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New Orleans and its people may never be the same again

I had flashbacks this morning of the 2005 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. As you will recall, we met in New Orleans.

I remembered wonderful meals with good friends from the cotton industry. We sat one evening in a French Quarter restaurant that embodied all the charm that makes New Orleans a city one never forgets. We had a table by a window with a good view of a constant stream of pedestrians strolling down one of those quaint little streets that crisscross the city. One walker recognized us, waved, made his way into the restaurant and joined us for the last few drops of a magnificent white wine and a dessert the likes of which can be found only in New Orleans.

I remember an evening with some friends, just walking through The Quarter, stopping in strange and wonderful shops, grabbing a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's and trudging, way too late, back to the hotel.

It will be years before we can do that again.

That restaurant, those cobbled streets, that unique little shop where an odd but somehow wonderful woman explained the necessity of keeping the right kind of gemstones about you, are all underwater. Destroyed.

I have not yet heard reports on damage to the area's agriculture. It's bound to be significant. Cotton, grain, rice and livestock could not have escaped the wrath of Katrina unscathed. I expect to hear of thousands of acres lost, buildings destroyed, a year's investment blown away in what likely will be one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States.

But it's much worse. I watched in horror, as did many of you, as news programs showed Mother Nature at her ugliest. I watched rescue workers pluck victims from rooftops. I watched boats, loaded to the gunwales with wet, cold, miserable people, maneuver through the debris left in Katrina's wake.

I was moved by the plight of thousands of people huddled in the Super Dome because they had nowhere else to go — without enough power to run the air conditioning and to provide adequate light. Many of these were too old, too ill or too poor to leave the city. And then they had to be moved again because even the Super Dome could not stand up to the power of wind and rising waters.

But even worse, I watched firemen and other workers carry sheet-shrouded bodies away from the wreckage.

I am dumfounded by what lies ahead for survivors. The most fortunate, the ones who had the means and the good sense to evacuate will return, at some point, to find their lives in shambles. The less fortunate, those who had no way to escape, those of modest or less means, those who already teetered on the razor's edge of survival, continue to battle just to stay alive. Some, two days after the storm, remained trapped in homes with water relentlessly creeping farther and farther up the walls.

One man, anguished beyond comprehension, recalled his wife being torn from him and washed away in the torrent. “She's gone,” he shrieked to the camera.

Weeks will pass before anyone can tally up the number of lost lives from this devastating hurricane. The coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama will never be the same. The destruction is horrendous. The cost in lost businesses, lost homes and lost income pushes into the billions of dollars.

But that's just things. That's just money.

The cost in lost lives and lost hope, mostly from the already nearly hopeless, is immeasurable.

Help in any way you can.

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