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When the Government Fails the People {an essay by Audacity Audazmente} Katrina Caused Havoc in New Orleans – Inaction Caused the Disaster

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  • Audacity™
    When the Government Fails the People Katrina Caused Havoc in New Orleans – Inaction Caused the Disaster {an essay by Audacity Audazmenté™} written August
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2005
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      When the Government Fails the People

      Katrina Caused Havoc in New Orleans – Inaction Caused the Disaster

      {an essay by Audacity Audazmenté™}

      written August 31 & September 1, 2005 for more Audacity™ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/moreAudacity

       

      The Hurricane named “Katrina” had already caused damage in Florida by the time it gained ferocity in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and headed north towards the Gulf Coast .  It was a category “5” storm – on a scale that only goes up to number five.  As this storm neared the coasts of Louisiana , Alabama , and Mississippi , it seemed certain that the damage would be severe.  Because of this, “mandatory evacuations” were ordered; in other words, people were strongly urged to leave the area. 

       

      Terrorbowl

      I remember learning as a child about the geography of New Orleans .  Whatever details I may have been told I did not retain, but I do remember one simple fact: most of the city of New Orleans is below sea level.  This seems to be common knowledge, just as Denver is the “mile high” city. 

                     In addition to the city being below sea level, I remember the concerns about flooding that situation caused.  While some people joke about California sinking into the sea (or Los Angeles becoming an island, as it had the film Escape from LA), the threat of New Orleans suffering catastrophic damage from a Hurricane has long been a serious threat.  I know this and I’ve never lived there, nor am I an expert on such matters. 

                     As I saw Katrina nearing the shore, I had ominous feelings.  When I learned of the plans to use the Superdome as a shelter, my sense of doom increased.  And I was totally flabbergasted when people arrived in droves to the stadium. 

                     I was almost persuaded by the way Katrina was dismissed as not a major threat when it was downgraded to a category “4” storm and shifted slightly to the east, sparing New Orleans a “direct hit” by the hurricane.  There seemed to be a collective decision – by the media and government officials – to dismiss the storm as not being the “catastrophic calamity” that it at one time seemed certain to be.  Time would soon show their sense of relief to be unfounded. 

                     Damage caused by Katrina was wide-spread.  Not only did it damage areas in Louisiana , Alabama , and Mississippi , but “spin-off” tornados caused destruction in Georgia .  Storm surges destroyed entire neighborhoods and swept casino barges onto the shore.  Buildings and people who had survived previous hurricanes did not survive Katrina. 

                     The government and relief organizations have been completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the destruction and suffering.  People in many regions are still awaiting help, days after the storm has passed.  While the suffering is wide-spread, no where is the threat more immediate and the suffering more concentrated than New Orleans . 

                     The storm may not have directly hit New Orleans , but the city and the people were not spared.  Katrina caused the levees, which were designed to withstand only a category "3" hurricane, to be breached by the waters of Lake Pontchartrian and to come pouring into the bowl that is New Orleans .  The flood waters rose as high as 20 feet, submerging streets, cars, and homes.  People who had remained in heir homes took to higher ground – often this meant their attics.  Those with axes or other means of escaping got on the roofs of their homes and awaited rescue.  Other people, in areas on higher terrain or areas not yet flooded wandered around, thirsty, hungry, dirty, and psychologically traumatized, not knowing where to go, in a chaotic lawless landscape, a free-for-all reminiscent of Mad Max: Beyond Terrordome. 

       

      “Homeland Security” My Ass

      If this is the reaction and level of preparedness the US Government and relief aid organizations have for a hurricane – an event both experienced before and known in advance to be occurring – I hate to think what would happen if an unknown and unexpected terrorist event occurred in a major city. 

                     When Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans as a category “5” storm, Mayor Ray Nagin announced a “mandatory evacuation” of the city.  I wish I could state that he issued or imposed a mandatory evacuation, but he did neither.  It really was not a “mandatory” evacuation at all.  At most it was “recommended”, “urged”, or “strongly recommended”.  Not only was it not mandatory, but it was not facilitated.  People were advised to leave – they were not assisted or directed. 

                     The media often suggests that many people did not evacuate the city because they are poor.  While this is certainly true, what is also true is that as in many metropolitan cities, regardless of income level, many people simply do not own cars.  There were also tourists and other travelers from other states and countries unable to leave the city after the airport closed.  And these people may have had few options for leaving the city.  This is where the government (local, state, and federal) needed to intervene. 

                     Even if the evacuation was voluntary, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana should have ordered every city bus and school bus to transport people out of the city.  Greyhounds and other private buses should have been contracted or commandeered if necessary.  The words – ordering a “mandatory evacuation” – should have been followed with action – making transportation available. 

                     The evacuation should have actually been mandatory.  All of the residents of New Orleans should have been ordered to leave.  The choice offered to the citizens should have been to voluntarily leave or to be arrested and removed by force.  Martial law should have been imposed before disaster struck. 

       

      National Absurdity

      After the devastation caused by the tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Somalia, and other nations on the Indian Ocean, the news was filled with stories of the urgency to be prepared for such an event occurring up and down both the US’s Pacific coast and Atlantic coast.  New alarm systems were installed.  Everyone wanted to be ready for such a natural disaster if it happened “here at home”. 

                     Apparently no forethought was given to what would happen after such an event occurred.  If the government and relief aid organizations were prepared for large numbers of homeless, injured, and needy refugees, that plan would have been enacted after Katrina struck.  Hurricane Katrina shows that not only is the US Government not prepared for a catastrophic natural disaster, it is not adequately prepared to deliver aid to any large number of people in a timely and efficient manner. 

                     Currently, half of the troops in Iraq are members of the National Guard.  This does not necessarily make the number of National Guard troops available insufficient, but it certainly stresses their resources.  While I have yet to hear unequivocally that the lack of National Guard presence in New Orleans and other affected areas is due to depleted troop levels, the fact remains that the troops were not there.  And this is the situation when there is only one disaster with which they have to contend. 

                     I hate to imagine what would happen if terrorists took this moment of vulnerability to attack.  With National Guard troops concentrated in the southern states and so many troops in Iraq , it seems likely that response to a terrorist attack would leave much to be desired. 

                     In a press conference, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco called for a day of prayer.  While this may be considered a nice sentiment, she stated this when being questioned about what was going to be done to help the people of New Orleans .  Prayer may comfort people, but only action will save people’s lives. 

       

      Time is of the Essence

      The casualties in the New Orleans area from Hurricane Katrina are estimated to be in the hundreds to the thousands.  These are very ruff estimates – recovering bodies has been secondary to rescuing living victims (Rescuing people was the priority; more on that later).  The authorities really have no idea how many people have died or how many people need help.  There are still areas that have not been searched.  

                     I am appalled by the cavalier attitude the authorities seem to have about helping the people of New Orleans .  They have to evacuate an entire city.  This should be a military mission reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon, not bureaucratic bumbling to decide if evacuation is prudent, necessary, or feasible.  Days have gone by and the only action taken to facilitate the evacuation has been a caravan of buses headed for the Houston ( Texas ) Astrodome.  There are still people wandering the streets and waiting for help. 

                     Many people could continue to die from the flooding.  Not just from disease or infection – people could still be trapped in their homes.  People who may have sought refuge in their attics from the storm could still be waiting for rescue.  They could be waiting for the water to recede – if they don’t happen to have a battery-powered radio or television, they have no way of knowing (other than guessing or deduction) that the water is not from the hurricane, but from the levees breaking.  Many people escaped their attics onto their roofs; this would not be an option if a person did not have an ax or another way of getting out of their attics – for small children, the chronically ill, or elderly this would be especially difficult.  Those people could be dying of starvation or dehydration or something else (such as not receiving medication or dialysis) at this very moment. 

                     Time is of the essence – people remain trapped in or on their homes; others are wadding thru the flooded streets or waking along the elevated highways unsure of where to go and how to get there.  Many of these people are sick and/or injured; among them infants, the chronically ill, and elderly.  They have lived without sufficient food, water, medical care, places to sleep, means to maintain proper hygiene, and many may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or other psychological issues as a result of what they have survived.  The overwhelmed authorities either don’t know how to help people or have no means to deliver aid.   

                     Communication is a major hindrance.  People in other states are more aware of the situation in New Orleans than the people in New Orleans .  We have the ability to watch the news reports and see footage of what is occurring.  We know about the transport of people from the Superdome to the Astrodome.  We know much more than they do – they do no know whether to go north, south, east, or west.  People may not know if they should stay where they are and wait for aid or go in search of it.  They may not know about plans to evacuate the city.  The people in New Orleans may not know that help is not necessarily on its way.    

       

      Guns, Grub, & Government

      The Mayor of New Orleans (well, mayor until the next election, if such a position still exists) announced that people conducting search & rescue personnel have been diverted to looting prevention.  Things have officially been prioritized over people. 

                     Some of the concern is warranted: the looting has included stores that carry guns and other weapons.  There is no telling who may now be armed and what they may be armed with – this is certainly a cause for alarm (After all, New Orleans has been the "Murder Capital" of the nation).  Regardless, the priority should still be to help save people.  The problem is not only that personnel is being diverted from rescuing people to guarding merchandise, it’s that there are not sufficient numbers of police and National Guard troops to do both. 

                     Instead of helping bring order, some police action seems to be compounding problems.  People were arrested after police prevented a car filled with eight people from leaving the city.  Reportedly, the family of four adults and four children were in a vehicle that was not theirs, but I fail to see how preventing them from leaving the city was a help to anyone.  What they need to be concerned about is not looting, but the beatings, rapes, and other violence allegedly occurring at the city’s convention center and other locations. 

                     The looting in New Orleans seems sensationalized.  It is not as if the merchandise in these stores of a soon-to-be ghost town will be salvageable.  Business owners should have had insurance and if they had anything highly valuable (such as jewelry) they should have left the city and taken it with them.  And while some people are stealing electronics, jewelry, and the afore mentioned firearms, many people are “looting” to acquire necessities: food, water, shoes, clothes, diapers, medicine, etc.  The city is in complete chaos; citizens cannot be expected to leave money at the counter or IOU notes when they need supplies for survival. 

       

      From Bad to Worse

      Herding people into the Superdome seemed a bad idea from the start.  Since the roof was not completely removed by the hurricane and the structure was not completely flooded, things did not turn-out as badly as they easily could have.  The unbearable heat, shortage of food & water, and overflowing toilets were absolutely foreseeable. 

                     As long as people remain in the city, things will only grow more desperate.  The water will inevitably become the “toxic soup” people fear: dirt, sewage, animal carcasses, human bodies, gasoline, and other chemicals – this will only increase with time.  The living animals will also be a problem: snakes, alligators, raccoons, possums, skunks, and rats will be confused and hungry.  Some people who may have survived the flood waters may die from animal bites or attacks – especially if trapped in their attics. 

                     There should be an adequate number of boats, amphibious vehicles, and helicopters to transport stranded citizens to where they can be relocated to other areas.  Transplanting the 20,000 or so people from the Superdome to the Astrodome is only the beginning.  There are still the thousands of people in (or on) their homes and in the streets.  Not even using cruise ships as shelters for the people will be sufficient.  And after contending with removing all the people from New Orleans , there are the thousands of people who left before the storm who are unable to return to their homes. 

                     The people of New Orleans are refugees.  They are no different than people who flee an area because of war, genocide, or political upheaval.  Leaving is their only option. 

                     Rebuilding New Orleans (if that is even a viable or rational option) cannot be a concern at this time.  The priority is the people of New Orleans .  These people have nothing – possibly not even personal identification.  The New Orleans refugee challenge will be one that will not be remedied easily or quickly. 

       

      Foresight Can Be 20/20

      The Government failed the people.  Citizens were advised by the government, but they were not assisted.  The authorities had the ability to foresee this disaster, but chose not to react preemptively. 

                     As a Libertarian, I think the job of the government is to do the things that private citizens cannot do for themselves.  Providing law enforcement, fighting wars, and evacuating cities are a few examples of such things. 

                    The people of New Orleans did have the choice to leave the city.  They were advised to do so.  However, the magnitude of this storm clearly was not understood by the citizenry.  This is where the government should have stepped-in.  If people had been removed by the authorities, the death toll would not be so high.  It would have been impossible to remove 100% of the people, but a majority could have been persuaded if not forced to leave. 

                     New Orleans is purported to be the nation’s 35th largest city and have a population of about 500,000 people.  I do not understand why a city that populated, with the unique position of being below-sea-level and surrounded by water, was not evacuated as a preventative measure.  Whatever chaos that may have caused, it would have been nothing compared to what is going on now.  Instead, the government chose to “roll the dice” and bet that the storm would not cause a worst-case-scenario.  They lost the bet. 

                     I cannot help but wonder if the ethnicity of the affected citizens plays a role in the response of the government.  I certainly think it is a factor in the media coverage – New Orleans ’s mostly Black and poor victims of Hurricane Katrina seem to fail to garner the attention or sympathy of anonymous missing Caucasian women (television coverage of the Natalee Holloway disappearance continued while the flood waters rose in New Orleans ).  The coverage of the looting seemed reminiscent of the LA riots, focusing on people of African descent, while people of many colors were seen in the background.  Reporters scoffed at people taking items such as shoes, not considering that they were needed for people left barefoot and not wanting to injure themselves wading in the murky water.  Further evidence of the media’s bias is their deeming the acquirement of goods by people of African descent as “looting” while the same activity is called “finding” or “scavenging” when done by Caucasian people. 

                     The flooding of New Orleans speaks volumes about how “prepared” this country is.  It seems no one learned anything 9/11 or the 2004 Tsunami.  The deployment of aid – or lack of it – is shameful and embarrassing.  Now the US Congress is due to return from their vacation early to appropriate funds to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  It is interesting that while the crisis has taken place all week, they are not expected to return until Friday.  In contrast, Congress returned to Washington on a weekend to pass legislation applicable solely to notable brain-dead woman Terri Schiavo.  It is commendable that citizens want to help – donating money, volunteering, and offering room & board to strangers – but it is pitiful that a nation with the ways, means, and infrastructure to collect taxes, imprison two million citizens, wage a “war on drugs”, etc. cannot deliver food, water, medical care, and other necessities to its citizens within its borders when needed. 

                     There should be a plan for catastrophic natural disasters as there (allegedly) are for terrorist attacks.  If people are trained to react to “anthrax attacks” or “dirty bombs” they should be prepared for hurricanes and flooding. 

                     Much of this disaster could have been avoided.  My hope is that the authorities save as many people as possible.  Unfortunately, for many, whatever is done, it will be too late.  ¶ ¶ ¶

       

      ©2005 Audacity Audazmenté™

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      [*mA*]

       

       

      Note: I found it interesting that the song “Breathe Me” by Sia – the song used for the final montage of the “Six Feet Under” series finalé – was used for a montage of photos of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. 

       

      CNN's Jack Cafferty – addressed lack of coordination and race/class issue on The Situation Room. http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/situation.room/

       

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