Jack the Bratwho came to live with me just before the 2004 trio of hurricanes hit Central Florida.
Too many dead, too little done
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the catastrophic situation in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Both Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and City of New Orleans officials can take bows for making a catastrophic situation worse.
As people began to die in the Superdome and New Orleans Conference Center, I watched both FEMA Director Michael Brown and his boss, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, act as if they were oblivious of the horrendous situation.
To approximate one incredulous newscaster’s question to Brown, “Haven’t any of you at FEMA been watching TV?”
On the Sept. 4 broadcast of NBC’s Meet the Press, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff acted equally clueless, and unaware people had been instructed to go to the Convention Center. According to him, people went there "spontaneously" and on their own, so they shouldn't have expected shelter supplies.
Uh, Mr. Chertoff, people were being told to go to the Convention Center for shelter, as well as to the Superdome.
Everyone else in the country knew what was going on in both facilities: no water, no food, no sanitation, no medical care, and people were dying. FEMA and the rest of the feds were the only ones who seemed to know nothing. They're the new "Know Nothings."
Chertoff said the difficulty wasn’t lack of supplies. It was getting them to flooded New Orleans. Yet other groups were getting in and out. Wal-Mart, apparently better at crisis management than FEMA, could get trucks into the area. Katie Couric could get in.
Meanwhile, bodies piled up and the people of New Orleans got mad and charged racism, all the way up to the White House.
I don't know how racist Bush is, but for the past few years, I've been certain he doesn't care about anybody but himself and his "have-more" friends. Maybe if Halliburton had been ready to come in and charge the federal government $50 per boxed meal and $5 per pint bottle of water, the federal response would have been quicker.
It isn't as if they didn't know the hurricane was coming. I knew someone in the Gulf Coast was going to get it as Katrina approached South Florida, and I'm no meteorologist. I know from experience these storms scoot across the tip of Florida, get into the steam bath of the Gulf of Mexico, intensify rapidly, and go north. Everybody from the bend of Florida to Galveston should have been on alert, and FEMA should have been deploying wherever it hit, within a day.
And they knew New Orleans was Katrina's prime target a couple of days out. And they knew New Orleans to be the most vulnerable city of any. And they sat around. They thought New Orleans was fine, 'cause the newspapers said Katrina's eye missed the Big Easy, and they didn't know about the levee breaking until they saw it later, in the newspaper, they said.
I guess it's a good thing neither Cherthoff or Brown are in charge of the CIA. I guess Bush is.
FEMA’s in there now, and so are the troops, in the thousands, although there are only maybe 10,000 living people in the city, and maybe that many dead.
But what about local government?
I watched a lot of television coverage of the crisis, and saw no New Orleans city officials helping residents get food and water or a way out. I saw one city truck sent out by a city official, to check on his own home, not to help anyone. But the truck did end up rescuing a few people, due to the television spotlight on it. I'm unimpressed with Mayor Nagin. I don't know where he rode out the hurricane, but he sure didn't come back to the Superdome to give leadership in a crisis.
In contrast, I saw our local city engineer and city crews working on a lift station as Hurricane Frances approached, and other city and county leaders working furiously before and after the storms.
Why the City of New Orleans didn’t stock at least the Superdome with survival basics is beyond understanding. New Orleans’ emergency-preparedness plan seemed to consist of telling everyone to evacuate, without any plan to help the sick, elderly and poor who had no transportation.
Just say it, and poof, everyone's evacuated.
After News Orleans is cleaned up, its officials should consult with our local Emergency Management Services people, who can advise them about hurricane preparedness.
Our people know about being prepared — watching the weather, keeping shelters stocked with enough food and water for several days, tracking road conditions, coordinating services, and providing transportation for those without it.
If lessons are learned, maybe the next Hurricane Katrina won’t bring so many deaths.
I've learned my lesson: If we get a category 4 or 5 hurricane heading toward my part of Florida, I'm putting the animals in the car and heading for the Georgia mountains. I don't care if we have to camp out somewhere. Hurricane Frances was plenty enough for me.