. . . and we can see more than dim outlines, I think we'll find more than enough blame to go around.
At this point, I have some blunt questions. Perhaps there are convincing answers, or explanations (as with Governor Blanco's words about shooting looters), but let me at least put these questions on the table.
According to the August 28th issue of Nola.com
, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans in response to an appeal by President Bush:
Acknowledging that large numbers of people, many of them stranded tourists, would be unable to leave, the city set up 10 places of last resort for people to go, including the Superdome. The mayor called the order unprecedented and said anyone who could leave the city should. He exempted hotels from the evacuation order because airlines had already cancelled all flights. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.
This means that all three levels of government, from city to state to federal, recognized the severity of the storm and knew what had to be done and should have anticipated the worst.
Each level of government appears to have failed:
1. City Failure Prior to the Storm:
According to the Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan
(Revised January 2000), page 13, paragraph 5:
5. The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.
This plan was not followed. Photos online show now-flooded school and municipal buses that must have been available for evacuation purposes at the time that the mandatory evacuation was ordered. See here
, and here
. Why weren't these buses used to evacuate the poor people who couldn't leave on their own? And why were hotels exempted from the evacuation order if these buses could have been used?
Why didn't Mayor Nagin act on this plan since he did
order a mandatory evacuation?
2. State Failure After the Storm:
According to the September 4th issue of the Washington Post
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.
Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."
Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.
This passage doesn't make anybody look good, but let's focus on the state level. It appears from this Washington Post
report that Governor Blanco and others at that level were more concerned about looking good . . . well, looking less bad anyway . . . than about rushing a coordinated relief effort even at a time when the city was descending into chaos.
And I don't understand why Governor Blanco was so slow about requesting multi-state mutual aid or declaring a state of emergency.
Why didn't Blanco set aside politics and act promptly?
3. Federal Failure After the Storm:
It took Bush rather long to act. Waiting for the local and state levels to do something made no sense under the circumstances. I'm running out of blogging time, so I'll just link
to this disappointed Bush supporter and echo her words. Who gives a flying finkerninkle
about Trent Lott? Well . . . maybe Bush does
We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch.
Trent Lott has lost his house? So have a hundred thousand other people, most of them with fewer means of rebuilding than Senator Lott
. And why this gratuitous mention of Lott
I don't understand why Bush didn't act sooner. In a crisis like this, one acts immediately and worries about getting approval later.
Once again, at all three levels of government, we have seen incompetence in America's political leaders. Just last night, my wife remarked,
"I thought that American politics worked better than Korean politics."
"I'm beginning to wonder," I replied.
A lot of politicians are going to find themselves living in interesting times when the muddy waters clear.