KATRINA: TEN YEARS LATER
I’m glad that we are remembering the disaster that was Katrina ten years ago as we approach the 2016 Presidential Elections and give thought to why Republicans seem to be dead set on shutting the government down (again) next month over Planned Parenthood funding. We all remember that horrifying time with the TV shots of dead bodies floating by in the water and tens of thousands of folks jammed into the Super Dome. Just came in from listening to the Diane Rhem show on NPR where the talk was about Katrina and over the past couple of days I’ve seen three Frontline documentaries about the disaster and read several articles about the hurricane and the rebuilding of New Orleans. By the way, the third of the Frontline Series, “Law and Disorder,” will make you sick.
One very stark reality about the rebuilding: Whites are pretty much satisfied with the recovery and rebuilding of the city (80% think it’s been a success) while Black folks (60%) think that it’s been not nearly enough. But these figures only represent the current state of affairs here in America when it comes to race. We did enter a “post-racial” period after the election of Barak Obama (at least according to the eternally blind right wing conservatives) but it only lasted a couple of years. Then along came the shooting of Trayvon Martin which ignited year long protests. This was followed by the death of Michael Brown at the hands of the police with pictures of his dead body lying in the street in the sun and Ferguson, Missouri, exploded. Following with uncanny regularity came the deaths of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray to name a few.
So, no, we are not living in a post-racial paradise. When Kanye West declared that the Bush Administration doesn’t care about Black people as New Orleans was inundated with it’s worst natural disaster in its history, he struck a chord not only among Black folks but with America as well. Katrina remains a stark illustration of the relevance of today’s “Black Lives Matter” campaign.
My intent is not to bash the Bush Administration. I’ve done that plenty often already. You can trace the mess that is the Middle East and the explosive growth and success of ISIS directly to the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. But I am a bit surprised at the amount of history re-writing Katrina: Ten Years Later has engendered. Like, for example, the whole business of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco not calling for FEMA assistance, not requesting Federal troops or not saying the magic words to the Feds or some such “confusion” and “missteps” according to the revisionists. But when the levees were breached it was evident to the rest of the country that any help from anywhere by any means was required in New Orleans. And the situation only got worse as time went on. Excuses from the Bush Administration that the Governor never asked for assistance or didn’t ask in the right terms or didn’t speak the magic formula are disgustingly perverse. And yet this morning this is exactly what I heard this shill for the Bush Administration claim once again on Diane’s radio show.
Then there is the evacuation conundrum. By the time Mayor Nagin and/or Governor Blanco ordered the evacuation of New Orleans the levees had already been breached with the resulting flooding that occurred within minutes and basically shut down – or off – every public service including public safety since the Police Headquarters was flooded out. Yes, Nagin and Governor Blanco could have called for evacuation earlier but Nagin has pointed out that the city did have hundreds of busses available for evacuation but they had no drivers to drive them. Remember, no one could navigate the flooded streets by foot much less by car, - water was 14 feet deep in the streets in some locations - public transportation had simply disappeared, police activity had simply vanished and no one could communicate with anyone else. Sure, Mayor Nagin was subsequently convicted on bribery charges, (a regular occurrence in New Orleans’ political world; The Big Easy would not be Crescent City without bribery, extortion and criminal public officials) his reasoning sounds quite practical to me.
Much has also been made of the city’s lack of an emergency preparedness plan even though such a plan would probably have been useless given the magnitude and breadth of the Katrina disaster. In fact, the Feds, Louisiana State and local New Orleans had been engaged in preparing such a plan that was being funded by the Department of Homeland Security as part of a regular series of such activities that are done around the country from time to tome. “Hurricane Pam” was the model that was being used to develop the emergency plan and work had been ongoing for around two years and was nearing completion when the Bush Administration cut funding for the effort. So what was left was an incomplete draft that, had it been completed, would have had to been adopted by the various state and local authorities it affected. When Katrina hit, the unfinished plan was sitting on a shelf somewhere, the victim of the Bush Administration’s actions.
Of the most important lessons to be learned from the Katrina Disaster, was the total breakdown of communications among all the responders to the storm. This, of course, is the same lesson that the authorities were supposed to have learned from the 9-11 terrorist attack some four years prior to Katrina. It is also the same lesson that we should have learned from the Navy Yard terrorist attack here in D.C. on September 16, 2013, just two years ago. So the country, FEMA, Federal, state and local authorities have had fourteen years since 9-11 to fix, what surely is a self-evident gap in responding to emergencies and disasters, but the problem remains.
Why? Fixing this problem requires Federal Legislation, you know, Congressional action, but it hasn’t occurred. And you can chalk this up to another victory for the “big government is bad,” “antipathy to the potential takeover of States Rights by the Federal Government,” and “the Federal Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners an losers” folks you hear every single day in Congress and on right wing talk shows around the country. Well, the next time there is a 9-11 or Katrina level disaster, and make no mistake there will be such disasters in our future, the first responders will still be unable to communicate with each other and people will die as a result.
Only In America.