September 1, 2005

"We pee on the floor. We are like animals."

"Said Taffany Smith, 25, as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry." Reported in the L.A. Times:
In her right hand she carried a half-full bottle of formula provided by rescuers. Baby supplies are running low; one mother said she was given two diapers and told to scrape them off when they got dirty and use them again.

At least two people, including a child, have been raped. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for.

What plan did this city have for evacuation of the poor? They've always known this could happen. Only a small fraction of the people who needed shelter got to the Superdome, and the Superdome was in no way adequate to house them. So there was no rational plan whatsoever, was there?


John Thacker said...

They apparently had no plan for what to do with people who didn't have cars. Indeed frightening. Not to mention the prisoners and the hospital residents and everybody else who wasn't easy to move.

Rick Lee said...

At this time you think back to New Orleans' reputation as the Big Easy... a city that ran on corruption... where the police were so underpaid that only people interested in getting on the take were interested in those jobs. I've only visited the city once... I don't know how true this was, but at this time, you can see that the city officials were probably not spending their time wisely planning for disaster, etc... and you hear rumors that police and firefighters were participating in the looting. If the city only had a thin veneer of order in the first place, how can it manage now? Good god this is a sad thing to see.

tommy said...

It certainly looks like the local and perhaps state officials didn't have the type of plan they needed for this. Given the location of the city and all it seems like there should have been something better.

If there was a plan we should be hearing what went wrong in implementing that, since I'm not hearing it I'm prone to believe the plan wasn't there.

Aaron said...

Statistically New Orleans was the best city to commit murder in for many recent years. You had the best chance of getting away with it - or failing that - serving the least time. One suspects that if local officials were lax about crime how much laxer would they have been regarding contingency planning. This also bleeds over into preventive maintenance. It is a shame. I hope that whatever municipality springs up from the sodden ashes manages to recreate the charm of New Orleans but is more disciplined and forward thinking. One wonders how many disasters are avoided every day all over the country by quiet engineering works or precentive maintenance. One also wonders how many other disasters are staved off by one last rusty screw. It is my understanding that New Orleans never rebuilt some of the storm defenses after the last hurricane wiped out one of their lines of defense.

vnjagvet said...

The complete devastation is not fully appreciated. Even when there is a plan, it assumes personnel who are able to report to duty to execute such a plan. Keep in mind that few firemen or police in NO have homes any longer. Most of them are in as bad shape as the rest of the citizens.

Somehow plans no matter how ambitious cannot predict unprecedented events.

chronicler said...

If their Govenor gets re-elected I'll be amazed. She has completely failed to lead this cirsis. We have to ask why the outlaws came out so quickly; because no one else was willing to take the lead.

Justin said...

When I was watching the pre-strike, I was under the impression that all those remaining in New Orleans were being huddled into the Superdome. This number was around 3,000. I thought that number was too high, but at least 99% of the population had left. Turns out, those who reported to the Superdome were only a small percentage of those who chose to remain.

Professor Althouse, I agree. This is pathetic. I think, if anything is accomplished in the aftermath of this hurricane, it will be the education of the citizens of the state of Louisiana for competent individuals in all leadership positions. I mean, it has to get better after this calamity... doesn't it?

And we are just talking about a plan to evacuate the city. Well, what about the freaking levees? Why weren't there more? Want to know why? Cause each levee was overseen by an independent governing board. Check out this post at the Corner (NRO):

"Regarding the levee system in New Orleans, one cannot truly understand how lucky the city was just have the system that was in place without understanding the truly Byzantine structure of New Orleans politics, which requires separate governing boards for each levee that is built.

Rather one agency that is in charge of flood prevention, there are scores. Building in redundancies would have required more boards, which would have lessened the political power of those on the existing boards. I seriously doubt that even now, after this catastrophe, that we in Louisiana will see this system change because the structure is mandated by the Louisiana Constitution. Any change requires not just statewide approval, but must also be approved by a majority of voter in Orleans Parish. Given how many local politicians whose fiefdoms would disappear, that will not happen, and so we will see this disaster occur again."

My God.

Elizabeth said...

The post mortem of this catastrophe will find fault from the city up through the White House, across parties, and administrations in city, state and national government. But what plagues me in the immediate aftermath are two things: a local failure to provide transport for people who couldn't afford to leave, and a state and national failure to have troops, water, and food standing by once the general path and strength of the storm was clear. There's simply no excuse for saying they had to assess needs only after the storm hit; those things can be easily determined by previous catastrophes. And the mayor's passivity in urging, but not helping, people to leave, is inexcusable.

leeontheroad said...

Despite what any city, state or federal authority says, THEY KNEW this would--not just could, but would-- happen, if levees were ovrrun or failed in LA. At an LA state site sits the conclusing report (dated July 2004) of the interagency "Hurricane Pam" exercise.

Elizabeth said...

The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series on the hurricane threat last year (memory fails me, it was last year or maybe 18 months back); it was astounding. Here's how to get to it:

Sloanasaurus said...

Appaerntly the Army Corps of Egnineers designed a plan in the 1960s the strengthen the levies. I guess they are still trying to get funding.

I dont get why the Federal government is supposed to fund something like this. These choices are made locally. I don't expect the feds to fund the police in my city.

The looting is reprehensible. New Orleans was obviously loaded with thugs and crooks. It makes you wonder if any real disaster management plan would be doomed from the start.

leeontheroad said...

That's one view, Sloan. Another view is that the needs of the nation are met by the various ports and refineries in that area and thus, from a purely economic standpoint, the infrastructure of the region is a national concern.

Ann Althouse said...

Sloanasaurus: But shouldn't ordinary people in New Orleans blame their city officials for not dealing with their terrible crime problem? Good but poor people are stuck in the city they can't move out of. They should expect the city to fight crime, not leave it to fester and then take over when there's a disaster. The thugs are to blame, but so is the city.

Elizabeth said...

I want to note that the 5-part article on hurricane danger I posted above was published, to great note and acclaim I might add, in 2002.

Sloanasaurus said...

"...But shouldn't ordinary people in New Orleans blame their city officials for not dealing with their terrible crime problem?..."

Certianly, I would agree. However, it is well known that New Orleans is on of the most corrupt cities in America (especially the police). When the whole city government rests on fragile institutions to begin with, a disaster will break the backs of all city government. City Government is supposed to be the first line of defense. It will be interesting if we learn that when the feds arrived, city and state government was non-existent.

Of course it could also be that we are getting crappy reporting. The news media tends to amplify the negative and tends to try and out scoop the other with negative news. Thus, perhaps for every one person not getting water, a thousand others are getting rescued.

The more I hear about New Orleans (before the flood), the more difficult it seems it will be to rebuild the city. Apparently, a good portion of the city (near 50%) has been living off the government. Will these people rebuild the city? Will the middle-class and affluent come back to New Orleans to rebuild. What if they don't? The whole city would remain one giant slum. New Orleans could become the new "Escape from New York."

ploopusgirl said...

Well then the federal government shouldn't have stepped in in the aftermath of September 11th, Sloan. Less overall damage. I don't see why New York couldn't have handled it on their own.

Sloanasaurus said...

"...Well then the federal government shouldn't have stepped in in the aftermath of September 11th..."

Yes, of course. We certianly would not expect the state of New York to be liberating Afghanistan or Iraq...(okay I am being smug..)

With a large disaster the feds will certainly be involved. It is a shared insurance among all of us. However, one would expect that it would take some time for the feds to get their operation going. It's local government that is in the best position to respond immediatly.

Icepick said...

Elizabeth wrote: But what plagues me in the immediate aftermath are two things: a local failure to provide transport for people who couldn't afford to leave, and a state and national failure to have troops, water, and food standing by once the general path and strength of the storm was clear.

The general path wasn't clear until Sunday. On Friday various computer models had Katrina doing everything from passing over South Florida and hooking right back over Central Florida to heading towards Texas. How are they going to mobilize for that large an area in THREE DAYS? Further the storm strengthened rapidly and unexpectedly.

To have troops and rescue workers ready for immediate deployment after something like this would require having MILLIONS of troops and workers on standby from June 1 to the end of November, every single year, spread out near the the entire East Coast and along the entire Gulf Coast.

And all of this kevetching after reading several blogs last weekend complaining about how much Katrina was being overhyped.

Last year, after getting hit by Charley and Frances in four weeks, we were looking at getting hit by Jeanne. The prediction was that Jeanne was going to have all of the worst characteristics of Charley, Frances and Ivan. It was going to largely destroy coastal Cnetral Florida and devastate the interior of the state. It was the superstorm of our nightmares. (And we were havning plenty of hurricane nightmares by that point in Florida.)

That was the prediction 24 hours before it hit. As it was, it was the weakest of the hurricanes we endured last year. Devastating in her way, but largely because she followed Frances path almost exactly, and only two weeks later.

These are weather events, people, and are inherently unpredictable. There is no way to have people on standby to rush to the seen in less than 24 hours. Local responders have to take care of the situation first, and then the state comes in to help. The feds will always be the last in. It's just the way our nation is organized.

Charlie Eklund said...

Elizabeth is correct. The blames starts at the city level...actually, at the parish level...and extends all the way up to the Oval Office. At every level, politicians of both parties have fiddled while Rome prepared to burn, hoping that what was known to be an inevitable disaster wouldn't come to pass on their watch.

This week, time ran out. The question now is, do we rebuild a city that is as vulnerable as the Big Easy was, and always will be, or do we let it become the Lost City of New Orleans?

I don't know.

I've travelled to New Orleans on business or pleasure more than fifty times over the last ten years. Every time I have asked a New Orleanian what they plan was in dealing with a hurricane, the answer was always the same...pray. Good advice spiritually, poor advice from a public policy point of view.

The problem is that New Orleans, and perhaps the entire state, has never had serious governance. Perhaps now it will.

But I'm not gonna hold my breath.

Incidentally, the great unreported story so far is the incredible increase in firearm and ammunition sales across the so-far unaffected part of southern Louisiana. The law-abiding citizens of that part of the country are determined that what's happening in New Orleans stays in New Orleans.

That interesting times thing just keeps going and going and going.

Elizabeth said...

Sloan is incorrect in speculating that "it could also be that we are getting crappy reporting. The news media tends to amplify the negative and tends to try and out scoop the other with negative news. Thus, perhaps for every one person not getting water, a thousand others are getting rescued."

That's wishful thinking, Sloan. It's as bad as it's being shown on the news. I'm in touch with people in the city, and with people who have only recently gotten out. There are certainly some rumors that get out of hand and then are corrected, but most of those haven't made national news. This nightmare is absolutely real, not a manufactured drama by the press.

Icepick, from late Friday on New Orleans was never out of the cone of probable strike area. Bush declared New Orleans a disaster area on Friday, in order to get the ball rolling on the response before the actual strike, but after that, a curious inertia seemed to set in.

Elizabeth said...

Here's Homeland Security director today, on NPR, answering Robert Seigal:

--Chertoff: I would be--I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water.--

Okay, he's just plain lying. Lying through his teeth. He's got his fingers in his ears going "lalalal I can't hear you" to all the bad things out there. And this guy is supposed to be keeping us safe.

Aaron said...

Umm - when he says he hasn't heard reports there are two things I think first rather than the idea that he is lying. One, he is not sitting around watching CNN - he is working very hard at the moment and so didn't see the report. It seems more reasonable to me that Chertoff would have have better things to do than catch up on the latest cable news story. And 2) the media has made a number of misreports and FEMA doesn't base its actions on what cable news decides to lead with. They try and collate information from trained personnel on the ground (who may be on the ground in greater numbers than journalists although who knows if there are more media than EMTs there now). Sometimes CNN or Fox or MSNBC or whoever may see a situation that FEMA didn't and I'd hope they keep some eyes peeled on to the TV but I also hope they are doing as they say and making decisions based on information they develop through a better system than the TV. I also hope they aren't having too many people tracking the media while this is happening. Manpower should be used in the most efficient way possible n ot to chase the cable audiences priorities. Given that the government is not going to get everything done - the media is bound to run with stories of the folks the government isn't helping.

Brando said...

I am really in shock. disbelief. watching all the converage on TV and elsewhere. There are 10s of thousands of people stranded in the superdome, and we can't get anything to them? like, we live in the 21st century. live in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. and we can't help thoughsands upon thoughsand of people stranded in a football stadium in our own country? like, we can't airdrop something in? i'm am utterly at a loss...

Goesh said...

I read the first two sentences then stopped. I have fought flood, fire, the North Vietnamese Army and thugs on two occasions when by circumstances I had to live in a very, very rough neighborhood. I have been through two (2) bad tornadoes and I'll be goddamned if I am going to focus on anything negative about this disaster, not when so many positive things are happening.

ploopusgirl said...

Poor you, Goesh. I think everyone should stop worrying about New Orleans and build a platinum statue dedicated to the wonder of fucking flesh that is you.