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September 4, 2005
Katrina: Not Just New Orleans

Mississippians have largely fallen off the media's radar screens as the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans holds the nation's attention. However, the scale of Katrina's devastation goes much farther than the jewel of the Delta, and its victims have heard enough about the specific tragedies of New Orleans:

Mississippi hurricane survivors looked around Saturday and wondered just how long it would take to get food, clean water and shelter. And they were more than angry at the federal government and the national news media.

Richard Gibbs was disgusted by reports of looting in New Orleans and upset at the lack of attention hurricane victims in his state were getting.

"I say burn the bridges and let 'em all rot there," he said. "We're suffering over here too, but we're not killing each other. We've got to help each other. We need gas and food and water and medical supplies."

The media has painted a distorted picture of the disaster almost from the beginning, and certainly after the levees broke on Lake Pontchartrain. The scope of 9/11 was a few city blocks in New York and Washington DC, and if one relied on the Exempt Media coverage for Katrina, the impression it gives is that the scope for Katrina's impact falls mainly on an entire city.

However, vast stretches of Mississippi have been devastated by Katrina, with towns like Biloxi and Gulfport almost completely destroyed. The area of destruction requiring attention comprises the same square mileage as England. Getting resources to all affected points within that zone simultaneously would take an unprecedented, Herculean effort that no one could have anticipated prior to landfall on Monday morning.

The federal government has sent 7,000 troops to get assistance to the entire region, and the states have activated 40,000 National Guard troops to deploy there as well. They will need to build temporary bridges and roads to get airfields in order. The airfields will receive the supplies that require still more clear roads for delivery to the stricken areas and people. It's not impossible, but it clearly requires tight logistical planning and execution and full attention to the problem.

So why doesn't the media give coverage to the wider devastation of Katrina? For one thing, they have the same problem in Mississippi that the rescuers have -- a lack of access for their reporters. However, by narrowing the scope of the disaster recovery facing the states and federal emergency responders, it makes it easier to blame them for a poor response, when in fact the turnaround time for assistance on Katrina has historically been one of the best for hurricane disasters.

As long as the nation only looks at New Orleans, they can wonder why more help hasn't flooded into the Big Easy. Once the camera angle widens to include all of Katrina's devastation, that question answers itself.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 4, 2005 8:08 AM

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