Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A disaster of a plan

Some of the harshest criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Katrina disaster has come from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Well, as CNN reports Mayor Nagin was involved in an informational campaign earlier this summer designed to instruct the city's poor about what to do in the event of an evacuation. The Mayor's message to the poor? "You are on your own".

On July 24, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported that city, state and federal emergency officials were recording video messages as part of a campaign organized by the anti-poverty group Total Community Action.

About 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded last week when levees collapsed in Katrina's wake, trapping thousands of the city's poorest residents. Mayor Ray Nagin has estimated the death toll could reach 10,000 in the city, most of which lies below sea level.

The response by local, state and federal officials was chaotic in the first days following the storm.

Thousands of residents who were unable or unwilling to leave the city were stranded without food or drinkable water for days.

Nagin, who bluntly criticized the feds for their response to the disaster, was among those taking part in the campaign to the poor.

In an interview with the paper, he summarized his message: "You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," he said.

"If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. But we don't have the transportation."

{sigh} Once again...

It was unclear exactly what language he and others used in their taped messages.

The Times-Picayune said other speakers included representatives of the Louisiana State Police and National Weather Service.

The message was to be distributed on DVDs across the city, the newspaper said in the July article. But it was unclear whether any of the city's poorest residents received the message by the time Hurricane Katrina struck last week.

It is also unclear as to why the city assumed the poor would have DVD PLAYERS.

The newspaper also reported that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned to make 64 buses and 10 lift vans available in the event of an emergency. But "whether that means out of town or to local shelters of last resort would depend on emergency planners' decision at that moment," an agency spokeswoman told the paper.

The paper said government officials acknowledged that even that plan would help only a fraction of the city's poor population.

The plan was not followed in the case of Katrina. City and state officials have said no one was sent to poor communities to ensure people knew about mandatory evacuation orders.

One of the central criticisms of government response to Katrina centers on the failure to reach out to the's city large impoverished population and make sure people were aware of mandatory evacuation orders and had the means to flee.

The Bush administration has come under fire for what critics have called a slow federal response to the disaster.

What we have here is a local government that simply dropped the ball. They had years to prepare for this type of disaster but rather than spend their money on rescue and contingency plans, they chose instead to invest in DVD's informing the less-fortunate that they were essentially screwed.

From all appearances, New Orleans and Louisiana have a hands-off type of government that operates under an entitlement mentality. When the going gets tough, the mayor and governor respond by throwing their hands in the air and wondering why nobody is taking care of the situation for them. By contrast, Mississippi and Alabama were able to manage their own affairs quite handily and they did so without whining or assigning blame.

And yes I'm aware that those two states didn't have to deal with flooding and broken levees. But they also didn't have to deal with armed delinquents laying siege to an entire city. That kind of thing only occurs when a corrupt and permissive government conditions a population into believing that whatever they want is theirs for the taking.

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