Friday, September 02, 2005

The Blame Game

Who's responsible for the massive devestation that's been wrought on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

Other than FEMA, the White House and various charitable organizations, everyone seems to want to lay blame on one person or another. The mayor was ranting on WWL radio last night about the President's promises of aid, aid which he says he isn't seeing. Louisiana's governor was on TV this morning complaining that enough buses weren't sent to New Orleans to evacuate local residents. Miles O'Brien is on CNN trying to get Mississippi governor Haley Barbour to blame the President, then this morning trying to get Louisiana's governor to confess to her own screw-ups. Residents and reporters and questioning why relief organizations aren't already caring for everyone in the city. Most Americans seem disgusted with the level of looting and violence taking place in the city. Everyone's complaining about something, blaming someone.

What do we really know?

First, we know that Katrina hit Florida as a Category One hurricane, a weak storm, but causing plenty of destruction and massive loss of power. Resources were directed to Florida for rescue, recovery, etc. FEMA, Red Cross, Salvation Army and many other groups were setting up shop there just after Katrina moved into the Gulf.

Next, we know that Katrina strengthened quickly, taking aim at the Florida panhandle. It wasn't until Saturday morning, only 48 hours before landfall, that anyone knew that New Orleans was in jeopardy. And no one expected that it would grow into a Category Five storm.

We know that when Katrina came ashore, it created a swath of destruction from west of New Orleans east to near the Alabama state line. That's over 100 miles, plus the damage goes inland a bit. At one point, over 80% of Mississippi was without power. Thousands of homes destroyed, tens of thousands damaged. Suddenly resuce, recovery and rebuilding is taking place not just across south Florida, but along thousands of square miles of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

We know that a mandatory evacuation order was made by the New Orleans mayor Sunday morning, less than 24 hours before landfall. The terribly short notice, coupled with apathy or unconcern or stupidity (it had to be something), led to maybe 100,000 people trying to ride the storm out in New Orleans.

We know that levees made to withstand mush weaker hurricanes partially gave way, flooding the city with up to 20 feet of water. Houses are buried beneath the water, houses that will presumably have to be demolished when waters receed. Thousands of them. We also know that people knew for years and years the danger these levees held, yet they've never been strengthened.

We also know that looters and roving gangs of street thugs have tried to take control of what's left of the city. They've killed people, raped people, shot at relief helicopters and convoys and burned buildings. In a time of tragedy and suffering, we are seeing the worst of human behavior.

We know there's no effective way to communicate with all those trapped in the city, with phone service down, cell phone service spotty at best and no power to operate radios

So... I have a few questions.

Why wasn't the mandatory evacuation ordered on Saturday, when it became apparent that Katrina was heading their way?

I've seen video and pictures of dozens of school buses in a parking lot in New Orleans up to their roofs in water. Why weren't those buses used to evactuate the poor, disabled and elderly? Assuming each bus could hold 40 people, and I saw what looked to be at least 100 buses, that's another 4,000 who could have been rescued. And in a city that size, there must have been hundreds of buses.

Where has the police chief been throughout this crisis? With stories of 20 to 40 percent of city police AWOL, and video on MSNBC of three policewomen looting in a Wal-Mart, where's the public face of the police department?

Why aren't more community leaders stepping up to condemn the looting and violence?

It's too early to talk about rebuilding, but when the time comes, should the city be restored to it's condition prior to the hurricane? Should areas of the city be built-up, raising neighborhoods above sea-level?