Losing New Orleans
September 8, 2005 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Losing New Orleans: Four months before it happened, I described for a New York editor, in detail and with stunning accuracy, the tragedy that is now unfolding in New Orleans.
In April, I e-mailed the editor my proposal. Two weeks later, she sent her response. As much as I hate saying this,” she wrote, “the only way for this book to actually work is if New Orleans had already sunk.” I’d like to know what “transportation security” meant to Mr. Hutchinson, if it did not include the concept of evacuating a stricken city, or protecting its great port, or safeguarding the third of our nation’s fuel that enters by way of New Orleans?
If I, a reporter in Little Rock, with nothing more than Internet access, a car and a telephone, could predict, almost hour-by-hour, the horror that Katrina would unleash, what were Hutchinson and his cronies at Homeland Security doing with all the assets at their disposal and nearly $40 billion in funding?
posted by thisisdrew (71 comments total)
 
Reading The Pet Goat?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2005


Everyone has an idea of what everyone else should be doing.
posted by dand at 9:50 AM on September 8, 2005


dand: and sometimes they're right
posted by elpapacito at 10:00 AM on September 8, 2005


Everyone has an idea of what everyone else should be doing.
posted by dand at 9:50 AM PST on September 8


Thanks for the informative non-answer.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2005


If I, a reporter in Little Rock, with nothing more than Internet access, a car and a telephone, could predict, almost hour-by-hour, the horror that Katrina would unleash, what were Hutchinson and his cronies at Homeland Security doing with all the assets at their disposal and nearly $40 billion in funding?

It's like I've always said. If you don't want the government to find something, all you have to do is make it public.
posted by magodesky at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2005


what were Hutchinson and his cronies at Homeland Security doing with all the assets at their disposal and nearly $40 billion in funding?

Oh, I know! I know! Shopping for shoes on Madison Avenue?

Golfing?

Strumming their Presidential-seal guitars at VJ Day commemoration ceremonies? No, that's not it either...
posted by wakko at 10:12 AM on September 8, 2005


Not to make light of the situation but aren't there like dozens of people who have predicted this disaster for a long time?
posted by fenriq at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2005


Here's a semi-on topic question: how do you all deal with relatives/friends/co-workers who are actually buying the spin on this? My girlfriend's father started to say something in a conversation the other day ("Don't get me started on those people who wouldn't leave...") and I just cut it short and took off. Otherwise I might have ended up calling him all sorts of things that would effectively end any sort of polite relationship I have with him.

Yes, he's an asshole, but I do have to deal with him. Same with some of my students (I'm a professor), etc. What's a reasonable response to a completely unreasonable point of view? Or is it just time to be rude?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:19 AM on September 8, 2005


This guy has it wrong. His research didn't turn up anything the folks in charge didn't already know. The city, various researchers, hurricane experts, etc., all knew what would happen.

In short - The plan was public and online, and everything went according to plan.

Here's an article from July where the mayor and other officials state in no uncertain terms that they have no plan or intention of helping the elderly, the infirm, or the poor get out of the city.

"In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation."

So while we're all piling on the feds for not doing enough to help those stranded, let's keep in mind that they were stranded on purpose. That was the plan. The plan was to leave them to drown. Here's the plan. No effort to help those who can't leave on their own. No effort to stock emergency supplies for the 100,000 they knew would be left. No effort to increase security. No effort to provide adequate evacuation centers.

So while the mayor is bitching about help getting to the city too late, lets remember that his plan was to let these people drown, not maintain evacuation facilities, and then.......... Well, that was it. That was the whole plan.

There seems to be an option for the mayor to request National Guard security to be placed in the city before the storm hits, but I can't find any indication he did that. As far as I can tell all he did was call FEMA ad confirm that their "arc of resources" was in place. Somewhere.

So whose fault was it? Well, according to the official plan, if you are sick or bedridden or poor, it's your own damn fault. According to me it was the city's fault. Since the outcome was their designed intention.

The mayor - Jail time.
The police chief - Jail time.
The city council - Jail time.

Next we need to follow the trail of bread crumbs back up the food chain and see if FEMA, DHS, and the Guard knew the official plan was to try and drown 100,000 people, and create pure anarchy in New Orleans.

And personally I call bullshit on the plan. Given 48 hours notice and the proper authority I think any of us - abso-freakin-lutely any of us - could have come up with a way to get most of these folks out. There are thousands of buses within a few hours of New Orleans. Passenger trains run in and out of the city. The city has things like an airport and a vast shipping network. They could have been saved them, they just decided not to even try.

That was the plan - To not try.

I keep reading that, and I just can't believe it. And even if they couldn't get then out why not provide stocked evacuation facilities for the 100,000 people you plan on leaving stranded? Notice the plan makes no mention of the 10K or so tourists. Also no mention of the power and water going out, no mention of the hospitals needing evacuation, no mention of the looting, no mention that Mississippi will block the bridges and not let you out.

The plan - You are all on your own. If you can't help yourself, then it sucks to be you, because we won't be helping. At all. With anything.

And how nice of them to send that message out to everyone on DVD. Some time soon.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:23 AM on September 8, 2005


"The city’s website advised evacuees who were hitting the roads to ask neighbors if they might need a ride. If this was supposed to be planning... " you might want to ask what not planning would look like.

Good article.
posted by Termite at 10:24 AM on September 8, 2005


y6y6y6 said it better.
posted by Termite at 10:29 AM on September 8, 2005


I hate to contribute to your derail, loosefilter, but I guess that I would suggest being a little more open-minded and not summarily dismissing opposing viewpoints as "spin," or even recognizing that people can disagree about nearly all issues (and even important issues) without being so disagreeable. That is, if your position within the academy permits that sort of flexibility.
posted by esquire at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2005


esquire, yes, I agree, and my university is full of all sorts of differing viewpoints. I was mostly asking about the particularly nasty view that's blaming the poor for not being able to get out.

(and thanks for enabling the threadjack...I promise I'll stop now and move over to MetaTalk or something.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:58 AM on September 8, 2005


How come nobody is saying anything about all the people who drove out without giving rides to the less mobile?

A whole lot of residents of New Orleans loaded their cars up with "valuables" and left others behind.
posted by srboisvert at 11:05 AM on September 8, 2005


It was not up to Homeland Security. The Mayor was solely vested with the power to implement the evacuation plan. The Governor (btw, ANY Governor of a state) is charged with deploying her/his state's National Guard. Only after this is done is the President allowed to add to that. This is Constitutional LAW.
Bottow line is that those who were directly given the authority to evacuate and first respond did not do the job.
P.S. FEMA is NOT a first response agency.
posted by shockingbluamp at 11:10 AM on September 8, 2005


Blah blah blah blah. The governor of Louisiana followed all procedures, to the letter, in dealing with the fed. govt. Shockingbluamp is talking bullshit.
posted by raysmj at 11:17 AM on September 8, 2005


"Not to make light of the situation but aren't there like dozens of people who have predicted this disaster for a long time?
posted by fenriq at 10:17 AM PST on September 8 [!]"

Well, yeah.

Environmentalists have been asking, for several years now, as in:

"What's it going to take to wake Americans up to the reality of Global Warming ? A category 4 or 5 hurricane hit on New Orleans that drowns the city, kills thousands, and causes 200 billion dollars in damage ?"

Now we will find out the answer to that question.
posted by troutfishing at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2005


Please note how you're not hearing talking points spin crap leveled against the governor of Miss. Haley Barbour, the former GOP chair. And there are still rural areas of Miss. that are still waiting for FEMA.
posted by raysmj at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2005


LooseFilter, your girlfriends father was actually right, there were people that could leave and didn't. There still are, the army has been tasked with 'coaxing' people who don't want to leave out of their houses. Not everyone that stayed was elderly or infirm, or lacking the resources to leave some just plain old didn't want to leave and they became part of the problem.
My heart goes out to the folks that heeded the official line and headed to the Superdome, they should have been taken care of, but the other folks that could have left and just holed up in their houses made a very poor choice and are now paying the price for it.
posted by zeoslap at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2005


So much igorance in this thread.

The local, state and federal authorities knew they had no way to evacuate all of the locals. There was no "plan" because it was essentially impossible to get out all of the poor and infirm from the city with 24-48 hours notice. Plus, with contraflow in effect, every bus would have been a one way trip.

Thus, the actual plan was to take the folks that could not evacuate to structures that would survive the hurricane. From there, it was hoped that after the storm was over, evacuation could occur. And that's when things broke down.

The plan - You are all on your own. If you can't help yourself, then it sucks to be you, because we won't be helping. At all. With anything.

This is only true if you completely ignore the fact that the city tried to get those that stayed behind to a safe place to ride out the storm, which was something they actually could do and did.
posted by teece at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2005


The whole point of the article is that plenty of people at a local level knew what needed to be done -- but they didn't have any money to do it. The New Orleans tax base is poor, and money doesn't grow on trees. So local officials and community leaders requested the money from the federal government -- repeatedly -- to secure New Orleans, and were brushed off and ignored again and again.

y6y6y6 made the point himself in his quote: "the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation"

No resources means no money. No money means no evacuation plan. No evacuation plan means everybody drowns.

How can you hold local leaders accountable for not making necessary preparations whan they a) had no money to make preparations b) requested the necessary money repeatedly and c) were denied that money, again and again, by the federal government, the entity most able to help them? What, they were supposed to expand roads, build bridges, secure levees and set up emergency shelters for FREE?!?!? An evacuation plan is not a big map and a Powerpoint presentation; it's a costly engineering undertaking that requires money and support, neither of which New Orleans could provide on its own, and which our federal government was completely unwilling to subsidize.
posted by junkbox at 11:34 AM on September 8, 2005


Given the general level of recognition that this was going to happen when a hurricane hit NOLA, I think this reporter is giving herself a bit too much credit.
posted by OmieWise at 11:35 AM on September 8, 2005


the other folks that could have left and just holed up in their houses made a very poor choice and are now paying the price for it.

Read the requests for help still being posted today -- TODAY -- on the NOLA.com blog about the people trapped in their homes -- 90 year old aunts, families with sick children, sick & elderly people who are stranded & afraid to leave -- and THEN come back here and say these people deserve what they got.

Jesus fucking christ.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2005


What saddens me is that she approached an editor at a publishing imprint that does not generally focus on this kind of serious, important non-fiction book. If she were my client I would have offered that proposal to editors at a dozen other imprints that actively and successfully publish works like this. Not sayin' the book necessarily would have been published in time or prompted any significant changes at any level of government, but you never know...
posted by twsf at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2005


loosefilter, rudeness usually doesn't get anywhere. what you might want to do is inject some nuance, by pointing at the people who would have left, if they had had transportation. people who stayed, stayed for different reasons -- some were too sick or weak to go (those in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes), some stayed to take care of those folks. many were too poor to go (it costs easily upward of $1000 to evacuate, and in this case it required a reliable car, which a poor urban person might not have sitting around just in case). other people stayed because they had, after all, been through many hurricanes before, and while they knew how bad it could get, they played the odds. some people stayed because they wanted to take care of their property. some people stayed because they are mentally ill, and can't understand what's happening. some people have experienced shelters before, and considering what we hear now, who wants to blame them for not wanting to expose themselves to that situation, and feeling safer riding it out?

yes, some people stayed because they foresaw an opportunity for lawlessness. but that's a small minority. yes, some people stayed because they're not very smart, and one can argue about the smartness of somebody staying to take care of their property, i guess (if everything one owns is tied up in that property, it's a very american thing though, or maybe a very human thing).

is your girlfriend's father himself prepared to evacuate his home on an hour's notice? does he have fully stocked emergency supplies at home, at work, and a kit in his car? bring the subject home to him. most people i see blaming those who stayed are themselves woefully unprepared.
posted by piranha at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2005


"Vice President Dick Cheney, in Gulfport, Mississippi on a tour of the Katrina hurricane zone, was told to 'go fuck yourself' twice on live television...During a discussion on hurricane relief efforts, an off camera protester shouts, 'Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney. Go fuck yourself.'

...CNN's reporter asks Cheney, 'Are you getting a lot of that Mr. Vice President?'

Cheney replies, 'First time I've heard it., Must be a friend of John..., er, ah - never mind.'" - [source]

Video.
posted by ericb at 12:02 PM on September 8, 2005


I keep reading that, and I just can't believe it. And even if they couldn't get then out why not provide stocked evacuation facilities for the 100,000 people you plan on leaving stranded?

I missed this on the first reading, y6^3. But the city was trying to get the Superdome upgraded with big generators, water purification, and food storage, all which there was none. They were working on it. But they did not realize the full scale of their problem until Ivan last year, and the very limited success of the evacuation then. That is when they really seem to have realized that many, many people were going to need to be put up at the Superdome, as there were at least a 100K that weren't going to be leaving in the best case scenario. To their credit, the evacuation for Katrina, whatever its faults, went very well compared to the evacuation for Ivan, which was a disaster. They have made progress over the last year.

Sadly, the plan to upgrade the Superdome did not get a chance to finish before Katrina. But it is absolutely not the case that the city planners have just been sitting with their thumbs up their asses, as it has become popular to claim in certain parts of the American pundit class.
posted by teece at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2005


The local, state and federal authorities knew they had no way to evacuate all of the locals. There was no "plan" because it was essentially impossible to get out all of the poor and infirm from the city with 24-48 hours notice. Plus, with contraflow in effect, every bus would have been a one way trip.

And yet, somehow this was supposed to happen 24-48 hours AFTER the hurricane and flood? So it's "impossible" before a disaster and a "failure" when it doesn't happen after a disaster... you know, when the conditions to do so are insanely more difficult?
posted by Necker at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2005


Joe Scarborough to ultraconservative Family Research Council head Tony Perkins:
"The bottom line is that despite the fact the president was strapped with two governors who bungled this crisis badly, in the end it is the president who sends in the National Guard and FEMA relief. The president's suggestion that the size of this storm caught all by surprise just doesn't get it. His administration was 48 hours late sending in the National Guard and poor Americans got raped and killed because of those mistakes." [MSNBC]
posted by ericb at 12:11 PM on September 8, 2005


Ten days later ...

Many Cooks Stir the Pot in White House Recovery Effort
"There are an awful lot of chiefs around the White House these days when it comes to Hurricane Katrina....with the president under fire for a poor early reaction to the storm, the large cast of sometimes-changing aides being thrown at the response is contributing to a perception that the president has not taken complete control of the situation himself, said Paul Light, a professor of organizational studies at New York University.

'It's just reinforcing this image that the federal government doesn't know who's on first,' he said." [The Associated Press. | September 8, 2005]
posted by ericb at 12:17 PM on September 8, 2005


Blah blah blah blah. The governor of Louisiana followed all procedures, to the letter, in dealing with the fed. govt.

That's the problem. The procedures sucked. NOLA practiced this just last year, and it was a failure, they did nothing to address the failures. They are failures. And apparently the feds didn't try to bail them out either.

A hero is someone who goes above and beyond. No heroes here. Just a bunch of "stick to protocal" (even though we know protocall sucks).
posted by b_thinky at 12:21 PM on September 8, 2005


It was FEMA's job to deal with this disaster, and the National Guard's job to keep order, and the President's job to make sure that both of those groups had the resources / go ahead to do their jobs.

The buck stops with the President, he fucked it up, and the blame rests with him.

You can try and blame the mayor, governor, etc. but it was Bush's fault that they didn't send in help for 5 days. We sent help to the tsunami victims quicker than that, and they were halfway around the world.
posted by bshort at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2005


Whoa, Cheney is awesome! "Must be a friend of John, er, nevermind." That's hilarious!
posted by b_thinky at 12:33 PM on September 8, 2005


And yet, somehow this was supposed to happen 24-48 hours AFTER the hurricane and flood? So it's "impossible" before a disaster and a "failure" when it doesn't happen after a disaster... you know, when the conditions to do so are insanely more difficult?

Why yes, the fact that a deadly hurricane is no longer bearing down on the city really changes things, doesn't it? And the fact that after a major hurricane it's quite obvious that airlifts, thousands of guard troops, etc. are going to be needed, rather than before, where they might not be needed at all, and in the very best of circumstances you're going to get 48 hours warning, but in reality you are going to get 24 or probably 12 hours before it is a certainty that a hurricane is going to nail NOLA head on. So there is no getting around a large, post evacuation effort, and it's fantasy land to think otherwise.

The resources that can be brought to bear on a flooded NOLA vastly outstrip a non-flooded NOLA. Unless, of course, federal assets are put into place pre-storm to begin a massive airlift and ground transport (one-way, which is important for ground, as no vehicles can make a round-trip in contraflow, so many vehicles are needed: something like 2000 buses). But even then, I doubt the 24-36 hour window is big enough.

A complete evacuation can't currently be done with ground transportation, contraflow, and a 24-36 hour window, at least according to the folks whose job it is to know, and who tried it with Ivan. And all of this massive effort is done full knowing that it might be for nothing, as it was in 2004. And you still probably wouldn't get everybody out. At least not with current US governmental institutions.

But more to the point: it has been known that a very large, post-hurricane evacuation effort would be needed in NOLA. Neither the feds, the locals, nor the state were operating under any other assumption. Only a massive involvement by federal assets in advance, and a willingness to completely disrupt a city on a 'maybe' would let NOLA be fully evacuated pre-hurricane. While that's possible (see Cuba), it is emphatically not what was in place in NOLA for Katrina. So while it makes sense to look at for the future, it does not make sense to judge any actions from that perspective for Katrina, as it was not ever part of the plan.

That's the problem. The procedures sucked. NOLA practiced this just last year, and it was a failure, they did nothing to address the failures.

Dammit, b_thinky, that's just not true. While the local effort left much to be desired, it was a vast improvement from Ivan in 2004. They have most certainly been doing something since then to make it better.
posted by teece at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2005


Whoa, Cheney is awesome! "Must be a friend of John, er, nevermind." That's hilarious!

What's funny about it? I must not get the joke.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:45 PM on September 8, 2005


What's funny about it?

Yeah, pretty fucking hilarious. Right up there with "let them eat cake" and "some of my best friends are Jews".

I've always been opposed to the death penalty, but if there's one man who could make me question that view, it's Dick "killing for power" Cheney.
posted by cleardawn at 1:09 PM on September 8, 2005


You see, sonofsamiam, the person who yelled at Cheney is a friend of John Kerry, and certainly not someone who is disgusted with the administration's response to the disaster.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:09 PM on September 8, 2005


I just realized, Necker, that it looks like I said 'yes, evacuate post-Katria NOLA' in 24-48 hours.

Didn't mean to imply that. Rather, I was long-windedly banging home the point that it was quite obvious that many were going to need help in NOLA post-hurricane. Thus, it is inexcusable that there was essentially zero federal assistance in the 24-48 hours after the hurricane, as state and local resources were shattered and in great need of help.

Food, water, guards to enforce order, and more forces to rescue the most desperate in that time frame could have made all the difference in the world.

And it's something that was completely foreseeable.
posted by teece at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2005


Ah. It's the kind of "joke" that amounts to "men leave the toilet seat up" or "women are bad drivers."

Citizens who care enough about their country to get pissed at the men who are robbing it blind are "friends of John Kerry."

b_thinky, don't swallow that crap.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2005


This Washington Post blog digs through FEMA rules to show that FEMA Director Michael Brown "had the authority to dispatch specialized rescue squads right away."

In 1995 the Washington Monthly profiled FEMA and quoted a the project manager of GAO study (my emphasis):
We found that without state requests, FEMA could assess the catastrophic area, assess what assistance the state needed, start mobilizing that relief, present its recommendations to the governor, and, if necessary...get in the governor's face to force the issue of accepting federal help.
On August 31, Scott McLellan said:
As you all are aware, Secretary Chertoff declared this an incident of national significance, which means that the national response plan [PDF] that we have developed has been activated. This is the first time it's ever been activated. It's really there for major disasters or emergencies that really overwhelm state and local resources, and require coordination across the federal government to help the state and local efforts that are going on. And it enables us to really fully mobilize all agencies within the federal government under the Department of Homeland Security, under his oversight.
According to the National Response Plan (my emphasis), "The President may declare a major disaster or emergency if an event is beyond the combined response capabilities of the State and affected local governments."
posted by kirkaracha at 1:27 PM on September 8, 2005


teece - You aren't providing sources. Please do. Seriously. If I'm full of shit then lets get some confirmation of that.

My version - The city planned for 100,00 people to be trapped in a flood and made a completely inadequate attempt to address that.

Your version - The city planned for 100,000 people to be trapped in a flood and made a heroic effort to fund infrastructure to address that, but was unsuccessful.

100,000 people being trapped in a flood is a national emergency. If someone at the city was trying to get funding to save 10,000 lives, and they couldn't get funding, I still say that's a failure at the city level.

I understand this disaster was predicted. I even remember reading more than one article about it in the last few years. But when you read stories like that in major periodicals you assume someone in government is addressing it. And specifically you expect the local government to be driving those efforts.

Yes, that's perhaps naive. Forgive me if I still expect elected officials to be held accountable.

Casual ruminations about how hard they were trying are all well and good. But let's see some facts.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:34 PM on September 8, 2005


While the local effort left much to be desired, it was a vast improvement from Ivan in 2004. They have most certainly been doing something since then to make it better.

Um, like what?

What's funny about it? I must not get the joke.

He's getting cussed out on TV by some goon (who didn't sound like a local) and has the wherewithall to shrug it off and be pretty funny about it.
posted by b_thinky at 1:34 PM on September 8, 2005


kirkaracha - looks straightforward to me. Thanks for the links.

Let's also not forget the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees FEMA) and its stated mission/mandate (as has been posted ad nauseum across the Internets, but some seem to want to ignore):
"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st 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 1:36 PM on September 8, 2005


"Food, water, guards to enforce order, and more forces to rescue the most desperate in that time frame could have made all the difference in the world.

And it's something that was completely foreseeable."


And yet the city didn't ask for them to be delivered before the storm hit. 24 hours is plenty of time to get food, water and security to the Superdome.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2005


Keywords: "Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility ... providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."
posted by ericb at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2005


What comes after Hurricaine Zelda? Abby'?
posted by ParisParamus at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2005


Zsa Zsa?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:48 PM on September 8, 2005


And yet the city didn't ask

BTW - this issue of anyone having to "ask" for anything is a red herring. A federal state-of-emergency was called into effect days before the hurricane hit on Monday. Any-and-all emergency mechanisms at the federal level should have been put into "swift and effective" (to use their words) motion. They weren't. The poor response and incompetent follow-through demonstrates that the past four years of this current administration -- whose primary goal has been to keep Americans safe -- has been exposed as having been hollow and nothing but a load-of-crap. There's no boogeyman to hide behind now.
posted by ericb at 1:50 PM on September 8, 2005


b_thinky: be pretty funny about it
So if I said Cheney could fuck himself and he called me a friend of John Kerry, you'd laugh? That doesn't make any sense. Why would that be funny to you, just mentioning Kerry's name?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:52 PM on September 8, 2005


After Boston subways get bombed with a biological agent ... or Chicago's water system gets contaminated ... or a 8.0 magnitude earthquake levels the San Francisco Bay Area will the Feds only respond when a mayor or governor rings them on the Batphone?
posted by ericb at 1:59 PM on September 8, 2005


President Bush. it's the Governor ...


posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2005


Forgive me if I still expect elected officials to be held accountable.

I'd believe this more if your statements didn't seem to be working furiously to absolve the federal agency in charge of this stuff from any responsibility. Perhaps that's not your intent, but that's what I'm seeing.

It is entirely within reason that Blanco and Nagin expected FEMA were already working on the aid for those stranded: indeed, that is what a declaration of emergency by the feds the day before the hurricane was for. I have no idea if either of those two called up FEMA and asked for it, and neither do you, I suspect. But from what I have seen, local authorities were asking for help from FEMA since before the hurricane hit, and getting very little of it until almost a week after Katriana. It is FEMA's charter to take charge of such things: they did not. Yes, they coordinate through the state and local authorities. That does not change the fact that they did not do their job at all in the first few days.

My version - The city planned for 100,00 people to be trapped in a flood and made a completely inadequate attempt to address that.

Your version - The city planned for 100,000 people to be trapped in a flood and made a heroic effort to fund infrastructure to address that, but was unsuccessful.

This characterization is bullshit, to be blunt.

I made no claims of "heroic" efforts. I made claims that, as far as I know, are fact. If you want to follow up on them, start here (and don't give me ad hominem. Yes, it's a very partisan source. It's also chock-full of links to original sources).

The locals made many mistakes, of that I am certain. But to characterize their efforts of the last years as wholly inadequate and full of no import or effort is completely misleading. It's just plain wrong. They tried to get the city evacuation plan better, whether or not they succeeded. Compared to Ivan of 2004, this evacuation went much, much better. I really don't like the fact that 100K people were left behind, but even a cursory glance at the logistics and geography of the situation shows that evacuating those who can't do it themselves from NOLA on 12-24 hours notice is a very intractable problem. Like I said up-thread, a couple thousand 1-way bus trips would be needed, and it's runs a great risk of having folks stuck on highways and dying if done improperly.

Any people that made foreseeable errors that cost lives should be held completely accountable. So far, the biggest killer in this situation, other than Katrina, is the pathetic federal response from a federal agency ignoring its charter. The local mistakes pale in comparison, especially when the primary criticism of locals is that NOLA was not 100% evacuated. NONE of the agencies involved could act on that assumption, as it was NEVER a part of any plan to respond to a disaster like this. Every agency had to plan for many folks still stranded in the city. The agency that could have most ameliorated that situation is FEMA, and they seem to have ignored that facet of the plan.

This is not a debate about local vs. federal authority, and its damn annoying to see so many of these threads follow that red herring.

FEMA had a legally mandated job to do, and they failed to do it.

And until I hear you admit that the FEMA response to this was fucking atrocious, I can not take you or your claims for responsibility on this matter seriously.

And yet the city didn't ask for them to be delivered before the storm hit. 24 hours is plenty of time to get food, water and security to the Superdome.

I agree. See my above statement. This failure is almost certainly a failure on the part of FEMA. If it's not, your going to need to provide some pretty strong evidence to prove that somehow the locals fucked up in not getting FEMA to do their job.
posted by teece at 2:09 PM on September 8, 2005


"And until I hear you admit that the FEMA response to this was fucking atrocious, I can not take you or your claims for responsibility on this matter seriously."

In my opinion, bolstered by what evidence I've been able to gather -

FEMA's response was fucking atrocious.
Any trust we place in DHS at this point is wildly silly.
If anyone didn't think Bush & Co were morons , I think they've been proven wrong.
Ms Rice specifically deserves a hard slap.
The sincere hope of many that criminal charges be brought against various federal, state and local officials should be pursued asap.

Several journalists said, basically, "The city is fully expecting 100,000 people to be trapped in flood waters. They have no plan to feed, shelter, or rescue them." We can go all the way up the bureaucracy and ask everyone, "Did you know about this, and what did you do to help those people." When we get to people who clearly didn't do enough we can break out the tar and feathers.

In my opinion, bolstered by what evidence I've been able to gather, the city puttered around and didn't get enough done.

It will all come out. I excuse no one. The more light we shine on all these officials, the more we yell, the more likely some justice will be handed out.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:46 PM on September 8, 2005


It will all come out. I excuse no one. The more light we shine on all these officials, the more we yell, the more likely some justice will be handed out.

Okey dokey, then, we are in agreement on that.

I tend to over react to (even just) criticism of locals, because a lot of them are nothing more than concerted efforts by the Bush administration to completely avoid blame, which sickens me, as they seem to deserve the most of it.

But for whatever foul-ups Nagin, Blanco, Barbour, et. al made (and that weren't just honest, unforeseeable mistakes) they should be held accountable.

The mistakes I've seen from FEMA, though, seem to border on criminal negligence.
posted by teece at 2:51 PM on September 8, 2005


Anybody who puts their faith in the hands of a federal bureaucracy, regardless of who is president, is a flat-out fool.
posted by mischief at 2:58 PM on September 8, 2005


Anybody who puts their faith in the hands of a federal bureaucracy, regardless of who is president, is a flat-out fool.

So if America is ever invaded, we're screwed, mischief? How'd we manage to win a couple of wars? This is sophistry. The federal government is just us: you and me. If it's broken, fix it. Or, absolve it. But this "the fed is useless, do it yourself" stuff is a pointless, no-man's-land of a middle ground.
posted by teece at 3:18 PM on September 8, 2005


"I tend to over react to (even just) criticism of locals, because a lot of them are nothing more than concerted efforts by the Bush administration to completely avoid blame"

My experience with, and understanding of, officials in the South is that they are stubborn, small minded, corrupt bigots who want everyone else to stay out of their business. Especially when it comes to the poor. And double especially if you're a "yankee".

Having spend a good deal of time walking through some very poor black neighborhoods in the south I find your faith in these officials pretty silly. I may be talking out of my ass of course, but I just don't see any reason to think that the mayor, the city council, and the police chief of New Orleans wouldn't write off the poor. Do I think these officials would fight for funding to save the poor? Not even close.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:36 PM on September 8, 2005


When we get to people who clearly didn't do enough we can break out the tar and feathers

Actually I've been giving this some thought and what I would like to see is a:

Hall of Shame

No prison, no violence, just a nice permanent memorial to the men and women who screwed the pooch and let thousands of people die.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:12 PM on September 8, 2005


Indecision prevented aid from reaching those who needed it most
"One medical assessment team— veterans of 31 disasters— can treat hundreds of patients a day, but for 11 days, it’s been repeatedly re-directed by FEMA from Alabama to Biloxi to Dallas to Galveston. So far, they’ve treated one small cut.

'We joined the team to help people who need it and we are not helping anybody,' says a frustrated Tim Ward, logistics officer and EMT with Georgia-3 Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

Today, FEMA told them to pack up again and move to Houston.

For nine days a mobile communications unit has been sitting in Germany with a chartered plane standing by, ready to provide desperately needed equipment for first responders. Company officials complain they’ve placed hundreds of calls and can still get no answer from FEMA. 'This is the most frustrating exercise in futility I’ve had in my entire professional life,' says satellite services provider Uri Bar-Zemer.

Last Friday, Mississippi asked FEMA for 20,000 trailers for temporary housing. On Monday, when nothing had happened, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi asked President George W. Bush to intervene personally. The next day he was told that 400 trailers were on the way.

'Just put it anywhere,' Lott said Tuesday, 'Just get them there. We’ll put them in the right place!'

Thursday, NBC News found hundreds of trailers still sitting in a facility in Georgia. [NBC Nightly News | September 8, 2005]

posted by ericb at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2005


From the White House's August 27 press release, "Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana" (my emphasis):
The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe...

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2005


"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."


posted by ericb at 4:57 PM on September 8, 2005


Waitaminute...

Just a couple of fucking days ago, it was all "oh, this storm was way too big to manage, it's fucked because it's so big" but now people are talking about how Blanco and Naglin fucked it all up? Like, what a Cabinet-level federal agency couldn't manage could easily be accomplished by

And as far as the "that's what you get for relying on the government" line - did I miss yet another memo? Because I could have sworn we just spent the past four years fighting "Islamofascists" and other assorted scum. Is that a county-level job now? Should I be asking my city council to come up with plans to withdraw troops? And if we know that any federal agency will invariable drop the ball (at least often enough to provoke "I told you so" from Bill O'Reilly), then why the fuck do we have a federal level agency for this shit? For the aesthetic value of it all? It builds character?

God, Bush fans must have nosebleeds from all the cognitive dissonance. I mean, it makes my head hurt and I don't even believe that shit.
posted by Coda at 4:59 PM on September 8, 2005


(er: could easily be accomplished by city and state officials. Whoops.)
posted by Coda at 5:02 PM on September 8, 2005


Is that a county-level job now?

Well, no. It's now a neighborhood responsibility. Along with my neighbors here in Boston, I've stocked up on duct-tape, Poland SpringTM water and Nabisco Saltine CrackersTM - enough to last me two years!
posted by ericb at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2005


So, if the government isn't going to do a damned thing to help me in the event of a catastrophe, does this mean I have to keep paying taxes?

Secret Life of Gravy, a Hall of Shame is a nice idea but don't you think people who willfully ignored their duties and an untold number of people died needlessly, don't you think those people should go to jail and be punished for their crimes? I certainly do but I'm not holding my breath.

I've already said it a couple of times, Michael Brown will end up getting a medal from George Bush for his "leadership" in the aftermath of Katrina. I can only hope, when that happens, that I was wrong and there is a God and he reaches down from heaven with one sandalled foot and grinds the two of them into a bloody smudge on the White House lawn.
posted by fenriq at 5:07 PM on September 8, 2005


ericb: Well, no. It's now a neighborhood responsibility. Along with my neighbors here in Boston, I've stocked up on duct-tape, Poland SpringTM water and Nabisco Saltine CrackersTM - enough to last me two years!

Sounds like a plan. I'm going to cash in my tax refund and spend it on an assault rifle and a ticket to Afghanistan, because since we've gone all DIY at the federal level, we're personally in charge of spreading democracy too, right?

New motto time, too. Instead of "Let's Roll," it'll be "You Guys Should Have Rolled Yourselves, Because You Can't Rely On Us To Roll For You."

fenriq: I can only hope, when that happens, that I was wrong and there is a God and he reaches down from heaven with one sandalled foot and grinds the two of them into a bloody smudge on the White House lawn...

... vaulting Dick Cheney into the Oval Office and thereby proving his continued non-existence?

Com-pli-cated.
posted by Coda at 5:15 PM on September 8, 2005


I have supreme faith that "faith-based" organizations will be here after we've been hit by a "natr'l" or "nuclar" disaster.

Jesus will prevail. But, if Condi's right, we might have to wait a bit, since history has taught us that he often juggles a busy schedule and couldn't/can't attend to the affairs of the Gulf Coast in a timely fashion:
"The Lord is going to come on time — if we just wait."
(spoken on Sunday, September 4 - six-days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area).
posted by ericb at 5:28 PM on September 8, 2005


Teece/Ericb/others - I think you've captured the point just right: there are many disasters that are within reasonable contemplation, but the federal, state, and local government lack the resources, funding, know-how, and the general wherewithal to deal with them. In fact, under most circumstances, the governments and the voters lack the inclination even to start dealing with them. This is the case with unpredicatable natural disasters that arise suddenly and that just as suddenly can change course or dissipate entirely (like hurricanes); and it is the case with unpredictable man-made disasters like terrorist strikes that might occur, or might never occur.

It does not take a lot of imagination to come up with plausible nightmare scenarios that could happen tomorrow and kill thousands of people, destroy hundreds of homes, and generate enormous suffering -- gas attack on the subway; earthquake in Los Angeles, whatever. For some of those scenarios that government (collectively) has plans and some resources, but probably not enough to prevent too much loss if things turn out worse than anticipated. For other scenarios, not so -- even if there are some reporters in Arkansas who, but-for their picky editors, were ready to write books about them.
posted by esquire at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2005


y6y6y6 says: Given 48 hours notice and the proper authority I think any of us - abso-freakin-lutely any of us - could have come up with a way to get most of these folks out.

sure. Any one of us could have come up with a way.

Would it have worked? Almost certainly not.

If you think it would have, you know absoltely nothing about disaster preparedness. And you think far, far too highly of your own intellect.

You know what those boys with the fancy uniforms with them thar stars on 'em say -- "no plan survives the first day of combat..." Truth is, y6y6y6 is really just out to spin this so the blame falls on local (Democratic) officials, instead of national (Republican) officials -- and in the process to absolve (Republican) Congresscritters from outside of NOLA for any share of "blame" in sucking up resources that should have gone into disaster preparedness...
posted by lodurr at 6:57 PM on September 8, 2005


What comes after Hurricaine Zelda? Abby'?

Actually, we don't assign names for Q, U, X, Y, or Z. God forbid we should have 22 tropical cyclones this season, but should we, they go to Greek letters. So, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince, and Wilma would be followed by Hurricane Alpha.

Given the general level of recognition that this was going to happen when a hurricane hit NOLA, I think this reporter is giving herself a bit too much credit.

No, that's exactly the point. The writer was writing about an "unthinkable" disaster that had already been pretty well thought out. Except, apparently, by the people whose job it was to handle it.

And if we know that any federal agency will invariable drop the ball... then why the fuck do we have a federal level agency for this shit? For the aesthetic value of it all? It builds character?

Don't get too close to the truth. "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." We certainly don't want people expecting the gummint to save their sorry black asses.

In my opinion, bolstered by what evidence I've been able to gather, the city puttered around and didn't get enough done.

After the fact, there was never "enough". All it took was one part of one floodwall among miles of them to fail.

I just don't see any reason to think that the mayor, the city council, and the police chief of New Orleans wouldn't write off the poor.

Perhaps, and Nagin is very much a Rockefeller (read: Bloomberg) Republican in that regard. But he spoke out for them when they were trapped, which was more than almost anybody else did. Including his own police, and the governor's National Guard.

Like, what a Cabinet-level federal agency couldn't manage could easily be accomplished by

Coda cut off this comment, but it's really an important point. The GOP talking point now seems to be that the gap of time provided by federal foot-dragging was an ample window for local authorities to rescue, feed, and evacuate everyone, with anything short of presenting a clean, dry and depopulated city to the first federal panjandrum to waltz in a dereliction of duty worthy of a federal trial on crimes against humanity -- perhaps even, at last, a reason for the US to join the International Criminal Court. Also, when my emotionally-disturbed niece is told she shouldn't swear, her first response is "My sister swore today." In other words, I am not impressed by the hand-waving.
posted by dhartung at 8:03 PM on September 8, 2005


dhartung, your last para is...disheartening, to me. Why? Because that talking point is a stalking horse. Worse: It's one of the most dangerous varieties of stalking horse. I don't know its True Name, but it's got "Let the Perfect Trump the Good!" tattooed on its flank.

By the rationale that some folks are advancing, any action is criminally negligent if we know there's a likelihood of it resulting in deaths. There should have been no evacuation plan that didn't account for getting everyone out of the city, regardless of any other factors. If they didn't have such a plan (this reasoning implies), they should have had no plan.

Any of us who've done contiingency planning for our jobs ought to know that's foolish; it boils down to making a moral judgement on yourself: "If you're not perfect, you deserve to fail."

News flash for those folks: Perfection is unattainable. Read some basic TQM theory. Then understand it.

I've literally slept on this, because I'm so disturbed by the responses I'm hearing from some people. Hearing it from folks in the street and the break rooms and the diners is bad enough, but they don't determine or directly drive policy. When it's a "talking point", it's sprewing directly from the mouth of someone who can drive policy.

How do we counter it?
posted by lodurr at 4:25 AM on September 9, 2005


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