Actually, the finger-pointing started before the hurricane hit the mainland.
Who is to blame for lack of preparedness in this disaster? Well, since no-one in this country has EVER prepared for a natural disaster to the full extent they were capable, that is kind of a pointless question. So let us say, who was responsible for the levees bursting?
The New Orleans government? Nah, not really. New Orleans has not had the money for that level of civil engineering in, well, forever.
The Louisiana government? Hmmm. Didn’t they request money to improve the levees and get turned down repeatedly? So not really their fault.
The Federal government? Well, they were the ones who refused to give the state and local government the money they needed to fix up the levees, so to a certain extent, YES. But not just this administration; for how long have the levees been too weak to withstand a category 5 hurricane? Forever. So call it the sum of the history of having a city below sea level in Hurricane Alley.
But: what was the most immediate, and most visible, nationwide result of the levees bursting?
The spike in gas prices. Across The. Entire. Country. A nationwide fuel crisis because the locals didn’t pile enough dirt between them and the lake? Don’t think so. The cognitive dissonance in that idea could kill a man.
The single most important material in our economy flows from the gulf, up through the New Orleans area, and from there to the rest of the country. And people are nitpicking about who should have been responsible for bringing in the Army Corps of Engineers last year to fix the place up.
The real answer is, the oil companies and their employees are the ones who, from the day the first pipeline went in, should have been building up the levees and hardening that whole part of the gulf against something like Katrina. Sure, New Orleans is not (officially) the property of Big Oil, but don’t you think that if you build pipelines through a city, it is YOUR responsibility to protect the city, not the city’s responsibility to protect your oil, especially if that oil is for distribution to THE ENTIRE COUNTRY????
One of the highest points of my vacation to New Orleans—other than seeing my Dad and stepmother—was a visit to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, just down the street from the French Quarter. I took many photos, and got to experience the wonder of seeing some amazing animals at arms’ length.
Now a great many fish (maybe 50% so far) have died because the filters and pumps for the tanks haven’t had power for eight days.
When I talked to Dad yesterday he asked me how it felt to be one of the last people to see New Orleans as it once was.
I took about 50 photos, of Dad and Linda, of my brother Kurt, and Dad’s dogs, some of the local wildlife and the fish in the aquarium, and a few random shots of the French Quarter. I start to feel like I missed a spectacular opportunity, then I realize that people have been taking pictures of NOLA since the camera was invented, so the fact that I didn’t take a picture of the magnolia trees along the river doesn’t mean that such a picture was never taken. Just not by me.
And I will happily trade a thousand professional photos of the Mississippi River for one off-center shot of my Dad and brother standing in the mouth of a shark.
Across the region we have some of the worst poverty in America, and most of that poverty has a black face. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana: these are states that consistently, since the Civil War, have ranked in the bottom five states in America for virtually every social achievement, from education and infant mortality to police corruption. Government, for many of the region’s poor, has had one of two faces: corruption or overt neglect. New Orleans has had one of the highest murder rates in the nation for decades and a notoriously corrupt police force. In our experience dealing with catastrophes and epidemics overseas, there is a DIRECT correlation between the historic relationship between government and its people, and the willingness of the populace to believe in and correctly respond to government instructions. Of course tens of thousands of people failed to evacuate: why believe the government this time? And of course those folks who are slowly starving and baking in New Orleans assume that government has abandoned them.
… none of the people now trapped in New Orleans or wandering around in shock along the Mississippi/Alabama coastal communities have any idea what is going on. They have no electricity, and therefore no television or radio. Information is entirely rumors. When reporters interview them, these desperate souls are grilling the journalists for news. This means that the comfort of observed leadership is completely absent. No matter what the Mayor of New Orleans says, his people cannot hear him. They do not see the vast destruction. I doubt more than a handful of the folks trapped inside New Orleans at this moment have any idea how massive the damage to the Gulf Coast is.
How bad is it in New Orleans right now? The police are commiting suicide.
Dad called my brother Kurt yesterday. He and my stepmother are safe and sound in Alabama with some of her relatives. Their property was not flooded by the levees bursting, but they have not yet been back to see how much damage they suffered from the wind and rain. The neighbors they have spoken with said that the neighborhood came through “okay”.
So that is a tremendous relief. What an amazing change from visiting New Orleans two weeks ago, to the city now being essentially gone. If I had any inkling, I would have taken more pictures when we were in the French quarter.
The reports coming out of NOLA, of rape gangs and gang rapes, of looters and people shooting at rescue workers, makes me want to throw up my hands and say, “To Hell with you assholes!!!!!” Wall off the city, let them get that bullshit out of their systems, and then go in and arrest the survivors in October.
Then I hear the reports of people towing their sick parents or children on rafts made out of doors, through miles of flooded streets while watching out for snakes, alligators, fire ants and sharks, and I realize that the love and willpower in that sustained act of courage is so powerful, so awe-inspiring, that nothing I have ever done can come close.
And those people are stuck in a dying city with the scum who are busy finishing the job that the hurricane started.
So what is to be done? Pray. Donate money. Support the rescuers and the rescued however we are able. Don’t take sides trying to cast or dodge blame. The decisions which kept the city unprepared for this emergency are the result of decades of politics, not merely one or two administrations sitting on their hands. This is not remotely as devastating a disaster as the tsunami at the beginning of the year, but it will probably end up being worse than 9/11/2001.
And this time, we can’t blame it on our enemies.
Just found before and after satellite photos of the New Orleans floods. This view really puts things in perspective when talking about the extent of the flooding.
The most reliable news sources for Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans and surrounding areas seems to be Wikipedia, MSNBC and CNN. The most quickly updated source seems to be the forums at Fark
A new resource has just appeared: The Katrina Help Wiki, which seems to be doing a good job of aggregating news sources.
Still haven’t heard from Dad. Both cell phone and land line come up as “out of service” or busy, which, all things considered, is not surprising.
From what I can see of maps of Covington, the area where Dad lives (between and to the north of Covington and Abita Springs) probably wasn’t affected by rising bodies of water, but there is still the effects of the rain and wind to deal with.
So I guess the friends and relatives of the victims hunker down and wait, too.
Looks like I got out of Louisiana just in time.
My dad and stepmother are heading north away from Covington. They should be out of harms’ way by the time Katrina hits the city.
This is a list of sites which have information/visuals of the hurricane approaching the city: