From Rags to Wretched
September 4, 2005 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Why some people stayed behind in New Orleans Wealth buys many things, not the least of which is safety and connections. What role does the society have in looking after all the poor? Should it have a role and if so, why? What could these people have done to help themselves? Why did it only take a few days for society to fall apart?
posted by Brandon Blatcher (21 comments total)
I'm of the opinion that those who could walk away from New Orleans and just didn't stayed because they were told there was shelter at the Superdome and the Convention Center. If they had not been told to go to those place and could have just started walking, they would have.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2005

Why is ABC News' web site saying the last survivors are leaving New Orleans? "As Last Refugees Escape, New Orleans Begins Grisly Process of Finding and Counting the Dead?" We know that there are still thousands of people alive in flooded areas of the city waiting and hoping to be rescued. Have they been written off? Are they as good as dead?
posted by wsg at 9:20 AM on September 4, 2005

Let's also take into account that there were also many tourists and conventioneers who had no means to get out of New Orleans.

I have watched and heard first-hand accounts -- one of doctors who were in New Orleans for an 'infectious disease" conference who ended up stranded in the Ritz Carlton ballroom and eventually "looted" a Walgreen's pharmacy for antibiotics to treat other hotel guests; another of a band of 50 tourists (from all over the world) who not knowing each other organized themselves (dividing into teams with separate roles, such as latrine-duty, security-duty) and made it to to the Riverwalk Marketplace -- where they "looted" (or, rather "found") provisions in the food-court restaurants.
posted by ericb at 9:30 AM on September 4, 2005

Why is ABC News' web site saying the last survivors are leaving New Orleans?

Maybe the fickle viewing public's hopelessness threshold has been reached, so media corps have decided to go the hope route. Even amidst tragedy, ratings matter.
posted by blendor at 9:33 AM on September 4, 2005

This morning, CNN and MSNBC are showing rescuers still going house to house, and rescuing people. Incredibly, some people are still refusing to leave their homes - even when told it could be more than 30 to 60 days before the water will be removed.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2005

2 other things coming from a friend of a friend who live in NO and who got out before the hurricane hit.

FWIW I haven't done the research to verify this. I do remember the hurricane threat from last year

There have been evacuations in the past, most recently last year. (Apparently 3 hurricane threats in the past 5 years.) Last years threat was a hurricane of similar size. He left, took everything with him, and what arrived in NO was a drizzle.

Some people did not leave due to "Peter crying wolf"

His second statement was this. Poverty in NO is huge. Many live on government checks from month to month. For many, the hurricane happened with little on the shelves and no money in hand as the susbsistence checks were coming in on 1 Septemeber. This could only add to the increase of frustration and helplessness.
posted by goalyeehah at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2005

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, [FEMA director] Brown spent 11 years as the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, a breeders' and horse-show organization based in Colorado. Soon after, Brown was invited to join the administration by his old Oklahoma college roommate Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA until he quit in 2003 to work for the president's re-election campaign.
There is no cronyism... there is no cronyism...
posted by rolypolyman at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2005

In hindsight:

If efforts had been made the evacuate the poor and the storm didnt hit it would have been a major problem politically and financially.

There was about a three day warning, most experts say the city needed 5 days to evecuate on a voluntary basis. Forced evacuation (ie. building to building room to room) would have taken much longer.

There was no time to find out how many people could not evacuate, thus no time to arrange places to put them and transport them.

The emergency and public officials were dealing with their own family evacuations and thus very limited in availability.

To bring help in from out of state takes many days.


With all that said, they should have known this and been prepared with a plan. It was only a few years ago they had any plan at all, which amounted to opening highways in one direction only.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 AM on September 4, 2005

I've been thinking a lot about this and the only experiences I have to draw upon are my work resettling very poor or sick people here in Chicago when they need to be moved for whatever reason.

The poorest people I worked with had few liquid assets. Certainly no car or cash, often no phone. There biggest question would be, "But where would I go? Where would I stay? How would I get there? And how can I take my stuff because it is all I have?" Quite overwhelming. Sure, they are offering up the Astrodome NOW, but--before Katrina--there was no clear "plan" outlined for people who had no other options if they wanted to leave NO. They could not have purchased a car or paid for a hotel. There was no clear "here is what will happen, and how you'll get there, and how you'll be safe."

The sickest people are difficult to move. Wheelchairs, handicapped-accessible facilities, places to purchase or receive meds (some get checks to purchase or receive free meds...without a clear forwarding program, how would this work is the question they might have asked themselves), special beds or medical equipment (such as oxygen tanks, etc.) It's complicated. Again, with few resources and no clear plan presented to them, I imagine many felt they had to stay put.

Moving a crowd of small children without assets/transportation and without a clear plan? Logistical nightmare. Bedding, clothing, diapers, food, toys, medicine, cribs, playpens, highchairs, on and on. Again, no plan? Stay put.

The assumption that everyone had cars, somewhere to go and easy access to that "somewhere" was a major, MAJOR failing on the part of whoever was in charge of this kind of disaster planning. It takes MUCH more than an open highway to put this into action.
posted by jeanmari at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2005

And I forgot about the pets. A woman I had to find housing for here in Chicago had 6 parakeets. Her husband's birds, but he had passed away and she was very attached to them because of that. She would get food from a food pantry for herself and spend part of her tiny paycheck on birdseed. Finding low income housing that would accept 6 parakeets was an incredible nightmare. The building she had been living in was condemned and was coming down and we could not get her to budge until the VERY last minute. It was very emotional, overwhelming and depressing for her.

I often wanted to yell, "Give up the damn birds! Save yourself!" in frustration. But it was SO much more complicated than that for her. She was already suffering from depression/anxiety before the whole situation developed that wasn't getting treated because there were no longer resources for the poor for mental health treatment in the area (a major city!) She was losing her sight, was a widow, was still two years away from being eligible for her deceased husband's Social Security benefits, was clinging to a part-time job as a cleaning woman, was constantly afraid of being robbed in her home...what an awful situation. And more common than you could possibly realize.

I imagine that if some people felt VERY strongly about their pets, that would also make them stay put too. And can I judge them? Nope, I'm realizing that I can't. For someone who has no family and little else, sometimes a pet(s) is/are the most important thing in their lives. With nowhere to take them, they would choose to stay with them.
posted by jeanmari at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2005

jeanmari: Absolutely correct.
posted by jennanemone at 11:39 AM on September 4, 2005

"Many people had dogs and they cannot take them on the bus. A police officer took one from a little boy, who cried until he vomited. 'Snowball, snowball,' he cried. The policeman told a reporter he didn't know what would happen to the dog." [Associated Press]
posted by ericb at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2005

Why they stayed was discussed in this thread from Thursday. My early list:

I grew up on the Jersey shore, and I've watched people making the stay/not stay choice. Some people always stay. Some reasons:

1. They have no vehicle
2. They have no money for transportation
3. They have nowhere to go - no connections outside the threatened region, no money for hotel
4. They are stubborn
5. They are not highly mobile or in chronic pain
6. They need services (regular insulin, dialysis,oxygen, home care) that they fear will be too hard to get elsewhere
7. They're in the hospital
8. They're old, and not that with it, and don't quite get the seriousness of the situation
9. They are not fully cognizant of the danger -- low-normal IQ to severely developmentally disabled
10. They want to protect pets
11. They fear their home/business will be destroyed and believe they can protect it best by staying
12. They are opportunistic criminals
13. They are afraid of missing work due to travel time when the storm is over, and running the risk of job loss
14. Someone they love can't or won't be moved
15. Having been through dozens of 'scares' that didn't pan out, they're skeptical of the pre-storm sensationalism
16. Communications did not saturate the population (some people don't use the internets! Or watch TV. Or listen to the radio. Some live in isolation).
17. Bravado - a craving for adventure or having a good story to tell alter.
18. Xenophobia. (This might be a big factor in NO, a city where 70% of the residents were born there.)
19. Fear of the kinds of things that happen in emergency shelters: robberies, rape, fights, hunger and thirst, filth.
20. Illusion of security and control.

I could go on, but why? My point is that it's very easy for people with a lot of resources (financial, geographical, mental) to blame those who have stayed for their suffering. It just doesn't wash. Not everyone is as smart, alert, healthy, strong, or following the same line of logic as we are. So they should die?

Since that day, I've thought about and learned about many other legit reasons -- bad experiences with former evacuations (like my brother's, described in this thread), ethical motivations (you're a nurse, a doctor), responsibility (your company/church/convent asked you to stay and keep an eye on things) goes on and on.
posted by Miko at 11:57 AM on September 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also -- someone pointed out the long Southern tradition of self-reliance. There is that. It's strong in the culture that people just try to get by, through whatever means they can muster. Hunting, fishing, bartering, trading work, supporting a church community, drinking well water from a well you dug, eating beans from your garden, fixing your own car, building your own house. Down South, folks are not as much in the habit of expecting or contracting out comprehensive services as people in other regions. It's a vast generalization, but I would argue a contributing factor in some cases.
posted by Miko at 12:00 PM on September 4, 2005

There's a more in-depth post on the Washington Post article here. Specifically, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds and Brendan Loy all have something to say about our "wonderful" FEMA Director.

They're scared.
posted by dhartung at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2005

Imagine if they'd put all those busses up on top of the super-dome parking garage. They could have used the busses to evacuate the people immediately after the storm...
posted by delmoi at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2005

delmoi - that would have been a very good idea. Probably better than moving everyone out of the city, considering that they didn't have a place to move people to.
posted by jb at 5:58 PM on September 4, 2005

It'S really ridiculous how so many people are blaming the FEDERAL government on so many levels, but scruitiny of the seemingly inept local government of New Orleans is very, very seldom.
posted by cpchester at 6:26 PM on September 4, 2005

It'S really ridiculous how so many people are blaming the FEDERAL government on so many levels, but scruitiny of the seemingly inept local government of New Orleans is very, very seldom.

The mandate of the Department of Homeland Security
"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility...for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort.
posted by ericb at 7:12 PM on September 4, 2005

The mandate of the Department of Homeland Security:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
posted by mischief at 11:30 PM on September 4, 2005

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

Looks more like something out of Revelations to me. Or maybe Exodus, only worse.
posted by Miko at 7:05 AM on September 5, 2005

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