Victims of Katrina
A cardboard sign was propped on two chairs at the Convention Center that read
"The Shelter From Hell". Up until last night this was the temporary refuge of
15,000 New Orleanians when the order from Mayor Ray Nagin came to evacuate the
city to escape the high Category 4 Hurricane and expected flood. While Nagin
instructed the people to bring their own food and water, most carried the
smallest amount to free hands to carry babies, diapers, blanket and to keep one
hand free to hold onto another child. Those supplies were exhausted within the
first few hours. These were the people who didn't have the resources to travel
to another city for a variety of reasons that included financial, illness,
advanced age, or the difficulty of traveling with small babies. The Convention
Center was where the mayor directed an overflow of evacuees. The main shelter
was the Superdome where 25,000 souls had gathered. In both shelters the
displaced were almost exclusively black. They thought they would find food,
water and safety there. They didn't.
They tried to keep each others' spirits up Monday. During the day they waited for someone to come to bring aid. With no power in the city the nights were the worst in the shelters. It was stiflingly hot and pitch black. Rats and roaches crawled between the sweating bodies. The second day passed and no one came. Bathrooms backed up. There was still no food or water. Another nightmare night. On day three the morning brought a new horror. People were dying. They had managed to escape 145 mph winds, collapsing homes around them. They had escaped the flood waters that reached up to 12 feet. It was the lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of medicines and the oppressive heat that finally claimed them inside of the place they had come to be rescued. There was no time for families to grieve. The dead bodies were moved against the wall, covered with a sheet and became just another part of the nightmare. Day four and still no relief. Had the world forgotten them? They were cut off from any news. Babies were dying of dehydration. How long could any of them survive without water? The water that covered the city was filled with sewage, rotting food, and the bodies of people and animals who had drowned. Fights were breaking out as frustrations grew. Rumors of rapes circulated. Fear prevented sleep and they could hear the labored breathing, the moaning, the babies crying, the death rattles. Finally, on day five there are people passing out bottled water and some food. One more night, they are locked into the Convention Center before they can be evacuated, bussed to a strange city with nothing but the clothes they wore and a handful of belongings. They can't go home because they no longer have one. Eighty percent of all the buildings in New Orleans are gone.
All of that suffering, those deaths, the memories of the horrors that will never be forgotten by all who lived through this catastrophe, were all preventable.
Scientists have been predicting more severe hurricanes as a result of global warming. A low pressure system intensifies as its winds pick up speed over warm water, and it weakens and dies over cold. The water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico has been raised three degrees. The levees that protect New Orleans had been built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane with winds up to 130 mph. In 2002 the Army Corps of Engineers began a study of what it would take to upgrade the levee system to be able to stand up to a Category 5. When George Bush began diverting funds for the war of choice in Iraq which is costing $5 billion a month, the study was scrapped. Last year the Corps requested $105 million to repair the existing earth, steel, and concrete levees which had sunk two feet below what is required to protect against the storm surge of a Category 3. It would have been due for completion in 2005. The requested amount was cut by $71 million which was not enough to begin the task. New Orleans is the largest and busiest port in the Western Hemisphere. Its protection as part of our infrastructure should be a priority.
A little over a year ago a drill was conducted for local, state, and federal authorities as well as FEMA and other rescue groups which simulated a Category 5 hurricane with subsequent flooding hitting New Orleans. A report of the problems, eerily prophetic, and a plan of action detailing the needs and necessary preparations was presented. It is currently on the FEMA website. Michael Brown is the head of FEMA. He was asked to resign from his previous job of overseeing Arabian horse shows for "supervision failures." His qualifications for his present position, involving decisions that mean the difference between life and death, is as a GOP activist.
On Friday, August 26, 2005 the National Weather Service predicted that hurricane Katrina would hit New Orleans with winds that would make it a Category 4 or 5. Saturday, Governor Blanco sent a letter to George Bush requesting federal assistance under the Stafford Act declaring an emergency for Louisiana. She specifically asked for aid "for thousands of citizens evacuating from the areas expecting to be "flooded" as a result of Hurricane Katrina." She had executed the State Emergency Plan on Friday and further wrote, "I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal." The president complied on Saturday, 9/27 and from that point, contrary to what federal government apologists are trying to spin, the ball was in the administration's court. While the prolonged amount of time it took the federal government to respond to requests for assistance was in no doubt responsible for many deaths, the bigger story is the many times FEMA sabotaged rescue efforts. At one point, refusing 500 flat bottom boats and 1000 experienced men who volunteered and drove many hours to offer their boats and services, to cutting communication lines, prompting the sheriff of Franklin Parish to post armed guards after he repaired the lines.
Several incidents shocked Americans who had been watching the plight of the people in New Orleans trying to survive, televised continuously on cable news shows. George Bush was playing golf while he continued his vacation Monday. Tuesday he flew not to Louisiana but to San Diego where he made a speech at a fund raiser and strummed a guitar presented to him. It wasn't until Wednesday that his jet did a flyover on his way back to Washington where he observed the conditions from 2500 ft. dipping down briefly to 1700 ft. It was the third day the people in New Orleans were without food and water.
On Thursday, Michael Brown told an interviewer that he had no idea there were people in the Convention Center. He must have been one of only a handful of people who hadn't heard of that widely publicized fact. Yet on Friday Bush, who apparently has rather low expectations, congratulated him for doing a great job. Later, people who were listening to police scanners heard a request for a police escort for some ammo that arrived. Troops had also arrived but would wait until Friday morning so they could coordinate their entrance to coincide with Bush's visit. Private groups, seeing no help coming from the federal government despite the victims' pleas begging for help including an impassioned plea from Mayor Nagin, took it upon themselves to come to New Orleans with life-saving supplies. They were turned away by armed troops surrounding the city. The Red Cross was also denied entrance. People died during the night waiting for the food and water the troops would finally bring the next morning on day five. Death came to those most vulnerable to dehydration, the elderly and babies. But seeing George Bush walking with his sleeves rolled up on one side of a split screen and the convoy of trucks on the other side made a good photo-op. It's all about image after all isn't it? You don't really have to care as long as you can look like you do.
Michael Chertoff, Bush's choice as head of the Dept. of Homeland Security developed his empathy and nurtured his desire to do charitable and social service in his previous warm experiences as a prosecuting attorney and district court judge. FEMA is under his cabinet department. Since he holds dual citizenship in both the US and Israel perhaps he took so long to respond to this crisis because he was commuting. He worked as a prosecutor for Rudy Giuliani when Giuliani was US attorney for Manhattan. He was Bush's second choice after Bernie Kerik's scandal-ridden past was revealed and he withdrew his name from nomination . Kerik also worked for Giuliani as the ex mayor's Chief of Police. Does Rudy get a finder's fee? As one of the chief architects of the legal strategies for our policy of indefinite detainment of suspected terrorists, how can he be blamed for waiting six days before responding to evacuate Katrina's victims. Six days is so much sooner than indefinite.
People say this isn't the time to point fingers. Perhaps they're right. It would be more appropriate to hit the people responsible for this deadly failure over the head with a 2 X 4 to get their attention and then yell, "YOU'RE FIRED"
While there is no shortage of blame to go around, the ultimate winner of the blame game is George W. Bush on several counts: His ill-chosen invasion of Iraq left our country short of National Guard members and their high water equipment since they are deployed 6,000 miles away in the Middle East. The billions of dollars being spent on the war would have been better spent on upgrading the levees to withstand a Category 5. If GW had appointed experienced disaster managers instead of passing out appointments as a reward to GOP fundraisers. When Mother Nature declared war on America, all activities involving brush clearing, fishing, shoe shopping and attending birthday parties should have been suspended and senior officials, AWOL from the White House, should have returned immediately so there was someone minding the store to accept international offers of assistance in the form of life-saving humanitarian aid, in the name of the American people. The impact of the consequences of this disaster have yet to be felt. The pollution of Lake Ponchartrain, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico will affect the fishing industry, further economic impact will result from the loss of the use of the port of New Orleans, a major factor which will impede commerce. Oil rig damage in the Gulf is already responsible for higher prices at the pump. The chances for a series of epidemics is high. The exposure to the toxically polluted waters being spread by pumping those flood waters into the lake will definitely affect local marine life adversely. The great amount of losses in both human and property costs demand an independent investigation with analysis of procedures and recommendations for a more efficient way to lessen loss.