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“Poor kids, just because they were poor kids, left’em on their porches, same old story in New Orleans.” Jay-Z Minority Report.
Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast of the United States. When the storm made landfall, it had a category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale- it brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour- and stretched some 400 miles across. Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $ 100 billion in damage.
By August 28, evacuations were underway across the region. That day, the National Weather Service predicted that after the storm hit, “most of the Gulf Coast area will be uninhabitable for weeks …perhaps longer.” New Orleans was at particular risk. About half of the city lies above sea level, but its average elevation is about six feet below sea level- and it is surrounded by water. In the 20th Century, the Army Corps of Engineers had built a system of levees and seawalls to keep the city from flooding. The levees along the Mississippi river were strong and sturdy. The ones made to hold back lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the waterlogged swamps and marshes to the cities east and west were much less reliable. Neighborhoods that sat below sea level, many of which housed the city poorest and most vulnerable people were at high risk of flooding.
The Day before Katrina hit, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation order. He also declared that the Superdome would serve as a “shelter of last resort” for people who could not leave the city. That number was about 112,000 people who did not have access to a car. By nightfall, almost 80% of the city’s population had evacuated. Some 10,000 had sought shelter in the Superdome, while tens of thousands of others choose to wait out the storm at home.
By the time Katrina struck New Orleans early in the morning on August 29, it had already been raining heavily for hours. When the storm surge arrived, it overwhelmed many of the city’s unstable levees and swept others away altogether. By 9 am low lying places like St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward were under so much water that people had to scramble to attics and rooftops for safety. Eventually, nearly 80% of the city was under some quantity of water. In all Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people and affected some 90,000 square miles of the United States.
Mistakes Were Made:
Hurricanes are considered acts of God or nature that have happened since the beginning of time and continue to occur with more frequency due to global warming. The hurricane wasn’t a mistake, the preparedness or readiness for said hurricane, before and after it struck is where the mistakes were made. There were so many mistakes made by so many people in the case of Hurricane Katrina that I will just discuss them by the person.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin: Failed to execute the New Orleans disaster plan, which called for the use of the city’s school buses to evacuate residents. He ordered residents to a shelter of last resort without any provisions for food, water, security, or sanitary conditions. But wait it gets worse, Nagin delayed his emergency evacuation order until less than a day before landfill, which led to hundreds of deaths of people who by that time could not find any way out of the city. There was also the “little” matter of a tv broadcast of parking lots full of buses, which Mayor Nagin refused to be let used in the evacuation. When asked why the buses were not used to assist evacuations, Nagin cited the lack of insurance liability and shortage of bus drivers. Apparently when it’s a matter of life or death, having insurance liability is of utmost importance.
FEMA Director Michael D. Brown: On August 29, 2005, five hours after the hurricane hit land, Brown made his first request for Homeland Security rescue workers to be deployed to the disaster are only after two days of training. These rescue workers were trained firefighters and those two days of training? Training on sexual harassment and the history of FEMA. He also told fire and rescue departments outside affected areas to refrain from providing trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments to avoid coordination problems.
On September 1, 2005, Brown told Soledad O’Brien of CNN that he was unaware that New Orleans’ officials had housed thousands of evacuees, who quickly ran out of water and food, in the Convention Center- even though significant news outlets had been reporting on the evacuees’ plight for at least a day. He also criticized those “who choose not to evacuate, who choose not to leave the city.”
On September 2, 2005, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stated that he pledged firefighters, police officers, health department workers, and other resources on behalf of the city, but was only asked to send one tank truck.
In Brown’s personal FEMA emails, on the day Katrina struck, Brown wrote “can I quit now? Can I go home?” He later quipped to a friend on September 2 that he could not meet her because he was “trapped as FEMA head…please rescue me.”
Gail Collis the then Editor of the New York Times editorial page called Brown “legendary as a disaster in his own right.” Even with all of this President Bush had the nerve to praise Brown shortly after the storm hit, saying infamously “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown also had little experience in disaster management before joining FEMA. Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. White privilege got to love it; even when you’re incompetent, you seem to keep getting promoted up. Oh in IAHA, Brown resigned and negotiated a buy out of his contract, after numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions that Brown took against members. With all of this, Brown was still named Head of FEMA and confirmed by Congress!
President George W. Bush: As the disaster in New Orleans intensified, critics charged that Bush was misrepresenting his administration’s role in what they saw as a flawed response. Leaders attacked Bush for having appointed incompetent leaders to positions of power ..cough..cough Michael Brown. It was also argued that the federal response was limited as a result of the Iraq War. (a future topic that will be discussed on this site). Bush also didn’t act upon warnings of floods, not the first time Bush didn’t react either. It has been argued that with Katrina, Bush passed a political tipping point from which he would not recover.
The federal response was often constrained by a lack of legal authority or by ill-suited eligibility and application requirements. In many instances, federal staff and national organizations did not seem to have the flexibility, training, and resources to meet demand on the ground.
Vice President Dick Cheney: On the night of August 30, 2005, and again the next morning, he personally called the manager of the Southern Pines Electric Power Association and ordered him to divert power crews to electrical substations, in nearby Collins, Mississippi. The substations were essential to the operation of the colonial pipeline, which carries gasoline and diesel fuel from Texas to the Northeast. The power crews were reportedly upset when told what the purpose of the redirection was since they were in the process of restoring power to two local hospitals. Anybody who knows anything about Cheney should not be surprised by this move hell he masterminded a war over oil resources (Iraq War)
Governor Kathleen Blanco: Didn’t get Federal guard troops to quell civil unrest until a few days after the hurricane hit. She also didn’t request for more national guard troops till a full two days after Katrina hit. Blanco explained she didn’t understand specific types and numbers of soldiers needed to be requested.
There were reports that Governor Blanco was reluctant to issue a mandatory evacuation order until President Bush called to personally ask that she give the order. However, in the end, it was Nagin who made the call and unlikely that Bush’s request was decisive in making the call.
“What we got here is a failure to communicate!” Captain from Cool Hand Luke movie. A failure to communicate, a breakdown of Government local and federal. A failure across partisan lines too as Democrats and Republicans made mistakes. Sadly, the residents of New Orleans who were too poor to evacuate suffered the brunt of this massive failure of Government. Hopefully, a lot of things can be gleaned from this disaster so that in the future, these same mistakes won’t get made again
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on August 5, 2019.