Here we are at the end of the dog days of summer, when all is fairly quiet in Insurance World, and a commentator is straining in his search for a suitable subject for a column.

Aha! I thought, let’s do a piece about what to expect from Congress as it returns from its August recess. (You did know they were gone, didn’t you?) Granted, it might well turn out to be a very short piece, but an experienced hand knows there are ways around that.

Then, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with unprecedented ferocity. Amid the pictures and videos of devastation and death, the prospect of what games Congress might play this fall dwindled into even more than their usual insignificance.

I have tried, but I cannot remember this level of catastrophe hitting any major American city in my lifetime.

As one who has been to New Orleans many times, it grieves me to think of 80% of that city being underwater. It grieves me to see the plight of the thousands upon thousands of people who are now without homes, possessions and livelihood. And it grieves me to think of those who died as a result of the storm and its aftermath.

There was a particularly heartbreaking photo on the front page of the Aug. 31 New York Times of a woman weeping in front of a body wrapped in a shroud. The body was the woman’s husband who died in New Orleans when his oxygen ran out, the paper said.

The storm struck rich and poor alike. Waterfront communities with million-dollar homes along the Gulf were flattened along with ramshackle dwellings in the middle of the Big Easy.

Many of the residents of New Orleans were barely making it before the storm hit and now they are indeed starting over with nothing. These are people who were living from paycheck to paycheck and now there is no prospect of a paycheck for weeks, if not months, to come. They will have to rebuild from scratch.

If there ever was a time for government to be creative and generous, this is it. Contributions from individuals will go only so far. Government needs to step up and meet the needs of its devastated citizens.

One also hopes that the government will pour money into repairing the shattered infrastructure of New Orleans at the same rate as it has been doing in Iraq.

One thing we don’t need government doing in the aftermath of a catastrophe like this is acting on legislation to eliminate the estate tax permanently for the benefit of a precious few when millions of ordinary people are experiencing financial devastation. One hopes that the powers that be in Congress would have enough sense to see how inappropriate something like that would be, but one never knows with our elected representatives.

An event like Katrina shows us how vulnerable we are and how we are all connected. I am sure the life insurance community will respond to this tragedy wholeheartedly with an outpouring of contributions from individuals and companies alike. Do your part.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

One thing we don’t need government doing in the aftermath of a catastrophe like this is acting on legislation to eliminate the estate tax permanently for the benefit of a precious few when millions of ordinary people are experiencing financial devastation.”

Caption

A New Orleans woman mourns her shrouded husband who had lung cancer and who died when his oxygen ran out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.