The debate over the meaning of the hurricane started when it became clear that federal, state, and local officials were having trouble responding to the disaster.

Democrats said the hurricane revealed inept leadership and bias against the poor. Republicans said government failures showed that the private sector could do a better job.

Muslim militants said it was Allah's judgment. Louis Farrakhan trumpeted a Black Muslim view that Katrina was judgment for the Iraq War. Ovadia Yosef, a leading Orthodox Jewish rabbi in Israel, said the hurricane was punishment for U.S. leaders forcing Israel out of the Gaza Strip.

Christians were, for the most part, temperate in their remarks. But many couldn't help speculating. Two small groups, Columbia Christians for Life and Repent America, said Katrina was punishment for America's tolerance of abortion. In Biloxi, long-time resident George Jimenez saw in the hurricane a warning to the U.S. government. "God is trying to teach people something," the 73-year-old Mississippian told CT. "God is still in charge. Washington wants to take God out of the pledge, but God tells them he is in charge."

Gulf residents dealt with the meaning of the hurricane in their own terms. Their conversations revealed a mixture of personal assurance of God's sovereignty and love, as well as political, racial, and economic concerns.

Some in New Orleans took Katrina as a personal message of judgment. Paul Best, a casino worker, saw Katrina as judgment on him and his city. "When I saw the black water come on my front yard, I started thinking about my life." Best knew that the levees had broken and that disaster was coming quick. "I have lived here all my life, and this [black water] is a symbol of New Orleans, I thought. ...

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