Hurricane Katrina did a hop and a skip over the Florida peninsula, took a deep breath while putting her head down, and skewered the United States right in her oily underbelly. The wind and storm surge chewed up Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as efficiently as any nightmare nuclear blast. Sure, a bomb would have left a big hole in the ground; otherwise, this storm wins the contest hands down.
Now as our nation agonizes and grieves for those affected, ugly demons have raised their heads from the ruins and shocked everyone the world over. The media has displayed for all to see, images of desperate people finding their way to dry spots within the flooded city of New Orleans. Embedded reporters capture and magnify distraught and stressed-out cries for help, coming from sick old men and terrified mothers as they hold their babies.
The reporters describe misery and tragedy in shocking detail, and echo the questions asked of them. Where is the government? Why are they not taking care of us? Why are we still standing here? I suppose the news media cannot help but become enmeshed in the misery. After all, how could you stand next to rotting corpses on the side of an American Interstate Highway, and not become part of the story?
There is no doubt, this phenomenon has riled up the American people. What this reality-TV style news fails to accomplish; however, is to adequately portray the other side, or as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”
The impression given is that the Federal government was sitting on its hands until President Bush finished wiping barbeque sauce from his chin. The viewer is left thinking that the relief workers from FEMA were having a wine and cheese party on the outskirts of the city, while stranded citizens were wallowing in feces and urine at the Super Dome.
Hurricane Katrina left devastation over something like 100,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast. New Orleans, a relatively small portion of the devastated area, presents an unusual quandary for disaster relief efforts. Unlike other flooding disasters, flood waters in New Orleans cannot drain away naturally and will remain until the water can be manually pumped out of the city.
There is no way to drive convoys of supplies to many effected areas. People who made it to dry land are not in as much danger as those left stranded in attics and rooftops; thus, the initial rescue resources were concentrated on those at greatest risk.
Here is a real kicker for me. No one in their right mind could have dreamt that American Citizens would turn into roving mobs of murdering thieves. No one would believe that helicopter pilots would be forced to abandon hospital evacuations, because crowds of gun toting men were bent on commandeering the helicopters. Who ever thought that hospitals could not use their ambulances to move patients, because gun toting thugs would car-jack the ambulances?
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and his Emergency Chief, Terry Ebbert have literally come unglued, calling the efforts by FEMA and the Federal Government an embarrassment. Their tantrums have been widely reported without any accompanying examination of the merits of the charges. When one takes even a moment to think about it, the hypocrisy almost jumps out and slaps you right in the face.
The most glaring indictment of these men rests in an utter lack of planning for the evacuation of New Orleans. There was apparently no regard given for the hundred thousand people who would be unable to leave on their own due to economic or physical circumstances.
Why did the City of New Orleans not have a mass transit evacuation plan in place? Was there a plan to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes? Was there a plan to evacuate tourists from hotels in the middle of the city? These are some of the horrible stories we are hearing today, so the answer is obviously no.
The eventual flooding of New Orleans has been widely discussed for years, if not decades. Where was the Mayoral leadership following the disaster? Police and fire personnel were left to wander the streets in shock. What happened to the local emergency communication system, necessary to coordinate local efforts with Federal and State assistance?
In the aftermath of this horror, an enormous failure on the part of the City of New Orleans, her Mayor, and her Chief Emergency officer is clear. Had they been concerned with the plight of those they now cry for in front of the cameras, many lives may have been saved, and the enormous task of evacuating tens of thousands from the aftermath could have been greatly reduced. I say that the blame has been shamefully misdirected by those who should rightfully bear it.
Copyright ©2005, Phil Harris - All Rights Reserved