RSS feed for entries
 

 

New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina

Final update, Oct. 4 (unless I add more….)

It appears that the people who I thought should be shot on sight probably didn’t exist. Yes, there was real looting, and yes, there were people behaving very badly, civilians and uniformed. But at least it appears that no victims of the storm were so subhuman as to shoot at rescuers.

No evidence backs up reports of rescue helicopters being fired upon
By Miriam Hill and Nicholas Spangler, Knight Ridder Newspapers Sun Oct 2, 4:22 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS – Among the rumors that spread as quickly as floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina, reports that gunmen were taking potshots at rescue helicopters stood out for their senselessness. … But more than a month later, representatives from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard say they have yet to confirm a single incident of gunfire at helicopters. Likewise, members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations say there is no evidence they were under fire.

To be sure, the streets of New Orleans posed real dangers in the days following Katrina. Many rescue workers said they heard gunfire; one doctor reports that shots came close enough to Charity Hospital that he heard the bullets hit.

The confusion affected more than just helicopter crews. Florida Task Force 1 was using boats to reach the stranded – but not on Sept. 1. Because of reports of gunfire, a FEMA support team ordered the Florida task force to stop work for the entire day unless law enforcement protection could be found, task force leader Dave Downey said. That help never came. Meanwhile, thousands of people were stuck in attics and on roofs of flooded houses in New Orleans.

Acadian [Ambulance] pilot Marc Creswell believes the sound of gunfire from thugs roaming the streets gave rise to the widespread tales of rescue workers being targeted.

One month later, Downey, of Florida Task Force 1, isn’t sure the decision to halt operations was the right one. “In hindsight, it didn’t appear as though security was as big an issue. But (at the time) we were inundated with reports from back home, saying the situation was very violent. We didn’t know what to believe.

And then there’s this from The Independent (UK). (I’m not sure why we have to hear news about the US from England, but it’s all part of being a Third World country, I guess.) A confidential report was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of the Defense (yes, Rumsfeld’s Office) on how the federal government did.

Relief efforts to combat Hurricane Katrina suffered near catastrophic failures due to endemic corruption, divisions within the military and troop shortages caused by the Iraq war, an official American inquiry into the disaster has revealed.

The confidential report, which has been seen by The Independent, details how funds for flood control were diverted to other projects, desperately needed National Guards were stuck in Iraq and how military personnel had to “sneak off post” to help with relief efforts because their commander had refused permission . . . .

The report concludes: “The one thing this disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness … Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States.”

As far as I’m concerned, the report is too kind. There’s no word on the current and future profiteering by megacorporations. It just goes to show: the sweaty, shirtless gangsters in New Orleans aren’t a patch on the ones in three-piece suits in DC.

[Yet another update. Sept. 14th.]
There are no parallels between the World Trade Center terrorism and the New Orleans hurricane, except one. The reaction of the authorities is making everything infinitely worse.

Now there are thousands of troops deployed, now that it’s too late. Are they handing out water, food, and inflatable boats (or maybe chest-high waders) to people, to enable them to pull through for the next month? No, they’re pointing guns at them to turn them into refugees.

The motto seems to be: Whatever the victims want, don’t do it.

It wouldn’t cost any more to distribute what they need than it will to house and feed them (badly) for months. These are obviously not people who are going to whine as soon as they have a problem. Medical dangers can be dealt with more easily than uprooting them for months. Why is it impossible to HELP them?

The reaction–and lack of reaction–of the authorities is the worst thing exposed by Katrina. The now-famous description by two paramedics, Bradshaw and Slonsky, of their experiences dodging the guns of gangs AND uniforms says it all. If you read nothing else about the hurricane’s aftermath, read that.

People in uniform in the Superdome, who were supposed to keep order, barricaded themselves into safety away from the gangsters and abandoned all the ordinary citizens to their fate. (This is the same strategy used on a daily basis, since there aren’t enough police to keep order in the projects and the citizens are abandoned to their fate. I don’t know why I’m surprised they would be consistent during a natural disaster.)

Instead of helping people, the first priority is apparently to prevent outsiders from noticing any nasty pictures. CNN, **CNN**, had to sue to be able to do its job of reporting the news. A TV cameraman has posted his personal notes on the aftermath anonymously. It is an interesting, eyewitness account from someone with access to the whole city. It libels or slanders no one. And yet, it is anonymous. As I said earlier, New Orleans will come through this. I”m not so sure about the rest of us.

Meanwhile, New Orleans policemen out of uniform and camping in a parking lot, because they’d lost everything including the clothes on their backs, were trying to keep the flag flying and to stop crime, with no resources, no help, and not even enough ammunition (Ariana Cha, Washington Post article). In case it needs saying, and not that it matters in any cosmic sense, but many of New Orleans Finest are black, just like the rest of the city.

[Original post, August 29th, and other updates to Sept 4th follow]

New Orleans.

[1st post August 29th]
I lived there for thirteen years, on Freret St., and I love the city. I don’t know how other cities would come back from this, but New Orleans will. Bet on it.

The best news sources I’ve found is the Times Picayune’s “Breaking News” and “weblog” sites. They also have links for donations.

[Update Sep 3 (also more below): Times Picayune's direct link for donations goes to the Red Cross. Kathleen Blanco, Governor of Louisiana, has established The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation for donations for longer-term projects. The money will be used for education, job assistance, housing, medical needs and other purposes to help disaster victims return to productive lives. (Donations are tax-deductible.)

Also of interest: NOAA has the best aerial images I've seen on which it is possible to see flooding of individual neighborhoods. Click on the "Index map" on the first screen to bring up more detailed maps.]
This one is my old neighborhood. Clicking on it on the NOAA site brings up detail sufficient to see road signs.

[Back to original posting, from Aug 29, Sep 1, 3, 4, and so on!]

A few bits from the TP Breaking News site:

In many neighborhoods, people waded through more than water waist deep, sometimes carrying food. Late Monday [Aug. 29], a party of five adults waded along Tulane Avenue between Canal and Broad Streets, towing five toddlers in a large plastic tub.

The [French Quarter] neighborhood was among the last to lose power as the storm strengthened shortly after dawn. After its passage, pedestrians bought beer through walk-up windows and guests loitered on second-floor balconies.

[Too many people are too poor in New Orleans, so the looting started early, sad to say:]
[On Monday, with gales still howling, there was a report of a bunch of guys towing snack food and beer cans in a plastic tub out of a gas station convenience store near Claiborne and Louisiana avenues, or thereabouts.]

As the sun set, four young women slipped out of the Magnolia Discount convenience store on South Carrollton Avenue and loaded pilfered boxes into a waiting car. One woman waved at approaching vehicles.
[New Orleanians are very friendly.]

[and brave:]
In Lakeview, the scene was surreal. A woman hollered to reporters from a rooftop, asking them to call her father and tell him she was OK – although fleeing to the roof of a two-story home hardly seemed to qualify.

[and some have clear priorities:]
Two men surviving on generator power in the Lake Terrace neighborhood near the Lake Pontchartrain levee still had a dry house, but they were eyeing the rising water in the yard nervously. They were planning to head back out to the levee to retrieve a vast stash of beer, champagne and hard liquor they found washed onto the levee.

Story after story told of people who moved to their second floors when they had them, and then decided that wasn’t going to work either. They untied the dinghy floating out back. (What dinghy, you say? Well, many Lousianans feel that there is nothing half so worth doing as simply messing about in boats, so there’s something boat-like somewhere around the house.) They climbed in, and set off to rescue their neighbors.

Update#2:

I don’t want to sound churlish, BUT . . . people in New Orleans have known about the coastal erosion problem FOREVER. This is not some new insight delivered courtesy of Katrina.

(Brief summary: the levees along the Mississippi channel the silt it carries way out into the Gulf, instead of spreading it over the southern marshes. The soil of the marshes settles naturally, and without the new silt, the marshes sink lower and lower. When there’s an ocean storm, sea water comes in, and kills the marsh plants and trees. With nothing to hold the soil, it all washes out to sea, the salt water comes in permanently, and the coastline is suddenly a lot further north.)

Coastal erosion has been obvious for decades. (Billmon has some of the history.) Wild-eyed environmentalists have been trying, for decades, to get anyone to listen. Even *Louisiana* politicians didn’t care until some genius pointed out one simple fact. Louisiana gets huge royalties for offshore oil rigs that are within state waters. (I think it’s a twelve-mile limit.) If the coast moves north, guess who loses a lot of money. That’s when the state really started trying to keep the barrier islands from vanishing. The coastal erosion itself they didn’t work quite as hard on (all they needed was a southernmost line, after all), but even that got some money. I’ll be curious to see how much effort Bush really puts into building up the Louisiana coastal ecology when he realizes that not doing it would save the feds a few pennies in the micro-short term.

And as for global warming, for years, scientists have been tearing their hair out in handfuls over the likelihood of bigger and worser hurricanes. The Gulf is warmer than it usually is. Just by a degree or two, but a degree or two is all it takes. Go back over the records and see how many storms have gone from barely Category 1 to Category 5 in just a couple of days. It’s the warmer water that does that. As Nabil Tikriti writes in Juan Cole’s blog, “DC policy does matter. Get used to it.”

Update #3, Sept 1, about looting

People who are trying to find food or water shouldn’t really be called looters. People who use a catastrophe like this to break into people’s homes are the scum of the earth. People who attack rescue workers, whose violence makes it impossible to help people in desperate need, those people should just be shot on the spot. And, yes, I’m a card-carrying, bleeding heart liberal.

There’s been some talk of black – white issues with respect to the looting. Over 60% of New Orleans is black. Most of the really poor people are black. Those are the people who didn’t have cars to evacuate in. Black people have been helping to rescue their neighbors. Black people have been doing all the things you’ve been hearing about in terms of trying to help each other and everyone else. The Lower Ninth Ward, one of the first to flood and still under deep water, is an almost entirely black community. People have been saying for years that the levees for St. Bernard and the Lower Ninth Ward are totally inadequate, and the flooding can be noticeable there after a mere rainstorm. The levees never were improved because, well, there aren’t too many rich, white folks living there.

Yes, there is a very vicious, criminal element in the housing projects. Find me a housing project in a major US city that doesn’t have these parasites. The difference now is that they’re attacking someone else besides their neighbors in the projects, and that they’re making it impossible for people to get help. I just have no words for how furious and disgusted I am. Even criminals shouldn’t be capable of such crimes. I’m so angry, I can’t stop myself from adding that otherwise we won’t be able to tell the difference between them and those people in Washington.

Update, Sept 3, Sat.: Un-effing-believable.

From TP Breaking News:

Bush visit halts food delivery
By Michelle Krupa
Staff writer

Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush’s visit to New Orleans, officials said.

The provisions, secured by U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, baked in the afternoon sun as Bush surveyed damage across southeast Louisiana five days after Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 storm, said Melancon’s chief of staff, Casey O’Shea.

“We had arrangements to airlift food by helicopter to these folks, and now the food is sitting in trucks because they won’t let helicopters fly,” O’Shea said Friday afternoon.

The food was expected to be in the hands of storm survivors after the president left the devastated region Friday night, he said.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

    Print This Post Print This Post