New Orleans


Maureen Dowd. New York Times: "America is once more plunged into a snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered intrastructure, a gutte police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning. But this time it's happening in America...

"It is a chilling lack of empathy combined with a stunning lack of efficiency that could make this administration implode... Who are we if we can't take care of our own?"

Independent: "Hurricane Katrina has revealed some uncomfortable truths about the world's richest and most powerful nation. The catastrophe in New Orleans exposed shocking inequalities--both of wealth and race--and also the relative impotence of the federal authorities when faced with a large-scale disaster. Many Americans are beginnint to ask just what sort of country they are living in... The more information emerges, the more irresponsible the federal authorities appear" ("The Week." Guardian Weekly, Sep. 9, 2005: 2).


"Now the debacle in New Orleans has underlined again the competence deficit inside the Bush administration.

"The stories about the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be comical if their results had not been so tragic. Shipment of supplies were held up, sometimes only a few miles from their destination, because FEMA officials insisted that the donors had not filled in the right forms.

"FEMA ordered the Red Cross not to enter New Orleans, lest it provide a reason for residents to remain, even though thousands of people were by then trapped in the city's Superdome and convention centre. FEMA officials claimed not to have been aware, more than four days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, that the convention centre had become a humanitarian nightmare for 20,000 people--suggesting they had neither been watching television nor talking to the local police" (Julian Borger. "Bush's competence deficit." Guardian Weekly, Sep. 16, 2005: 7).


"The spending squeeze that delayed the strengthening of the levees in New Orleans--despite repeated warnings from experts--reflects this Administration's skewed priorities: money for war and occupation in Iraq but not for protection of life at home. With one-third of the troops and half the equipment of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard in Iraq, Americans saw stark evidence of the domestic price of the war this President has chosen to fight on credit" ("The Disaster President." The Nation, Sep. 26, 2005: 3-4).


"While the Administration's push to privatize key services was draining the agency of some of its most experienced personnel, Bush appointed two FEMA directors with no substantive experience in disaster management. The first, Joe Allbaugh, was Bush's chief of staff in Texas. Allbaugh's handpicked successor, Brown, was an official with the International Arabian Horse Association before coming to FEMA. "Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors," Pleasant Mann--a seventeen-year FEMA veteran who was then head of the agency's government employees' union--complained to Congress last year. "A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone," Mann commented later. In a February 2004 survey of FEMA personnel, 80 percent said FEMA had become "a poorer agency" under DHS.

"That's not the worst of it. From its first months in office, the Bush administration has chipped away at disaster mitigation programs designed to curb precisely the kind of damage now overwhelming Louisiana and neighboring states. Project Impact, a modest but influential mitigation program created by Witt in 1997, had spread to some 250 communities and all fifty states before it got the Bush budget ax in 2001. In Pascagoula, Mississippi, Project Impact was creating a database of structures in the local flood plain--crucial information that could have stemmed some of the havoc that city faces today. Such programs would have brought down the cost of repairing cities like Pascagoula: Acording to FEMA's own estimates, every dollar spent on mitigation saves roughly two dollars in disaster recovery costs.

"No matter: In 2003 Congress approved a White House proposal to slash in half FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program--credited with saving an estimated $8.8 million in recovery costs in 1999 in three eastern North Carolina communities alone after Hurricane Floyd" (Jon Elliston. "Confederacy of Dunces." The Nation, Sep. 26, 2005: 4-5).


"..Katrina's primary target already ranked as the most environmentally ravaged state in the union. Louisiana is home to "Cancer Alley," a 100-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that contains the greatest concentration of petrochemical factories in the United States. Pollution from those factories has punished nearby communities--again, mainly poor and black--for decades, as Steve Lerner documented in his recent book Diamond. This pollution has also drained into the Mississippi River, where it joins fertilizer and pesticide runoff from millions of acres of Midwestern farmland to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a massive "dead zone" off the Louisiana coast--1,400 square miles of ocean floor as bereft of life as an Arizona desert. The dead zone would be smaller except that Louisiana, like America as a whole, has lost a third of its coastal wetlands to economic development. Wetlands filter out impurities, much as a liver does for the human body. They also perform a second vital ecosystem function, acting as buffers that absorb and diminish the giant waves that hurricanes generate before they strike inland. Louisiana's loss of wetlands helps explain why the floods Katrina unleashed ended up overrunning 466 chemical factories, thiryt-one Superfund sites and 500 sewage treatment plants, according to the Times-Picayune and the Houston Chronicle, leaving behind a toxic soup whose long-term health effects are incalculable" (Mark Hertsgaard. "Global storm warning." The Nation, Oct. 17, 2005: 4-5).


Colby Glass, MLIS