September 1, 2005

Abandoned to Die in New Orleans?

Bush: "There should be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this."

The Facts: On its face, it's hard to disagree with the president's statement concerning reports of looting and gun fire in hurricane devastated New Orleans. But the reality of this tragic situation is that relief and rescue operations have been woefully inadequate. The City of New Orleans's disaster operations are themselves a disaster, if not a cruel oxymoronic joke. Perhaps even worse, federal rescue and relief operations have yet to begin and it's three days since the hurricane exited the city. For those who survived the flooding, panic has begun to set in and looting has broken out, largely to obtain food and water in a city without running water or electricity, and without any stores open for business. More serious lawlessness and shootings have also been reported.

None of this should obscure the fact that disaster preparations was so inadequate that it rises to the level of criminal negligence. Perhaps highest on the list of crimes is the fact that this was a long predicted disaster scenario in which it was universally acknowledged that the entire city would likely be destroyed by a category 4 or 5 hurricane, the reason being that the dikes and levees protecting the city were only built to withstand a category 3 hurricane.

Think about that for a moment. We are not talking about an unforseeable trajedy, like an earthquake in an area not known for them or a sunami. This is a disaster that was long predicted and known to be only a matter of time before it occured. And, we are a country with the resources to have acted to lessen the impact by strengthening the dikes and levees, but chose to do nothing.

New Orleans' also failed to build a pumping system that was capable of running on generators with pumps located above the water level that would not be swamped in a flood situation. It is also shocking that police and fireman were not equiped with an adequate communication system that would not be effected by downned power and phone lines or destroyed cell phone signal relay stations. The lack of adequate communication has proved particularly deadly, as it did at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Bottom line, it appears that disaster plans conceded that the city would be destroyed and that the levees would fail, and were based totally on staging a successful mass evacuation. There was no viable plan in place to deal with the eventuality than many people for a variety of reasons were not going to leave. Which is truly shocking when you consider that such a large city never took measures so it did not have to face such a dooms day scenario.

Tens of Thousands Still Stranded and
Face Life Threatening Conditons

All of which brings us to one of the more disturbing aspects of this disaster, which is the increased scacegoating of Katrina's victims. As hours and then days have passed with thousands of desperate New Orleans residents still not being reached or rescued, the tone of media coverage has been shifting away from the gross inadequencies of reliefs efforts (despite the heroic efforts of hundreds of rescue workers and police and firefighters who did manage to be on the scene) to blaming the still unrescued victims for the inevitable and predictable breakdown of law and order.

Watching CNN on Wednesday you got the impression that the real problem with relief efforts was "the looters." Given the fact that the majority of trapped and drowned people are African Americans, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the racial implications of this line of coverage. "Rolling the eyes" wisecracks were openly made by CNN commentators about "those people" grabbing "microwaves and eletronic equipment" from stores while the videos actually were showing people with food and radios -- a radio being an essential thing to have in such a situation.

The judgemental CNN commentators sitting in their comfortable airconditioned studios were apparently clueless as to how bad conditions really were. However, today CNN has at least partially faced up to the reality of what is happening on the ground thanks to some hardy camera crews who managed to get into the troubled areas. The heart breaking videos shown (which I am watching as I type this article) on the conditions at the Convention Center, where thousands of people have gathered to wait for promised buses that have failed to arrive. Many have been three days or longer without food or water, and some are literally dropping dead where they sit or lie.

Some reporters at a press conference held by the Lousiana governor also contradicted the picture being diseminated to the public of massive ongoing relief, pointing out the aforementioned videos shown on CNN.

CNN is reporting, and their video seemed to confirm, that no one was in charge at the Convention Center, no loud speakers were in use, and no information was being given to people as to when they might be able to leave. CNN also is reporting that tens of thousands of people in flooded pockets remain throughout the city in similar life-threatening conditions. Currerntly, despite official denials, both relief and rescue operations seem to be at a standstill because of deteriorating conditions on the ground which will only grown worse as time passes.

Bush: "I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday," Bush said. "I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. ... So there is frustration. But I want people to know there's a lot of help coming."

The Facts: Note that the president was making this statement THREE DAYS after the exit of the hurricane. As of this posting, the majority of New Orleans flood victims remain trapped largely without food, shelter, or water, with only sporadic relief operations are going on. However many thousands died in the initial flooding, many more stand to perish if they do not receive assistance immediately. The next 24 hours will prove critical, especially to the young and the elderly.

Abandoned to Die?
There is simply no logistical reason why the people left in New Orleans could not have been evacuated by now. We presently have an unprecedented and increasingly deadly situation where a successful evacuation becomes less and less likely as time passes due to the failure of authorities to move decisively, which in turn creates further civil unrest and panic which in turn causes more and more hesitation.


Relief workers confront 'urban warfare.

FEMA Head Blames Victims.