Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Rant By Chaz 9.1.05

concerning the government's response to the New Orleans/ Gulf Coast disaster. Not that anything could prevent forces of nature, but the evacuation has been slow, people are dying and the images are frankly horrifying. Here is a rant from Chicago; Chaz, take it away. this is printed with very limited edits and editor's notes.

Fact: Both FEMA and the Red Cross identified a cat 4/5 hurricane as the biggest potential catastrophe in the US, apart from some sort of national nuclear/chemical/germ warfare crisis.

Fact: The Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) is facing a budget cut of 60% as proposed by a certain head of state.

Fact: The US Army Corps of Engineers is facing a $50 million shortfall this fiscal year. They're the guys who are in charge of repairing/maintaining the levee system that failed.

Fact: The entire system has been patched up for years, but recently, it has sunk to all-time lows.

Assumption: In light of knowing all of this, I would think a certain burden of responsibility must fall on certain groups to insure the safety of those if such a crisis were to occur, which everyone (yeah, everyone, accepted as an inevitable event).

From the FED: maybe not having expectations of you lowered so much that people feel honored you're taking two whole days of a month long vacation touring ranches with doped up athletes and such to get your head in the game. Maybe having your first full briefing on the crisis as it is happening rather than waiting until after you do a fly by and land 48 hours later to get involved. This ain't the Texas Rangers. Obviously, none of us are privy to all of the details, but maybe getting ships to leave port from MD could have been accomplished on Sunday when it was obvious something big was going to hit the Gulf Coast. Rather than waiting until yesterday.

I would say that part of the problem is what happened – the levees breaking – was not the disaster event everyone expected. They were thinking of the direct hit, streets and buildings torn off their moorings and then followed by a deluge; but the possibility of the levees breaking was real. I don’t know about starting the ships early; the Gulf Coast waters were likely very very rough even where the storm had passed. Perhaps that was a factor. And what’s with President ThumbUpMyAss anyway?

From the Fed/States: maybe donating more than 100 national guardsmen to restore order in a location where there are guns, hungry, thirsty, sick, ticked off people. You can send 100,000+ to Iraq, you can surely offer up more than 100. Especially when the ticked off people with guns are the reason being cited for lack of response to tend to the thirsty/dying ones. You think it's a little interesting that we can commit thousands to peace keeping for a project that began under the guise of protecting people here against those terrorist states bent on killing us? Especially when we're seeing something that will probably lead to more casualties than NYC.

So. Very. True. There are more guardsmen on the way; but it is important to note: this is why we don’t go off on wartime engagements with our reserves unless necessary. There was no imminent threat (which was clear but somehow obscured in the Congressional debates on Iraq). And anyone who though for a second would realize that everytime the US sticks its nose in somewhere, we end up leaving troops. The Philippines. Israel. Germany. We’re expected to stay and help out. And when we have eliminated the structure of a nation, we are expected to be that structure. Who the hell didn’t think “crapcakes, if something happens stateside, we don’t have as many capable hands at security and building infrastructure as we could”?

I can second guess to death here, but i would think that multiple, stocked, secured staging/triage areas would be important. With breathable air. On somewhat high ground. Telling people how to get to them would be important (blimps, planes with message banners, leaflets, anyone?). Medical ships and supply ships with helicopters ASAP would be important. A sufficient response here is still currently not in place. Storing 100-200 stripped down rescue boats on trailers, inland at multiple locations, would be important. At least preferable to patching together 20 or so on short notice and relying on additional fisherman volunteers to rescue tens of thousands. I would think that forcibly removing people from their homes (at least those who were healthy) and putting them on municipal buses might be good too. Pumps don't work because the motors are flooded. Gee, what about elevating the motor in a secured housing at an elevation above the water level they are pumping against? None of us have all of the answers here, but we're not paid to assess these situations and come up with these solutions.

Advance preparations. Like the boats at the ready. Maybe upriver. Maybe in Texas. This could have been done better.


Thanks, Chaz, for your rant.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for tolerating my bitchiness today Norman. I think we're pretty much in agreement on this one: this is one enormous clusterfuck.

As for people not expecting the levees to break, and interesting question was posed to a senior staffer in the New Orleans office of the Army Corps of Engineers in an article at

Why didn't the levees hold for the storm?

Answer: We were only permitted to make build for a cat 3 storm.

This is a once every 50 or so year event down there. There isn't much protection anyone can offer for a cat 5 storm, but I would think that flooding the city after a catastrophic storm would be reasonably termed "unacceptable" every 50 years.

To paraphrase a comment taken from the BBC from a Dutch official, who you think would know a thing or two about irrigation and levees: I find it hard to believe this could happen in a developed country.

Anonymous said... you think this same slow as molasses reaction to the catastrophe would of been different if it occurred in a city that had a median income over $60,000 and wasn't 80% black? If this shit occurred in NYC or DC...people would be flown out of the city and into the hands of rescue personnel ASAP. Now we look forward to 1000's dead and BUSH blaming higher gas prices on Katrina instead of Iraq.

Pico said...

- i find it hard that this could happen in a developed country also. i mean, we fucking lost a city. no matter what they say about rebuilding, this is a disaster area, an environmental wasteland, for some time.

- if this were new york or dc, the media and political capitals? we would have been riding out to ohio and tennessee no problem. no doubt. then again, there are a lot more people over here so that would be a much more intense evacuation. i can't believe that bush wanted higher gas prices and hundreds of really broke people dead. having just written that i also can see that there are obviously some higher priorities out there to certain decision makers. and as we have seen, some higher priorities to certain people trying to return tax money to people when we have a large nation in need of infrastructure improvements; a nation that is interconnected. one disaster does affect us all.

neverecho said...

Thought this was really interesting -- tidbits of foreign press reaction to the aftermath of the hurricane.

p.s. Chaz, I do completely agree that the government was unprepared for a disaster of this scale and that everything that's going on down there right now is horrible, but I refuse to believe that the lack of immediate aid had anything to do with the race/income of the people who live down there, that's just too awful.

Pico said...

i think that it's not an active let those people die sort of thing, but there are some people who have more pull in government, who are more seen. it's about (perhaps- i don't know how i would have planned out the same situation, really) maybe not going the extra mile

and maybe we're giving our government too much credit in terms of their responses. during 9/11 it was city based rescue teams that were on hand when the towers fell, and city residents and emergency workers who were digging in the rubble. help came from all over; but i think we all know federal ANYTHING takes a long time to arrive.

mattbk said...

dont mean to dork up the convo, but they couldnt have put the pumps at higher ground: pumps only work well if placed at the lowest possible level and are allowed to push the water out. once the motor is flooded, youre screwed. agreed about the levees though, see this:

levees arent much of anything but dirt and vegetation, and are the oldest known method for flood control. this was an accident waiting to happen.

Pico said...

thanks for dorking up the conversation. seriously, you are much more in the know about the technical aspects so if you want to, send another note with your commentary.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the comment at 12:57 wasn't mine. But I do find it a strange coincidence that New Orleans has the highest rate of poverty and lowest household income of any of the US' 50 largest urban areas.

So yeah, I guess in a way my thinking isn't too much different from 12:57am anon.