07 September 2005

The Debate over New Orleans...

Ok, I'm really not trying to join the ranks of all the bloggers who are screaming about how ineffective or effective they themselves think the response to the crises in the Gulf has been. I'm sure there's plenty of information out there I don't know, and I actually don't plan on going into my own personal opinions about what I've heard -- but I did see something on the news (written article in the Durham Herald-Sun) today that I wanted to write about.

Three kids from Duke University got into a car and drove down to New Orleans to help out, after being bombarded with images of the disaster, tragedy, and news anchors still not believing they were lucky enough to get such a horrific event to report on. Apparently, they made their way through Mississippi and hit New Orleans, where officials turned them away from the city -- and they ended up volunteering elsewhere for two days. Come Saturday, they were frustrated enough to photo-shop themselves some journalist passes, which got them anywhere they wanted into the city.

"We waved the press pass, and they looked at each other, the two guards, and waved us on in," Buder said.
Crack security, right? They actually got seven people out of the city, and during their interview on CNN they claimed that there was no reason people sat there for five days, when busses were available and leaving the city empty. Now, I'm not really impressed by this story, because they don't address the fact that by the time the kids arrived, the convention center evacuation was basically complete. I don't know if the water levels changed, or what might have happened. Maybe the Duke students are right, people could have been taken out earlier. But there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the whole operation. The Washington post reported:
A Louisiana official said this morning the state won't make people leave their homes in the besieged city just one day after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin authorized law enforcement officers and the military to force the evacuation of all residents who refuse to leave. Released late Tuesday, Nagin's emergency declaration targets all those still in New Orleans who have not been designated by government officials as helping with the relief effort.
Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, La., Ed Jones, chief of disaster recovery and mitigation for the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security, said the decision to use the military and state rescue personnel to forcibly evacuate citizens from New Orleans lies with the governor, not with the mayor.

National Guard and state rescue workers have not received any communication from Mayor Nagin about forcing people out of their homes and an order to take such action would need to come from the governor, said Jones at disaster headquarters in Baton Rouge.
But later in New Orleans, Police Supt. Eddie Compass said city officials would go forward with the mayor's plan. He said once the "voluntary evacuations take place, then we will concentrate our efforts and forces to mandatorily evacuate residents."

Compass said thousands of people still wanted to voluntarily evacuate the city.

"We hope that most people cooperate," Compass said. "We have a large enough manpower force with the army and the state, city and federal agencies to do this expeditiously and as safe as possible." Compass said authorities will use "the minimal amount of force necessary to evacuate people from the city."

Officials said the authority for the mandatory evacuation order came through state statutes.
This a pretty basic thing that should be decided. There's no drinkable water down there. I don't know if there's food. I also think recovery priorities are slightly misplaced:
Also today, Doug Thornton, vice president of the firm that manages the Superdome, said the structure sustained "severe" damage, and estimated that repairing the facility will cost at least $100 million.

But, he said, it was premature to consider tearing the state-owned facility down, home of the New Orleans Saints, and officials won't have a firm estimate of the full extent of the damage for two months. Replacing the 30-year-old structure could cost up to $600 million, he said.

"We would like to salvage that building," said Thornton, noting that it hosted a papal visit, a presidential nomination and collegiate basketball championships. Structurally, he said, the facility is "steady as a rock."
Does anyone know what's going on down there? Is there any reason, with all the money we've spent on Homeland Security, to try and plan for a terrorist attack, that we can't respond to an act of nature? They're not so different, in terms of effect -- loss of communication, loss of life, etc. And where are the people planning to improve these responses? What the hell is everyone doing?

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