More on Katrina: Failure to Prevent Catastrophe!
Photo of Canal Street, New Orleans, August 31, 2005
Trying to find out what may have gone wrong in this disaster, I came across this interesting article today with some more information:
The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al-Qaida.The article continues:
"What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism."
Budget cuts haven't made disaster preparedness any easier.A mess. Inept leadership. Nothing surprises me anymore.
Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios now playing out, including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam.
This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens.
Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director.
"A lot of good was done, but it just wasn't finished," said Tolbert, who was the disaster chief for the state of North Carolina. "I don't know if it would have saved more lives. It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives."
FEMA wasn't alone in cutting hurricane spending in New Orleans and the surrounding area.
Federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana has been chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005, according to budget documents. Federal hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu requested $27 million this year.
Both the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper and a local business magazine reported that the effects of the budget cuts at the Army Corps of Engineers were severe.
In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported.
"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri told the newspaper. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
The Army Corps' New Orleans office, facing a $71 million cut, also eliminated funds to pay for a study on how to protect the Crescent City from a Category 5 storm, New Orleans City Business reported in June.
Being prepared for a disaster is basic emergency management, disaster experts say.
For example, in the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.
Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.
"These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was," said Witt, a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure.
But maybe President Bush can plant a flag somewhere on the Super Dome. A good photo-op would be nice. He is already connecting this to 9/11.
He said that while the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were a man-made disaster, the aftermath of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina were "just as serious in both cases."Maybe he can start the neverending war against natural terror? Or maybe he can spend a little more time being President, and a little less time fishing, mountain biking, and taking a nap.
"New Orleans is more devastated than New York was," Bush said.
America deserves better!