Wednesday, September 07, 2005


If the levees had been higher and stronger, the damage Katrina inflicted on New Orleans could have been minimized. Given that there were several CAT-IV hurricanes in the Gulf in the early 20th Century, and the damage that would be inflicted on New Orleans if it were hit by a storm like Katrina had long been predicted, this is apparently a case of negligence. But since no federal administration from the time of Franklin Roosevelt on has sought to build levees strong enough to withstand a Katrina force hurricane, finger-pointing is pointless.

It took nearly four days before meaningful help arrived for thousands who gathered for shelter in New Orleans' Superdome, prompting many in the news media to describe the federal relief effort as a "shame" and a "national disgrace."

This says more about the ignorance and bias of journalists than it does about the federal relief effort. Because the fundamental fact — unreported by any major media outlet — is that the federal response to Katrina has been much more swift than to any previous natural disaster, despite far greater challenges.

Katrina made landfall at 6:10 a.m. Central time last Monday. The main levee protecting New Orleans breached around 1:00 a.m. Tuesday. By Friday, hundreds of tons of relief supplies were pouring into the area, despite the fact that many of the roads and airports were covered with water or strewn with debris. The rapid federal response was made possible because President Bush declared federal emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi the Friday before Katrina struck, permitting relief supplies to be prepositioned.

Much suffering might have been alleviated if authorities in Louisiana had acted as promptly. Bush asked Friday that a mandatory evacuation be ordered, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco took a day to think about it, and refused Bush's request to put the Louisiana National Guard under federal control.

Mayor Ray Nagin didn't order a mandatory evacuation until Sunday morning.

New Orleans had a plan to use the city's buses to evacuate those who did not have automobiles, but no effort was made to implement it.

Looting began shortly after the levee was breached early Tuesday, but Gov. Blanco didn't authorize the National Guard to help enforce the law, or ask for help from National Guard troops outside Louisiana until Wednesday.

Order broke down mostly because two thirds of the New Orleans police force was AWOL, and some cops were among the looters. It's hard to see how this is President Bush's fault. But Blanco and Nagin are blaming Bush for their own shortcomings, and the news media are trumpeting their charges without examining them.

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