Hurricane Katrina was a huge story and it told us much about our state of emergency readiness, our leaders, global warming, the state of our poor and the underclass, racism, and whether we could trust the White House. We revisit Katrina because these were huge questions a year ago and most remain unanswered. Let's review what many of the problems were and how they were dealt with at the time.
Michael Chertoff (can you believe this oaf remains at DHS?) went on television repeatedly during the disaster and said there was no way the disaster could have been predicted. CNN and others caught him in this lie and exposed his deceit. In fact the hurricane had been tracked all across southern Florida and the Gulf. Everyone knew it was a category 5 headed straight for New Orleans. In fact they had 5 days warning.
Alright suppose he meant no one could have predicted the devastation and flooding. Wrong again. Experts had been predicting a disaster of this exact nature for years. In fact FEMA and others had done an exercise in July 2004 called Hurricane PAM which almost exactly predicted Katrina. FEMA made promises as a result of that exercise to shore up the weaknesses it made apparent. One was to provide hundreds of buses for evacuation of those without any other method of transportation. Today, a year later, they're still waiting for those buses.
Bush went on television and actually said no one could have anticipated the breech of the levees. In fact experts had been warning for years they were inadequate but funds to strengthen them had been cut from budgets, including Bush's.
There were failures at all levels of government. This is expected in times of great crisis and is why coordinated planning is engaged in so as to predict them and develop alternative scenarios. The city government in New Orleans was essentially wiped out. Nothing was able to function after the disaster. Governor Blanco had, in fact, declared a state of emergency on August 26, two days before the storm came ashore. The White House posted their emergency declaration shortly after. The Governor also asked for National Guard troops to come from New Mexico the day before Katrina hit on Monday August 28th. Washington approved the request that Thursday. No wonder much time was lost arguing about who would be in charge: the locals didn't trust Washington and Washington needed someone to blame.
In massive disasters such as this became FEMA is statutorily the agency in charge. Thisis because it is assumed that local agencies are kaput, unable to respond, or inadequate to the task. That is why FEMA was created. Unfortunately Bush used FEMA for political cronyism appointing a good friendof his 2000 campaign manager, a guy named Michael Brown. Brown was fresh from having been fired from the Arabian Horse Association. We soon learned why: they had enough horses' asses already and didn't need one more. We later learned Brown was more concerned with his sartorial splendor than aiding victims.
In one of Brown's more undignified moments he even blamed the victims for their deaths because they didn't evacuate.
This, of course, was the most crucial failure of Katrina: the inability of many to evacuate and get to safe ground. Many people died and many nearly died. Thousands were condemned to panic, misery, and desperation trying to survive the ordeal. There simply was no plan to evacuate the 100,000 low mobility and poor residents of New Orleans. Kanye West was correct: no one cared about these poor people, mostly African American.
A group of these folks were actually turned away by armed police from Gretna when they attempted to evacuate over a bridge. The police fired shotguns over their heads to stop them. Desperate for aid that didn't come for days, many died at the city's convention center. On Thursday Chertoff was caught in a live CNN interview completely unaware they were there. He said " I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food or water." This after two days of intense media coverage of their plight.
In fact the USS Bataan had followed the storm so it would be in place for disaster recovery and rescue. The ship, with a 600 bed hospital, 1200 sailors ready for r&r and the capacity to make 100,000 gallons of drinking water per day, sat off the coast of New Orleans without orders. It was then sent to Biloxi, a much lower priority (but with a Republican Governor).
Doctors volunteered to help and massed on the area. So did air boat owner/operators and the Red Cross. They weren't allowed into the city. The boat owners were told the government wouldn't pay for their gas so most went home, unable to afford the cost themselves.
Meanwhile President Bush finally ended his usual schedule of photo ops and flew over the area. He'd been AWOL once again when America needed him most. Like the 20 minutes he spent reading My Pet Goat after being told the nation was under attack on 9/11, he went to John McCain's birthday party, a publicity event for Medicare, and got a guitar from a country music star. When he and Laura did go to the area it was something out of the Twilight Zone.
Laura visited the airport in Lafayette where rescue operations were headquartered. All activities ceased during her visit. No helicopters were allowed to land or take off, all rescue operations halted. Over in the Cajundome where the geeks were putting websites together telling people where to get assistance the Secret Service came in and ordered everyone out until the visit was completed. How many people might have died because of her photo opportunity?
The President's first visit was downright spooky. Directly from a Potemkin Village it was elaborately staged. A food distribution center was put up strictly for the event then removed. Crews came through prior to his arrival and cleared debris, removed bodies, and cleaned up as much as they could. They only did his route and then left. The entire event was staged and scripted. ZDF television in Germany broke the story of the ruse. The US media went right along with the setup.
Katrina shone a spotlight on the America's poor. It shone a light on their desperate lives, their living conditions, their status on the nation's list of priorities. George Bush promised to fix this but has he done one single thing since to alleviate these problems? He has attempted more tax cuts for the rich and attempted to cut more programs for the poor from his budget. So much for cheap words.
So this is why we're revisiting Katrina. Promises were made. Outrageous statements were made and we'll remind everyone about some of the worst. Mostly we must remember what went wrong and what promises were made. We must learn from the past or we're doomed to repeat it. We must prioritize real homeland security. We must rebuild New Orleans.
After the worst of Katrina David Letterman skewered Bush with his top ten list. I'm reprinting it here to remind us of our misplaced priorities. The sorry situation is these all continue to be relevant. If Katrina happened again tomorrow these all would still be more important to President Bush.
The Top 10 Ways To Get Bush To Immediately Help The Gulf Coast
- Tell him they're performing late term abortions in the Moriale Convention Center.
- Have an ordained minister perform several hundred gay/lesbian marriages on Bourbon Street.
- Tell him that they're about to disconnect the feeding tube of a brain dead woman in Biloxi Mississippi.
- Suggest that they're doing stem cell research in the Superdome.
- Get Halliburton to submit a no-bid contract to rebuild the levees.
- Tell him some Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are stranded on Grand Isle, Louisiana.
- Get word to him that some "Pioneer" or "Ranger" campaign donors are trapped on Magazine Street.
- Tell him some billionaires who need tax breaks are in Jefferson Parish.
- Put a golf course down Canal Street.
the number 1 way to get Bush to pay some bloody attention to the horrible crisis in Louisiana and Mississippi:
1. Tell him that Osama Bin Laden is in Arkansas.