aid. The agency is reluctant to entrust shell-shocked evacuees to well-meaning folks who show up with a bus.

Also, the aid groups, as well as government agencies, have been besieged with offers of money, housing and supplies. That includes $504 million in donations, which far exceeds the pace of giving after 9/11 or the tsunami.

"They are completely overwhelmed down here," Brown said from Houston. "People are pouring in from everywhere to help out. It's amazing."

Yes, it is. We are about to have a much-needed debate about the performance and priorities of our government.

There's never been any doubt about the people.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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