If you haven’t been following what’s going on in New Orleans this week, you should start. And if the violence, desperation, tragedy, death and hopelessness don’t completely freak you out, you haven’t been paying close enough attention.

National Guard troops trying to bring supplies and order, are being shot at in the street by gangs of armed looters. Thousands of people trapped in shelters are living like animals, violently angry at the armed guards blocking the exits who are only trying to protect them from the gunfire- and disease-filled streets outside. Rescue crews have pulled out of some areas after helicopters and rescue boats came under fire as citizens – armed with guns ravaged from pawn shops and walmart – lash out in frustration seeing others rescued while their families sit helplessly on rooftops. The death count for Mississippi is in the hundreds, and Louisiana estimates a number in the thousands but has not made much of an effort to count the dead until the living are safe – both from the elements and each other.

For links to resources – both for survivors and those trying to help – web designer Katrina Blankenship has converted her namesake website Katrina.com into a makeshift landing page. Breaking events, photos and the unpleasant details are being compiled at DeadlyKatrina.com and NOLA locals like those at Metroblogging New Orleans are attempting to publish first-hand reports and helpful information. Digital Globe (satellite image provider for Google Maps/Earth) is scheduling flyovers over the next few days to provide updated aerial imagery of the area, and have already posted some of them. From everything i’ve read, the best thing those of us in far-reaching places can do to help is donate to the Red Cross, one of the few organizations who have actually been able to get volunteers on the ground so far where help is really needed. They are also the ones organizing shelters, food and water drops and evacuation operations which, although they have far from rescued everyone in need, have doubtlessly made an immense impact for many.

Here on the west coast, some 2700 miles away from the worst disaster in America since the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake, life proceeds as usual. The only effect that has trickled this far is a slight increase in retail fuel prices due to 92% of the gulf coast region’s refineries being non-operational, accounting for 1/4 of America’s capacity. The US government is releasing crude oil from national stockpiles, but un-processed petroleum is not going to magically become gasoline without a refinery, and US refineries are already running at full capacity to keep up with increasing demand. European Union nations are slightly more prepared, and are offering to begin transporting 12 million barrels of gasoline a day from the IEA reserve as soon as tankers can be made available. With prices rising around the country, that’s all anyone can talk about here, and so many people were stockpiling gasoline yesterday that i drove past dozens of gas stations last night with ‘out of order’ (trans: empty tank) signs on the lowest-octane (trans: cheapest) pumps. Even if gas hits $6 like it has in Georgia, if that’s all we have to suffer thru here than we are lucky and blessed and have nothing to complain about. We are alive, we are not being shot in the streets by our former friends and neighbors over a bottle of water or a package of diapers, our cities are not under marshall law, our streets are not flowing with garbage, gasoline, battery acid, sewage and corpses… we can suck up (and shut up) and the pump.

You don’t hear me talk about politics much, and i didn’t vote for either president last election because i thought they were both insultingly useless and i didn’t trust either one of them to run (what’s left of) my country, but i will say that – all other policies and agendas aside – our current administration is woefully ill-equipped to deal with this and is disappointing millions of people and further disillusioning us all with every passing day. The rest of the world is looking on with dismay, horror and probably some secret, smug satisfaction as the world’s superpower fails its own people in their time of need. Comparing the days and weeks after 9-11 to the events unfolding on the gulf coast since sunday: are New Yorkers really that much more resilient, organized and selfless than those in NOLA? Is one type of disaster somehow easier to recover from than the other? Or are the large-scale poverty present in the southern states, the vast geographic impact of storms, fires and flooding that seem to specifically target and exploit the unique vulnerabilites of those communities, and the inept management at local, state and federal levels combining to doom thousands of Americans who were unprepared and ill-advised? Months from now as some return to what is left of their homes, and many choose not to return because they no longer feel safe, no longer trust their government to protect them, or no longer have jobs or homes to reclaim, the anger that is currently manifested in gunfire at rescue choppers will be directed at the polls and those few who showed some leadership and a spine during these dark days of summer will be the exceptions to a massive political backlash. At least, that’s what should happen…

Afternoon update: More pictures of the people and places affected. I mirrored a page here that compiles quite a few. There’s also a NOLA Wiki with links to video, photos, police scanner feeds and first-hand accounts.