Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Price of Failure (Updated Again)

Last week I wrote of the turn away from saving people's lives in post-hurricane New Orleans to having the police protect property, including shooting looters indiscriminately. I agreed with fellow-blogger Aunt B. of Tiny Cat Pants, who wondered why, after three days, the National Guard still had not been sent into the city to establish order.

The L.A. Times has a story from the weekend on the arrival of the first federally-mustered National Guard units in New Orleans five days after Katrina left New Orleans. It confirms my belief that pulling 1,500 exhausted police officers (hundreds of whom are themselves missing) from search-and-rescue in order to protect property (and quite possibly shoot kids just stealing shoes and risk hitting innocents) was not a proper course of action. The proper course should have been to mobilize the National Guard from multiple states under federal coordination immediately after the Louisiana Governor had declared requested a state of emergency on August 28 27.

The Times piece also confirms my sense that once the Guard landed in New Orleans, they would confront mostly people who were innocent survivors and who were doing whatever was necessary to stay alive. In fact, the story tells that many survivors were taking care of other survivors, even with stolen goods. The Times reporter says that the soldiers, who were prepped for marauding bands of gangs, instead found a different mission: aiding in the rescue and care of survivors, action from which the police had been called away nearly a week ago.

How many lives in the city could have been saved if the focus had not shifted to police guarding property and had the National Guard and waiting first-responders rolled in on Monday or Tuesday Sunday or Monday of last week rather than than this past Friday and Saturday? The cost in human lives was simply too high and New Orleans never deserved to pay it.

09/07/2005, 3:26 p.m. Update: I have corrected the date above of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's request for a federal state of emergency and distinguished it from her declaration of a Louisiana state of emergency. Sorry for any confusion. Here is a timeline of local and state actions before the flooding:
  • Aug. 26 (Friday): Governor's declaration of a state of emergency in Louisiana and her request for troop assistance.
  • Aug. 27: Gov. Blanco requests a federal state of emergency. Federal emergency is declared giving federal officials the authority to get involved.
  • Aug. 28: Mayor Ray Nagin orders mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. National Hurricane Center warns President Bush of levee failure. National Weather Service predicts area will be "uninhabitable" after Katrina. Local paper begins to report water toppling over the levee.

09/09/2005, 12:35 p.m. Update: MSNBC reported just a few minutes ago that FEMA Director Mike Brown has been removed from his post overseeing Katrina relief and is being called back to Washington, D.C. There is some justice in that but not quite enough, in my opinion. President Bush, who rarely removes those in his employ, must have been motivated by yesterday's poll numbers that show up to 60% disapproval ratings and by criticism he's been getting this week over the federal response to the disaster, even from some in his own party.

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