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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hurricane Force Bush Bashin'

Like most other bloggers who have written about hurricane Katrina and her aftermath (I'm so relieved they named this hurricane with a girl's name), I know almost nothing about disaster planning (actually, I'm very good at planning disasters - it's the recovery part that's always alluded me). Also like most other bloggers who have posted on this subject, I'm not going to let a little thing like ignorance get in my way of spewing forth passionately about the topic. Well, I might not quite achieve "passionately", but I'll do my best.

To the casual (and ignorant) observer (that'd be me), the evacuation and relief efforts look like amazingly gross incompetence of local government being slowly and not particularly competently bailed out by the federal government. Well, that's government for you!

My first (chronological) observation is that the responsibility for planning for a predictable disaster is local, not federal. The amazing thing about the New Orleans (NO) hurricane evacuation and relief plan was that they had a dry run (well, not so dry) last year with hurricane Ivan.
A year ago, New Orleans reviewed its hurricane disaster plans after Hurricane Ivan gave the city a major scare forcing the evacuation of nearly 1 million people from the area.

What happened last September bears striking similarities to the problems encountered before Hurricane Katrina struck. The only difference was Ivan missed the city.

There were hours-long traffic jams. Those who had money fled, while the poor stayed. The warnings were the same: Forecasters predicted that a direct hit on the city would send torrents of water over the city's levees, creating a 20-foot-deep cesspool of human and industrial waste. [...]

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Nagin both acknowledged after the Ivan near miss they needed a better evacuation plan.
But, of course, they didn't bother actually doing anything about it. The interesting thing to me is the lack of creativity involved. There are aerial photos of half submerged parking lots with hundreds of buses in them - oil slicks emanating from their engine blocks into the water - now totally ruined. On the other hand, there were tens of thousands of people who would've liked to evacuate prior to the storm but had no transportation. Does it really take a genius to figure out that they could've put the people in the buses and driven out of the city which would have saved a great deal of suffering (not to mention hundreds of buses)? Especially after last years' dry run?

These last two questions were readily answered in the negative by a Mr. Jabbor Gibson, who commandeered an abandoned school bus and filled it with elderly, teens, a toddler, and an infant, and drove it out of New Orleans to Houston:

Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans and took control.

"I just took the bus and drove all the way hours straight,' Gibson admitted. "I hadn't ever drove a bus."

The teen packed it full of complete strangers and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there. [...]

One 8-day-old infant spent the first days of his life surrounded by chaos. He's one of the many who are homeless and hungry.

Authorities eventually allowed the renegade passengers inside the dome. But the 18-year-old who ensured their safety could find himself in a world of trouble for stealing the school bus.

"I dont care if I get blamed for it ," Gibson said, "as long as I saved my people."

Why couldn't the mayor of NO figure out this concept? Beats me. Doesn't seem hard.

So now, zooming from NO to D.C., it does seem that the federal government was too slow in getting into the act. I understand that when the basic infrastructure is as badly damaged as it is in NO, it's hard to get started. No electricity, no pumps, no clean water, no phones, no roads. Yup, pretty grim. But still, couldn't the process have started a little faster? Even Bush has admitted that the FEMA has taken too long and Bush is ultimately responsible.

So Bush certainly set himself up for the very predictable and loud yowlings of incompetence coming from the Left. Though I have to wonder why the Left is wasting its energy. This is Bush's 2nd and last term - he'll be out of office at the end of it no matter what. What's the point?

1 comment:

Shea said...

All fair points, but I have to wonder what kind of expectations were raised after three hurricanes hit Floria in one season. FEMA, along with a very visible US President was ready and waiting with billions, hugs were given, tears were wiped away. It was hard not to see it as part of Bush-Chenny '04. The administration's dismal response to Katrina makes it next to impossible to see it as anything else.