Katrina: 5 Days to Respond?

This is completely unbelievable. 5 days after Katrina, and the first large-scale aid is just now starting to float into New Orleans. That boggles my mind. A natural disaster that is much larger in scale than 9/11 was (although the death toll is thankfully lower – for now – it’s estimated to top 10,000). It seems like the West was better prepared to respond to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami than it is to provide assistance within the borders of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.

On what planet would you build a city of 1.5 million people below sealevel, in the path of regular hurricanes, and not have an effective evacuation plan for the entire city? How is that allowed to happen? In my mind, that goes way beyond negligence. Tens of thousands of people who didn’t have the means to evacuate themselves were left behind to die, or at best, to fend for themselves in what is a highly dangerous post-hurricane flood zone. Toxic disease infested water, swarming with crocodiles. Roaming gangs of armed looters. No food. No water. No civility.

And the question of spending 30+ billion dollars to rebuild NOLA? That would be equally negligent. It would make sense to turn the area into a giant theme park. Disney-meets-Waterworld-meets-Las-Vegas. Don’t ever put a large population back there.. Spend the $30B on building sustainable housing for the displaced population in other areas outside of a hurricane-induced flood-plain.

The real question is where is the outrage within America? Outrage at the state of the nation, which is unable to provide aid to its own population. Outrage at the agencies that were supposed to either mitigate the effects of such a disaster, or provide plans to evacuate the population, or to provide assistance in case all efforts fail. Outrage at Bush for sending the National Guard to guard another nation, leaving the US vulnerable to something other than a manufactured election-year fear factory.

21 replies on “Katrina: 5 Days to Respond?”

  1. Certainly New Orleans is not an ideal place to build a city. However, it is a premier location to build a port. It’s not surprising that a city sprung up there. San Francisco is another great place for a port and a mediocre place for a city. It is inevitable that a cities will develop around such centers of commerce. At best you can only hope to mitigate disaster. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

    Outrage will come later, slightly subdued, as we learn of neglect and other failures that enhanced this tragedy. For now, I think the much of the American populus is focused on how to help. The scope of the disaster is still difficult to fathom, and finger pointing will not help the neediest.

    Certainly all aspects of the situation are staggering. The scope of the disaster, the breakdown of civilized society, the sluggish response are all failures. In time, we will have opportunity to dwell on these, but now energy is better spent alievating distress, and rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Outrage is not what is needed. Empathy and assistance is the order of the day.

  2. I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been any military air support laying down covering fire for the rescue helicopters, as they would in any other large scale rescue mission where armed militants were shooting at them.

    I’m hoping the situation isn’t quite as dire as it’s made out to be – otherwise it would mean the area (and those left behind) had been essentially written off as acceptable losses in order to facilitate the evacuation of the rest of the city – the ones that had the means to get themselves out of town.

    Darwinian politics at its best…

  3. I think these kind of catastrophes are not that easily foreseeable as you think. I mean Geoff is damn right that San Francisco is a town which perhaps could be totally damaged tomorrow if the “big bang” happens tomorrow and it is for sure such a huge earthquake WILL happen! No evacuationplan of the planet will avoid this to happen. People will die for sure!

    What makes me feel sorry really is that there seems to be no warm solidarity beween the rest of USA and there fellows in the south. Otherwise one might have heard some stronger signals. For people of Europe it seems as if people living in New Orleans were not seen as equally “valuable” humans and fellows as e.g. Army Troops in the Gulf.

    The problem is also, that a nation like the US has made clear in the last years under Bush that they do not want to cooperate with people from abroad (except perhaps china). This makes it not that easy for other nations to help now, because on the one side the US has to say “Sorry about our behaviour of the past, but now we need your help!” and the other countries have to say “Well, yeah nice you are sorry, no problem for us, we will help you if you let us help”.

    In respect to communications the US is having many dissence between its own country and other countries of this planet, this makes it problematic for others to help. You won’t help someone who is recognized as an arrogant and unfriendly person at least it would not be easy even with god at your side.

    Perhaps god has send a sign to several nations sending this kind of disaster.

  4. I’m not sure it’s difficult to offer help to the class bully. Humanity and civility pretty much demand that we all do just that. The politics of the nation are irrelevant – we’re talking about helping people, not the regime.

  5. I agree that help is what humanity just demands. Sometimes it is easy to help sometimes it is not (this is valid for all people). I do not agree that the politics of a nation are irrelevant in such a scenario. Think of the submarine “Kursk” which sank during a maneuver of the russian fleet.

    No politics are clearly not irrelevant they are the hugest hurdle in the way! The politics of a nation should be what the majority of the nation agrees on (especially in respect to communication, humanity and freedom) and this special form of politics is called a democracy.

    Sorry I cannot agree on your point that politics are irrelevant! If they are irrelevant in such an important situation then please tell me when is the time politics are relevant?

  6. With the Kursk, nations were trying to help in spite of the insistence by the Russians that everything was under control. Help was offered (and later accepted) in spite of the politics. What I thought you were suggesting was that help would not be offered because of the politics of the regime in the US. I think there is no chance of help being withheld for any reason.

    Also, I think that politics are largely irrelevant in the case of these types of disasters. Politics are nothing more than artificial constructs for imposing order on (and occasionally by and/or for) a population. When that goes out the window, as in the case of NOLA, the politics are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the White House was full of peaceniks or war-mongerers, since this event transcends any kind of partisan politics.

  7. @D’Arcy: Perhaps we can both agree on the statement that people who would like to help in case of a disaster should just plain ignore/bypass the politics (or any other hurdle in the way). This would be what I would like to see happen there P.D.Q. (pretty damn quick). 🙂

  8. Thank you! You are the first person (besides myself) I’ve heard mention the idea of a pre-hurricane evacuation. How did this not happen? Why is no one saying anything about this? It seems so obvious. Ounce of prevention and all that. Could’ve avoided the whole mess we’re in now, or at least the worst parts of it.

  9. If New Orleans isn’t worth watever will be spent rebuilding it, then by the same token, why spend anything rebuilding Los Angeles or San Francisco when the next big earthquake hits? It is just going to happen again, sooner or later! This is the most assinine selfish type of public statement anyone with a dram of intelligence and an ounce of any human compassion could make! Why did we spend ten cents on the Tsunami disaster, it will probably happen again! Ditto the rest of the “rescue” efforts across the world!

    This smacks of elitism in the highest and assigning “values” to levels of human life done by some people and authorities. I’m not a socialist, but hearing this kind of crap makes me want to become a flaming Communist and reduce the elitists to the same status of a common garden slug!

  10. W5TVW: I wasn’t meaning to not rebuild New Orleans at all… I just meant that it’s more than a little risky to place 1.5 million people below sea level in the path of regular hurricanes. Of course NOLA will be rebuilt – however, I stand behind the statement that sustainable housing should be identified for the majority of the population, so they don’t have to get pushed back into harm’s way.

    I absolutely do not devalue the human life in the hurricane zone – perhaps the exact opposite. If these lives have value (which they do), then they should be protected rather than abandoned as they were.

    I’m offended by the suggestion that I’m an elitist – when what I am trying to suggest is exactly the opposite.

    As for rebuilding SF or LA? Sure – that’s a valid comparison. Much of SF is built on reclaimed land, which liquifies at the drop of a hat. I would reconsider whether living there (especially raising a family) was a smart thing to do. But, people do live there, and it is an amazing city (one of my favorites). At the very least, I hope the governments and population in both cities (and surrounding areas) are going over their evacuation and rescue plans right now. I’d sure have some tough questions for them if I lived there…

  11. Actually, I have several friends living in SF and the Bay Area, and I truly hope they raise the issues with the local (and federal) agencies to find out the status of evacuation plans.

  12. @D’Arcy: You write “I just meant that it’s more than a little risky to place 1.5 million people below sea level in the path of regular hurricanes.” Why did you choose to say “place people”? This sounds a little bit as if these people have no right to choose.

    I think for every life of this planet you could say that you have bad times and good times. The people in New Orleans have a really bad time now! But why should they leave “their” city/area where they *feel* at home? This feeling makes up a lot of their life.

    People are not machines which you can “place” somewhere. If you try to “place” people you see the result in Israel! People identify with their home and their context where they grew up e.g. this is what culture makes getting alive. Otherwise we all would just be like some nasty bacteria living everywhere independent of any history.

    I do not like speaking of “placing” humans/people somewhere. I would like much better if they choose to stay or to go. Tomorrow scientists might find out that a small part of canada is endangered to be hit by the next asteroid in two days (due to cost-cuts on space-oberservatorys no one did recognize this one in time). Would you think you would leave your home and your friends living there and never come back again? Would you leave those of them which return alone?

  13. Helge, the vast majority of those who were left behind did not have the means to choose where they lived. They certainly had the right, but not the opportunity to exercise that right. They didn’t even have the means to get out of NOLA in the face of one of the strongest hurricanes in the region’s history. Saying they have the right to do something is a gross oversimplification of the issues at play here.

    When a city is being managed over the course of decades (centuries), with a history of strong storms (and a trend toward stronger storms), and that city is managed in such a way to allow/sustain growth over the decades, what the end result of that process is “placing” these people there. Again, many of these people do not have a viable option – the economics don’t support infinite choice, no matter what a person’s rights are. Did you choose where you were born? Where you grew up? Some of us had the opportunity to move away from where we grew up – many others did not have that chance, and it’s a bit callous to say “hey, they have the right to live anywhere, so it’s their responsibility if they choose to live there”. It is the responsibility of the population as a whole (via government and NGOs) to ensure the safety of everyone in a community, without regard to their economic means. The people that were left behind in New Orleans were abandoned by their community.

    The point I was (unsuccessfully) trying to make was that the various agencies responsible for the management and development of the New Orleans region had made decisions over several decades to allow growth well beyond what was readily evacuated. If the evacuation plans matched the population growth, that wouldn’t be a problem. Allowing that kind of growth without effective disaster response plans is reckless.

    Long term planning must be approached rationally and logically – “feelings” don’t have a place in planning for the safety and security of any community.

    And, if an asteroid (or any other large scale disaster) was heading towards Calgary, you’d better believe I’d be grabbing my family and getting the hell out of Dodge. Without looking back. Nostalgia is nice, but survival trumps it every single time.

    With that said, I’ve been blessed to live in an area that hasn’t ever known large-scale disaster. The occasional tornado, forest fire, and flooding, but nothing on the scale of Katrina. I still plan to contact my Alderman to get a copy of the disaster response plan for my community.

  14. There have been a number of facts that have been revealed that have made me very angry. Among them is the fact that Gov. Richardson (NM) offered his National Guard troops the day before Katrina hit, and Gov. Blanco (LA) accepted them, but it took Washington five days to approve the transfer. Also, I become more and more angry ever time I hear a Bush administration official say that they had no idea the levees would fail. Experts have been saying for years that the levees would fail in just such a storm.

    As for response time to this disaster, the U.S. faced the destruction of another city 99 years ago, and the response was far faster, with far less technology for communication.

  15. Heather, I wonder if the faster response to the Big One in SF back in 1906 was because of the lack of bloated Big Government? No ineffective FEMA to get in the way. No fearmongering administration busy distracting the population with manufactured press photo ops…

    Maybe there was more of a spirit of community a century ago. Something like this – 3 guys jump in a Hyundai to deliver water to NOLA, without waiting to ask permission from the government, or for a plan from FEMA…

  16. Dan, that’s a great clip. The sad thing is, you basically only had to put a techno track underneath the live CNN broadcast to get that… Mixed messages galore.

    Thanks for sharing it!

  17. Heh, that’s CBS news actually and it took me about 18 hours to compile the rhythmns, apply f/x, get the backing sounds, the police scanners, the soundscapes, and another 3 or 4 to mix the whole thing. I haven’t exactly been chucking it out to capitol records hoping to impress somebody, but jeez…

Comments are closed.