Now that it seems everyone who is going to be rescued from New Orleans has been and the clean-up operation has begun, it’s time for an after-action report on who and what are to be blamed for the disaster. This is probably going to be my last and most complete post on the subject with the possible exception of the column I have prepared for the Daily Illini.
First, we’ll start with three things that aren’t to be blamed, and then go into what went wrong.
Levee funding cut by Bush
The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans. They were designed to protect against a weak category 3 hurricane. There were no plans to upgrade that protection to category 4 or 5. Originally the plan was to have category 5 protection; however, environmentalists sued the district and stopped it. It would have taken 25 years (if it had worked) to get the upgrades in to make the levees and walls protect against a category 5. (Source: Riverside magazine by the Army Corps of Engineers).
There were funding cuts to upgrades they were trying to do, but those upgrades would have been irrelevant. 15 foot walls don’t contain 22 foot surges, which is what they were facing. As a matter of fact, the portions of the wall that failed were the portions that have received the greatest attention from the Corps. Those were recently upgraded walls. From the NYTimes:
Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was “along a section that was just upgraded.”
National Guard deployments in Iraq
About 3,700 Louisiana National Guard troops were overseas when the hurricane struck. The objection goes that those people could have been helpful in keeping order. It misses the fact that 8,000 troops were left behind at the disposal of the governor, in addition to the guardsmen available from neighboring states. Reports indicate that the Arkansas National Guard was able to respond before the Louisiana National Guard. There are over 30,000 troops on the ground now. Having troops wasn’t the problem; getting them there, you could argue, was. More on that later.
STATUS: Invented by race-baiters trying to be relevant again
The governor of Louisiana is a Democrat. The mayor is a black Democrat. They were responsible for the evacuation and their signatures, not Bush’s are on the plan. If you want to make the argument that Democrats are racist and want black people to die, that’s your prerogative. Some other myths on racism such as the cannibalism claim are debunked here.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco
STATUS: Frozen under pressure
After the crisis struck, Gov. Blanco remained indecisive. One example is below: a transcript from CNN of Mayor Nagin’s comments, which indicate Gov. Blanco waited 24 hours to decide on which federal plan to initiate.
NAGIN: The president looked at me. I think he was a little surprised. He said, “No, you guys stay here. We’re going to another section of the plane, and we’re going to make a decision.”
He called me in that office after that. And he said, “Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor.” I said — and I don’t remember exactly what. There were two options. I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.
S. O’BRIEN: You’re telling me the president told you the governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision?
S. O’BRIEN: Regarding what? Bringing troops in?
NAGIN: Whatever they had discussed. As far as what the — I was abdicating a clear chain of command, so that we could get resources flowing in the right places.
S. O’BRIEN: And the governor said no.
NAGIN: She said that she needed 24 hours to make a decision. It would have been great if we could of left Air Force One, walked outside, and told the world that we had this all worked out. It didn’t happen, and more people died.
That wasn’t the only time she froze. She took control of the emergency apparatus yet continued to refuse to act. Bush had to personally call and beg Blanco and Nagin during dinner to order a mandatory evacuation. They still waited until the morning. A state of emergency was ordered August 26th at 9:44pm, they waited until the 28th at 10am to order the evacuation. A full 36 hours could have been added to the evacuation time, which could have included the National Guard going door-to-door to drag people out of New Orleans. She simply sat around and failed her people. Blanco refused to give any authority to the federal government to act.
Mayor Ray Nagin
STATUS: Who me?
While Mayor Nagin thinks the CIA is going to off him in the near future, he should look no farther than the lots of buses he left in his parking lots that could have gotten people out.
The initial responsibility of evacuating people in New Orleans belongs to the Mayor, whom we have seen did little to nothing beforehand.
Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator.
The buses sitting in parking lots and not evacuating people is the fault of Mayor Nagin and Mayor Nagin alone.
New Orleans Police Department
STATUS: Two-thirds of the police force is gone
That’s correct, over 2/3 of the New Orleans police department just left, and now they are trying to entice them back with taxpayer funded trips to Vegas. FEMA has no plan (but probably should) for such a catastrophic power vacuum, which did little more than strengthen the anarchy. Why the police just left instead of doing their jobs is unknown, but perhaps this may explain it.
Failure to use buses to evacuate people
STATUS: 500-2000 buses ruined in their parking lots
The evacuation called for using buses to get those without cars out, but they simply left the buses in the parking lots to get destroyed. They could have at least taken the buses to high ground so they could have been used after the hurricane passed, not to mention get people out before the hurricane hit.
One trip of 500 buses at near-full capacity is 30,000 people. They could have made at least 3 trips. Sure, people would have been left, but 90,000 people would be safe and dry now.
Pirates, Looters, and Mobs, oh my!
STATUS: Armed bandits shut down rescue operation necessitating militarizing the situation
There were FEMA and other rescue teams that got in fairly quickly, but snipers began shooting at rescue helicopters, pirates began boat-jacking rescuers, and all mayhem broke lose, complete with police looting and standing by while people did so. If people were going to raid food stores, the government should have taken it first and rationed it. Instead it created an environment of lawlessness in a culture that recognizes no moral norms. (More on that later).
Rescuers had to halt operations in general, and at locations like the Superdome, because they had no security to proceed with. This necessitated an unforeseen buildup of military force that could provide security which took more time.
That’s it for now. FEMA could have handled some things better, sure. But the responsibility in the first few days is local, not federal. The states have to authorize help, and Louisiana didn’t. Mississippi was hit by the same hurricane and there was no crisis there because people did what they were supposed to do. FEMA could have stepped up better, sure. But the point is they shouldn’t have had to deal with a complete collapse of the local authority in the first place. They shouldn’t have had to deal with 100,000 people trapped in New Orleans.