[Paleopsych] The Week: Katrina: Anatomy of a man-made disaster.

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Wed Sep 21 22:25:57 UTC 2005

Katrina: Anatomy of a man-made disaster.

[Note this: "Hundreds of volunteer firefighters were detained in Atlanta
for days of training on community relations and sexual harassment."]


    Walter Maestri, emergency manager of Jefferson Parish, La., had
    dreaded this call for a decade, said Susan Glasser in The Washington
    Post. It was Friday night, Aug. 26, and Max Mayfield, director of the
    National Hurricane Center, was on the phone. Walter, said Mayfield,
    get ready. This could be the one. Hurricane Katrina, churning across
    the Gulf of Mexico, was hungrily sucking up energy from the warm
    water. It was growing into a real monster, Mayfield said, a Category 4
    or 5, and it was headed for New Orleans. Maestri uttered just three
    words: Oh, my God.
    New Orleans, built below sea level, had long expected a storm like
    Katrina, said Keith OBrien in The Boston Globe. In theory, the city,
    state, and federal governments were prepared to evacuate the city and
    minimize the damage. An elaborate disaster plan existed on paper. But
    in the critical hours between the first warningsmore than two days
    before the hurricane made landfallto the breaching of the citys levees
    on Monday, government officials at every levellocal, state, and
    federalmisjudged, miscommunicated, and underestimated both the power
    of the storm and the seriousness of the aftermath. The cascading
    series of failures left about 80,000 stranded in the city for days,
    without adequate food or water, and may have contributed to hundreds
    of deaths.
    The plan was flawed from the start, said Andrew Martin in the Chicago
    Tribune. Last year, local, state, and federal officials ran a mock
    hurricane drill for New Orleans, and it became clear that about
    one-fourth of New Orleans 485,000 residents would not be able to
    evacuate the city on their own. But in July, Mayor C. Ray Nagin and
    other city officials quietly decided it would be too difficult to
    provide enough buses or other transportation to evacuate 100,000
    people. In a DVD distributed in poor neighborhoods, the city
    effectively told residents they were on their own.
    Little help came from Washington, said Mark Thompson in Time. As
    Katrina bore down on the city, Nagin frantically pleaded for 700 buses
    from FEMA. FEMA delivered only 100. FEMA director Michael Brown
    ordered 1,000 federal workers into the region, but gave them two full
    days to report. Browns boss, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael
    Chertoff, also acted with no urgency, said the Chicago Tribune. He
    waited 32 hours after Katrina hit the city to declare the hurricane an
    incident of national significance, which theoretically could have
    brought the full weight of the federal government to bear. By then,
    the levees had failed, 80 percent of the city was underwater, and
    nearly 50,000 people had taken refuge in the Superdome and the citys
    Convention Center.
    When FEMA finally clanked into operation, said Eric Lipton in The New
    York Times, it actually impeded rescue efforts with its bureaucratic
    red tape. Hundreds of volunteer firefighters were detained in Atlanta
    for days of training on community relations and sexual harassment. The
    agency wouldnt let water trucks make a delivery for stranded victims
    because they didnt have a tasker number. Evacuation vehicles from
    neighboring states were denied entry, one sheriff complained, because
    dispatchers were working on the paperwork.
    City officials compounded the problem, said Deroy Murdock in National
    Review Online, by blocking relief efforts by the Salvation Army and
    Red Cross. The two agencies were able and eager to deliver water,
    food, medicine, and other relief to the citys stranded residents. But
    local authorities turned them away, fearing that the supplies would
    encourage residents to settle in for the long haul instead of leaving.
    As the crisis worsened, said Karen Tumulty in Time, Gov. Kathleen
    Blanco appeared dazed and unsteady. After the city flooded, she asked
    President Bush for everything you got, but without specifics. Blanco
    simply assumed Washington would know what to do. She turned out to be
    President Bush didnt realize how bad things were until Thursdaythree
    days after the city was swamped, said Evan Thomas in Newsweek. The day
    the levees failed, he went through his prepared schedule, making a
    speech about Medicare, attending a birthday party with Sen. John
    McCain, and clowning around with a gift guitar. At a press conference,
    he told FEMAs Brown, Brownie, youre doing a great job. Four days into
    the crisis, Bush finally touched down in the region on Air Force One,
    and met with Mayor Nagin, Gov. Blanco, and a group of other officials.
    The meeting was heated, with Nagin slamming his fist on a table and
    demanding, Whos in charge? Officials gave Bush chapter and verse on
    FEMAs multiple screw-ups. According to one witness, the president just
    shook his head, as if he couldnt believe what he was hearing.

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