I find it difficult to write about New Orleans. I’ve only visited the city twice, but really loved it. I especially loved the wonderful hospitality I received there. When I was there 12 years ago my friend (who I hope is OK!) told me about the potential for such a disaster. In 2002 I watched this episode of NOW with Bill Moyers which stated that “the risk that a massive hurricane could drown New Orleans gets worse every single year.” If you do a google search you can find many similarreports.
One thing reported on NOW, which hasn’t received much attention, was the damage done to the wetlands, which provide an essential defense barrier:
New Orleans has always had a huge natural shield that helps protect it from storms: there are miles and miles of wetlands, between the city and the Gulf of Mexico. When a hurricane blows over them, it loses some of its power. But as we reported a couple of weeks ago, this shield is breaking apart.
And here’s the irony: the wetlands are disappearing because of the levees. The very levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans. They stopped the Mississippi River from flooding, but it turns out that they also triggered an environmental chain reaction, which is starving the wetlands to death.
Scientists say if this shield keeps crumbling over the next few decades, then it won’t take a giant storm to cause a disaster. A much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could devastate New Orleans.
(I also suggest reading this Dollars and Sense article which discusses how shrimp farming has eaten away “more than half of the world’s mangroves” — which provide an essential defense barrier against storms and tsunamis.)
I hate to sound partisan amid such circumstances — it is very hard to say whether things would be any different in New Orleans right now if it weren’t for the War on Terror™ — still, as Bruce Schneierargues, money spent fighting the war on terror would be much better spent building up America’s first responders, but that is just the opposite of how money has been spent. As Eric Holdeman points out in the Washington Post,
homeland security now consists almost entirely of protection against terrorist acts. How else to explain why the Federal Emergency Management Agency will no longer be responsible for disaster preparedness? Given our country’s long record of natural disasters, how much sense does this make?
It also doesn’t help that 4,793 members of the Louisiana Army Reserve and Army National Guard are in Iraq right now. Or that they took “dozens of high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators”with them.
If you want to help, donate to the American Red Cross.
(Some links via Cursor.org.)
UPDATE: More from WorldChanging.
UPDATE: Slide show of damage.
The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number — 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources — meaning, the political will — weren’t there to get them out.
Instapundit has a list of charities, if you don’t want to give to the red cross.
Amardeep has a good post about race in the coverage of Katrina.
UPDATE: Even more on FEMA.
UPDATE: Ted Koppel interviews the head of FEMA.
When Brown explained how surprised he was that not everyone left the city before the storm, and that FEMA was currently trying to help those who didn’t, Koppel shot back, “Mr. Brown, some of these people are dead. They’re beyond your help. Some of these people have died because they needed insulin and couldn’t get it … You say you were surprised by the fact that so many people didn’t make it out. It’s no surprise to anyone that you had at least 100,000 people in the city of New Orleans who are dirt poor [and couldn’t afford to evacuate the city].”
Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown spent 11 years as the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association…”This was his full-time job…for 11 years,” [a spokeswoman] added.
Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures. “He was asked to resign,” Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.
Soon after, Brown was invited to join the administration by his old Oklahoma college roommate Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA until he quit in 2003 to work for the president’s re-election campaign.
UPDATE: CNN on the disconnect between Brown’s official statements and the reality on the ground.
Conditions in the Convention Center
- FEMA chief Brown: We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need.
- Mayor Nagin: The convention center is unsanitary and unsafe, and we are running out of supplies for the 15,000 to 20,000 people.
- CNN Producer Kim Segal: It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The children, you should see them, they’re all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw… people who are dying in front of you.
- Evacuee Raymond Cooper: Sir, you’ve got about 3,000 people here in this — in the Convention Center right now. They’re hungry. Don’t have any food. We were told two-and-a-half days ago to make our way to the Superdome or the Convention Center by our mayor. And which when we got here, was no one to tell us what to do, no one to direct us, no authority figure.
UPDATE: “This goes beyond stage management. This is criminal.”
UPDATE: Two more from Amygdala: (1) Chertoff and brown were briefed on all dangers, testifies head of National Hurricane Center. And (2) Fema intercepts docters, mobile hospital, and medical aid of all sorts and prevents them from treating Katrina victims.
UPDATE: Sidney Blumenthal writes about FEMA in Salon.
And, via Kevin Drum:
Aaron Broussard, the head of Jefferson Parish, tells Tim Russert about FEMA’s performance: “We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA — we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, “Come get the fuel right away.” When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. “FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.” Yesterday — yesterday — FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice.”
1,000 highly trained search-and-rescure firefighters who left their homes to volunteer in the Gulf, and found themselves instead sitting in hotel in Atlanta for two days being trained to be “community relations workers” for FEMA, a job which would consist exclusively of handing out fliers with the phone number 1-800-621-FEMA
… It’s all too much to believe — the wasted days, the misuse of skilled volunteers, the photo-op. But then I realized the most ridiculous thing of all: NOBODY IN NEW ORLEANS A WORKING TELEPHONE YET!
Schmitt also says: “Jimmy Carter!”
And David Ignatius says Bush is a bad CEO.
Another FEMA related post from Kevin Drum which I missed.
While Perrspectives offers an excellent account of FEMA’s very different record in Florida.
UPDATE: Even more timelines.
An article about the failures of the military response.
UPDATE: More on Mike Brown.
The real story of Brown’s meteoric rise from obscurity is far more disturbing, as well as a good deal more farcical.
It also includes some interesting resume-padding!