Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Katrina Kills

‘ Let the Niggers die……’
must have been the subconscious mindset at the White House as New Orleans filled with water and hundreds of thousands of Americans became stranded in rising water during the first few days following hurricane Katrina’s trip through the Crescent City. One thing’s for sure, this tragedy has laid bare the routinely covered tracks of class and race that still divide this country. There were failures at all levels of government from George Bush all the way down to the individuals who looted items other than food, clothing and shelter. It was a series of unfortunate events, most of them completely controllable, that left hundreds of thousands of mostly black Americans to survive or die on their own.

The factor that is most sinister, oppressive and damaging to the individuals affected is the subconscious racism that still permeates every corner of our society. Most white people and Bill Cosby say that it is the fault of the downtrodden minorities that they are still downtrodden. If you think nearly two centuries of government sanctioned apartheid has been erased by less than half a century’s affirmative action you are living in the Matrix and I hope Morphius visits you soon! Take the RED pill. This lingering subconscious apartheid leads to unequal education and opportunity. It causes default judgments to occur in your mind. Like, the two white guys with crew cuts hanging out on one corner are good old boys and the two black guys with short hair hanging out on another corner are drug dealers. The most public and a classic example of this is the Associated Press’s now infamous pair of photos depicting different groups of Katrina survivors. In one photo, white people are seen “finding” what they need to survive in a local grocery store while in another photo black people are seen “looting” what they need to survive from the same store. Is it the color of the individuals’ skin, the neighborhood or the income of the people that drowned that caused their deaths? No. A natural disaster caused the deaths. Their race and class just made them much more vulnerable. While everyone is writhing in the agony of Katrina you should remember that poverty, a by-product of racism, kills more people every year than terrorism and natural disasters combined

At the Federal level, the first failures began occurring as long ago as the 1990’s when scientists studying global warming filed reports regarding the retreating coastlines and began asking for money to restore the costal wetlands all along the gulf coast. The Clinton administration funded these projects but once President Bush was appointed in 2000, money for these critical efforts was dramatically cut to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and an illegal war in Iraq which by the way has made the response capability of both the Guard and the Military to this tragedy more tenuous. Two more Bush mistakes that Katrina would expose were President Bush’s lowering of the status of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from a Cabinet level office with the ear of the President to a division of Homeland Security two layers removed from the White House. The appointment of long time Bush friend, State government intern and mediocre horse trainer David “Brownie” Brown to be head of FEMA was a crime against America. I know appointing friends to political patronage jobs is a long standing, dishonorable and widely accepted American tradition, but to appoint such an unqualified person to a job on which American lives are dependant is criminally negligent.
FEMA’s continuing incompetence is too broad, too pervasive and too ongoing to try to cover in the space I am allotted here, but here’s just one more for you. Right now there are hundreds of loads of ice in refrigerated trailers all around the country waiting to come to Louisiana Mississippi and Alabama. FEMA could have dropped them in the stricken areas near where they are needed. The contents would be available to those who need it and they would only need to pay someone to keep the refrigeration units full of fuel. Instead they are scattered about the country and we are paying truck drivers and storage facilities to hold them.

The State of Louisiana failed when it was slow to move in the National Guard and resisted the presence of the American Military when President Bush first moved to deploy the 82nd Airborne into the area. This hesitation in the face of disaster cost lives. The Governor was worried about losing administrative control over the situation. In reality she had already lost control and was incapable of getting it back without the help of the military. The US Military is the only organization large enough; disciplined enough; mobile enough and well enough equipped to deal with anything a devastating as hurricane Katrina. The Governor should have had National Guard troops enter the city concurrent to the water’s entry so that order could have been maintained and logistical support provided to the emergency services that were still operating. The US Coast Guard was on the scene as soon as the wind died down and in the first few days rescued more than 6000 people with 11 helicopters operating 24 hours a day. They are the only government heroes in this tragedy. The main reason they were able to respond so effectively and quickly is because they weren’t listening to FEMA or the Governor or the Mayor. They were simply executing a task that they are well trained for and pre authorized to perform. The Governor needs to assign “Basics Missions” to 2 different units of the National Guard: a Water & Food unit; a Shelter and Sewage unit. These units would operate like the Coast Guard, independently and automatically once an emergency was declared. An emergency in this tragedy was declared two days prior to the failure of the levees. If these units existed, the points of last refuge would be secured and stocked when refugees arrived. Information collected from refugees by these first responders could be used to facilitate the Military’s search and rescue efforts when they arrive.

Local failures that lead to unnecessary death and disorder were: the Mayor’s lack of an adequate evacuation plan (in May of this year the Mayor actually released a PSA that basically told New Orleanians that they were on their own when it came to evacuation); the unanticipated desertion of officers from the New Orleans Police Depatment; and negligently poor planning for situations that could not only be predicted, they should have been obvious.

Poor planning like, why were hospitals allowed to have their generators the basement? Doh! Where were the giant potable water reservoirs? Most hospitals don’t have them! Potable water tanks should be large and in the basement. Generators should be on the roof! Power should be divided by floors so that as a floor is abandoned to the rising water it can be disconnected and does not take down the entire facility. Why don’t hospitals have large drainable sewage tanks to where waste can be diverted when sewage systems fail? What were the architects and planners thinking? Every medical facility, retirement home and designated point of last refuge should be stocked with more than enough of the basics to allow refugees to survive until Federal help arrives.

Order is the most important factor for the public at large. The New Orleans Police Department lost command and control and was immobilized by the rising water. A state with more swamp buggies than any other, more air boats, more john boats, more pirogue’s, more fucking shallow water conveyances of various types than any other state, and they were immobilized! Why doesn’t the NOPD have a few of these? And how many more 9-11’s and Katrina’s will have to happen before emergency services of all forms abandon their centralized communications systems that fail when the repeaters and base stations fall victim to the event. This was the biggest problem for Police in NYC on 9-11 and it repeated itself in spades in New Orleans. Without communications or the ability to move about much of the New Orleans Police force abandoned their stations and went to try to help family, protect property or just fled a deteriorating situation they had no ability to control. A situation that would not have deteriorated so precipitously or as far as it did if the basic needs of the refugees had been provided for.

Poor evacuation planning left busses, hundreds of them parked in lots on Friday and Saturday prior to the storm where they were destroyed by the storm surge. Their drivers should have been ordered to stay and transport the thousands of people who had no car or money to get out on their own and then loaded with ice, water and MRE’s on the return trip for those who could not get out in time. Everyone who wants to get out and has enough time should be facilitated in evacuating. EVERYONE!

Because evacuation did not include everyone, officials made a decision to send people to the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. Both last resort destinations were cruel jokes. No food. No water. No security. No place to take a shit. How come we can we get enough port-a-potties for an outdoor concert with an expected attendance of 200,000 with 24 hours notice and one phone call but there were none in place in the designated shelters 5 days after the problem had become desperate? The department of Homeland Security prevented the Red cross from going to either location for days. Network TV reporters could get in but the Red Cross and the National Guard couldn’t get a truckload or two of basic supplies in? COME ON! The Police said they were too scared and out numbered to provide security. TOUGH SHIT COPPER! Get in there and put yourself in harms way for the law abiding citizens. That’s what we pay you for. And again I ask the Governor, where was the National Guard? Last time I saw a National Guardsman on duty he was packing an M-16 and wearing a flack jacket. He’d make short work of a thug with a gun stolen from a pawn shop.

You may or may not have noticed that I have not used the word ‘flood’ in describing what happened to New Orleans, and for good reason. The insurance industry is adding insult to injury by contending that wind driven water (storm surge) is equivalent to flood water (rainfall) and is denying insurance coverage to anyone who has a waterline in their house. They will and should lose this argument. Rainfall totals cannot account for the water depth that was evident in most neighborhoods. Only wind. Water is no different than any other inanimate object that is propelled by the wind and causes subsequent damage. If wind blows a car or a tree into your house you’re covered. If wind blows water into your house you should be covered too. But for the wind (legal ease), neither the car, nor the tree nor the water would have damaged your house. Many properties destroyed by the storm surge are above 100 year flood planes and will still be after this storm because this wasn’t a flood. A hypothetical example: A large water tank above and adjacent to your mountain side house fails in a windstorm and the water released from the split open tank destroys your house on its way down the hill. Have you been in a flood? Is your house now below the flood plane? Will your insurance company even hint about not paying? No. NO. And NO!

And lastly I offer a solution that eliminates almost every problem I wrote about above that relates to storm surge. Fill it in, the whole city. Turn New Orleans into a city constructed on a dome, not in a bowl. If that creates a few extra floors below ground level in office buildings that survived, so be it. Turn New Orleans into the world’s largest landfill project. Raise the elevation of every square foot of New Orleans to 3 feet above high tide and provide those who’s houses and buildings were destroyed by the storm enough money to rebuild. Let’s make New Orleans the poster city for the right way to rebuild in costal areas that suffer severe storm damage. Raise the elevation of the land, strengthen the buildings and restore the costal buffers that provide natural protection to lives and property. Don’t just “set ‘em up” so Mother Nature can “knock ‘em down” again because she will eventually someday come knocking once more.

The President has not attacked this problem with the same fervor he exhibited during 9-11 when the enemy was terrorism. Perhaps it is partially because the victims are just a bunch of poor black people who don’t vote for him anyway. Perhaps it was because no one on his staff wanted to tell him the truth as some have said. There is probably some truth to both deeply troubling assumptions. I hope the handling of the aftermath of Katrina drives the death nail deep into Bush’s coffin. He has failed at every aspect of governing since 9-11. He’s killing us all, literally; both here and abroad.


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