Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Tale Of Two Storms Part Two

The verdict of Florida's emergency response officials is that not only did Louisiana fail to properly plan and train for an eminently forseeable disaster, but it also failed to follow the flawed plan it had:

One thing Florida knows is hurricanes.

Florida emergency planners criticized and even rebuked their counterparts -- or what passes for emergency planners -- in those states for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Jeb Bush, the head of Florida AHCA and the head of Florida wildlife (which is responsible for all search and rescue) all said they made offers of aid to Mississippi and Louisiana the day before Katrina hit but were rebuffed. After the storm, they said they've had to not only help provide people to those states but also have had to develop search and rescue plans for them. "They were completely unprepared -- as bad off as we were before Andrew," one Florida official said. ...

Louisiana also lacked an adequate plan to evacuate New Orleans, despite years of research that predicted a disaster equal to or worse than Katrina. Even after a disaster test run last year exposed weaknesses in evacuation and recovery, officials failed to come up with solutions. ...

But the most recent Louisiana emergency operations plan doesn't address how to evacuate in the case of flooding from storm surge, saying simply that "The Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area represents a difficult evacuation problem due to the large population and its unique layout."

It continues, "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating."

However, the article by a crew of Times writers instead inadvertently encapsulates the incompetence of Louisiana's governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, in a single anecdote that also calls into question the ability of the four reporters to properly investigate their subject matter.

The scene: three days after Katrina's landfall, and a day after the levees broke. The place: Baton Rouge. The setting: the state's command center for emergency response.

The governor of Louisiana was "blistering mad." It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived.

Ms. Blanco burst into the state's emergency center in Baton Rouge. "Does anybody in this building know anything about buses?" she recalled crying out.

They were an obvious linchpin for evacuating a city where nearly 100,000 people had no cars. Yet the federal, state and local officials who had failed to round up buses in advance were now in a frantic hunt. It would be two more days before they found enough to empty the shelters.

Why didn't Blanco know about these buses?

Did Louisiana and Governor Blanco follow any of its plan? Based on the report we read in the New York Times yesterday, it appears that Blanco didn't even know what the plan required, or even have any knowledge of the resources and responsibilities that the state government had.

Also note the date on Louisiana's EOP. Its last revision came in January 2000. No one in Louisiana has updated this plan despite the events that followed after that date:

* 9/11
* Hurricane Ivan (Sep 2004)
* Natural Hazards evaluation of LA/NO response (Nov 2004)

Florida officials have called this correctly. The response to Katrina and its unnecessarily deadly consequences started years ago, when Louisiana and its officials refused to take emergency planning seriously and neglected to make what slight planning did take place known to the various agencies expected to respond. No amount of federal intervention could have overcome the mistakes made by state and local response agencies in the days and hours before landfall, and even afterwards the reluctance of Blanco to allow federal authority to take over the area cost more time and lives while she dithered.

Sheer incompetence. Louisiana needs to ask itself why their elected officials left them so vulnerable to this kind of disaster.The Times-Picayune publishes/blogs a lengthy interview with Mayor Nagin by reporter Gordon Russell. Lots in there; judge for yourself.On the buses:

Federal officials have also faulted Nagin’s administration for not marshaling its own buses and those of the School Board to start ferrying the tens of thousands of evacuees stranded at the Superdome and the Convention Center out of town.
Nagin said perhaps some of the criticism is fair. But he said there were various logistical hurdles that made it hard to use that equipment, and the buses would have hardly created a dent in the size of the crowds anyway.
“It’s up for analysis,” he said. “But we didn’t have enough buses. I don’t control the school buses, and the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) buses as far as I know were positioned high and dry. But 80 percent of the city was not high and dry. Where would we have staged them? And who was going to drive them even if we commandeered them? If I’d have marshaled 50 RTA buses, and a few school buses, it still wouldn’t have been nearly enough. We didn’t get food, water and ice in this place, and that’s way above the local level.
“Our plan was always to use the buses to evacuate to the Dome as a shelter of last resort, and from there, rely on state and federal resources.”
Those resources took way too long to arrive, Nagin said – in fact, much of the help didn’t arrive until after the mass evacuations from the Dome and the Convention Center had occurred.
Well, there’s the first FOIA I want to see: Let’s see the plan. Let’s see all the plans: city, state, and federal. Who was supposed to do what. Oops, we have already seen the plans. Both the New Orleans plan and the State plan. Maybe Nagin or Blanco haven't seen their own plans. Could it be? Read the entire interview, it's a doozy.

Update: There were 21,000 buses in Louisiana. Her failure to procure them locally is bizarre.

Vehicles and Conveyances

Automobiles registered: 2.0 million

Light trucks registered: 1.5 million

Heavy trucks registered: 32,000

Buses registered: 21,000

Motorcycles registered: 48,000

Rail transit systems: 1 light rail

Numbered boats: 314,000

UPDATE: I was going to save my vitriol at the Feds and blame game as well as a summary of things that went right for a new post or two but this was worth a bump in the queue: This from Jack Kelly of the Pittsburg Post- Gazette is well worth the read and it does put things in a bit more perpective.

"Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom."

But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Tale of Two Storms Part One

I have been remiss in my posting and picked a hell of a time to start up again. My goal after this return is to focus on “A Tale Of Two Storms”. Actually it will evolve into a tale of at least four storms. This first post since my sabbatical will be about the storm called Katrina and the second storm of the political storm following in its wake.

Katrina is the most devastating natural disaster in our history. Nothing like stating the obvious.

Rick Moran has an excellent timeline of the hurricane from when it first became clear that it was heading towards the Gulf coast. Lots of links and he's updating it regularly. As more news and anecdotes come to light it seems there is going to be plenty of blame to go around, from the city government, to the state government on up to and including FEMA. One of many that is disturbing is this from the Red Cross.

Regarding the explosive story that the state authorities kept the Red Cross out of New Orleans, the Red Cross has a message up on their website that seems to verify this allegation.

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

Access to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.

The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

The Red Cross has been meeting the needs of thousands of New Orleans residents in some 90 shelters throughout the state of Louisiana and elsewhere since before landfall. All told, the Red Cross is today operating 149 shelters for almost 93,000 residents.

The reason given? If food, water and hygiene supplies were provided more people would show up and not leave. Give me a break. It is one thing to have a plan in case of a disaster like this one and the plan has flaws but it is quite another thing to have a good plan and not follow it. Hugh Hewitt links to this photo pointing out satellite photography and showing all the buses in New Orleans that were unused and available to evacuate people and placing the buses on a map of the city and their dry access to highways. It is so very disheartening to see what might have been possible if the mayor had exercised more leadership. Read This via Betsy's Page. I've reviewed the New Orleans emergency management plan. Here is an important section in the first paragraph.

"We coordinate all city departments and allied state and federal agencies which respond to citywide disasters and emergencies through the development and constant updating of an integrated multi-hazard plan. All requests for federal disaster assistance and federal funding subsequent to disaster declarations are also made through this office. Our authority is defined by the Louisiana Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act of 1993, Chapter 6 Section 709, Paragraph B, 'Each parish shall maintain a Disaster Agency which, except as otherwise provided under this act, has jurisdiction over and serves the entire parish.' "

Check the plan -- the "we" in this case is the office of the mayor, Ray Nagin who was very quick and vocal about blaming everyone but his own office. A telling picture, ... taken by The Associated Press on Sept. 1 and widely circulated on the Internet shows a school bus park, apparently filled to capacity with buses, under about four feet of water. If a mandatory evacuation was ordered, why weren't all the taxpayer-purchased buses used in the effort?

And after Mayor Nagin continued to twist off on TV and blame everybody in the world for his failings instead of showing leadership, he sends busses and law enforcement people to the Hyatt to rescue 400 tourists and demanded they be put on evacuation busses at the Superdome ahead of all those citizen who had been waiting and living in fear and squalor. Some leader.

Lest you think I don’t have something to say about how this was mishandled by the State and the Feds, including Mr. Bush, hang around. I see much that has gone wrong but I also have seen much that has gone right. I can already see that my rantings are going to take several posts and updates as we follow some of this tragic comedy as it unfolds.

Paul at Powerline has this post. The city of New Orleans followed "virtually no aspect of its own emergency management plan" during the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, reports the Washington Times. New Orleans also ignored various federal guidelines, including the one stating that the Superdome was not a safe shelter and the one stating that school buses be used to evacuate residents. So the biggest mistake the federal government made here was probably that it forgot to tell the mayor and the governor to follow the plan. It reminds me of former Redskin coach Norv Turner's comment after quarterback Gus Frerotte injured himself by head-butting a wall following a touchdown -- "I forgot to coach him not to do that."

The article also confirms that FEMA was in New Orleans as the storm approached working with the Louisiana National Guard, which delivered seven trailers of food and water to the Superdome on August 29 (Monday) and another seven trailers the following day.

More later.

UPDATE: Glenn at Instapundit has this with many links. Shameful. While relief was not allowed in, people were not allowed out.

POLICE TRAPPED THOUSANDS IN NEW ORLEANS: This report from UPI seems to confirm the item I linked earlier:

Police from surrounding jurisdictions shut down several access points to one of the only ways out of New Orleans last week, effectively trapping victims of Hurricane Katrina in the flooded and devastated city. . . .

"We shut down the bridge," Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been "a closed and secure location" since before the storm hit.

"All our people had evacuated and we locked the city down," he said. The bridge in question -- the Crescent City Connection -- is the major artery heading west out of New Orleans across the Mississippi River.

Lawson said that once the storm itself had passed Monday, police from Gretna City, Jefferson Parrish and the Louisiana State Crescent City Connection Police Department closed to foot traffic the three access points to the bridge closest to the West Bank of the river.

He added that the small town, which he called "a bedroom community" for the city of New Orleans, would have been overwhelmed by the influx.

"There was no food, water or shelter" in Gretna City, Lawson said. "We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people."

"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

But -- in an example of the chaos that continued to beset survivors of the storm long after it had passed -- even as Lawson's men were closing the bridge, authorities in New Orleans were telling people that it was only way out of the city.

An absolute disgrace. (Via Rogers Cadenhead). I renew my suggestion that the Civil Rights Division look into this, as there's some reason to think it was racially motivated.

UPDATE: This satellite photo shows the Crescent City Connection bridge as a "dry route to safety." (Compare with this map.) But it was a blocked dry route. So while the Red Cross was being kept out of New Orleans, refugees were being kept in.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's more on Chief Lawson. Meanwhile, reader Jim Chandler doubts there was racism involved: "Most of the police officers I've seen there are black, so where does the racial motivation come in?" The article suggests otherwise, but I don't know. I think DoJ should look into it, though.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's more on Chief Lawson. And here's an article that makes me wonder if he was worried about the fate of his video poker machines.

MORE: Bruce Rolston thinks that the New Orleans authorities are at fault.