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September 4, 2005
Katrina: Dry Run Taught New Orleans Nothing

Marc from Cranial Cavity notes that the issues of evacuation had come to light before in New Orleans, almost exactly a year ago, in the advance of Hurrican Ivan through the Gulf. This report demonstrates that the problem experienced this week in The Big Easy did not arise from ignorance or a failure of imagination, but directly from incompetence in the city administration and specifically by Mayor Ray Nagin:

Those who had the money to flee Hurricane Ivan ran into hours-long traffic jams. Those too poor to leave the city had to find their own shelter - a policy that was eventually reversed, but only a few hours before the deadly storm struck land.

New Orleans dodged the knockout punch many feared from the hurricane, but the storm exposed what some say are significant flaws in the Big Easy's civil disaster plans.

Much of New Orleans is below sea level, kept dry by a system of pumps and levees. As Ivan charged through the Gulf of Mexico, more than a million people were urged to flee. Forecasters warned that a direct hit on the city could send torrents of Mississippi River backwash over the city's levees, creating a 20-foot-deep cesspool of human and industrial waste.

Residents with cars took to the highways. Others wondered what to do.

"They say evacuate, but they don't say how I'm supposed to do that," Latonya Hill, 57, said at the time. "If I can't walk it or get there on the bus, I don't go. I don't got a car. My daughter don't either."

Advocates for the poor were indignant.

"If the government asks people to evacuate, the government has some responsibility to provide an option for those people who can't evacuate and are at the whim of Mother Nature," said Joe Cook of the New Orleans ACLU.

Please note the date of this report: Septemer 19, 2004. Nagin and New Orleans knew these problems existed almost a year before Katrina hit and the levees failed. In fact, both Nagin and Kathleen Blanco noted the failure of the New Orleans effort to evacuate people from the city.

Nagin also provided a quote which showed that using the Superdome not only presented known difficulties, but that the city had previously avoided using it for those exact reasons (emphases mine):

In this case, city officials first said they would provide no shelter, then agreed that the state-owned Louisiana Superdome would open to those with special medical needs. Only Wednesday afternoon, with Ivan just hours away, did the city open the 20-story-high domed stadium to the public.

Mayor Ray Nagin's spokeswoman, Tanzie Jones, insisted that there was no reluctance at City Hall to open the Superdome, but said the evacuation was the top priority.

"Our main focus is to get the people out of the city," she said.

Callers to talk radio complained about the late decision to open up the dome, but the mayor said he would do nothing different.

"We did the compassionate thing by opening the shelter," Nagin said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't have a repeat performance of what happened before. We didn't want to see people cooped up in the Superdome for days."

Not only did Nagin know that the Superdome would prove inadequate for shelter for any period longer than a few hours, he encouraged people to gather there without providing the resources he knew that shelter to lack. Instead, he ran off to Baton Rouge despite his responsibility to oversee the execution of the emergency-response plans and ranted at Bush for not reacting quickly enough to the disaster.

And the Exempt Media, by and large, have covered for Nagin's incompetence. Does anyone seriously wonder why?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 4, 2005 9:49 AM

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