Sep 12, 2005
Louisiana State University scientists warned the government, six days ahead, that Katrina was coming and it would be fierce. Hour after hour, the National Hurricane Center's weather computers repeated the warnings.
Officials had advance notice, far more advance notice than disasters usually provide! But they failed to act, and thousands of people died.
The resources were there, waiting to be mobilized. Fleets of city and school buses could have been pressed into service. There were Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains. National Guard units from surrounding states, as well as regular army units, were available – some already packed and ready! The 82nd Airborne was on 18-hour standby. Coast Guard and Air Force bases were close by. Navy amphibious vehicles were a few hours away by cargo plane. But no politician gave the order.
Less than 48 hours before Katrina, the New Orleans mayor finally ordered the city evacuated. He did it with these words: "Gas up your car and go." A reporter asked the mayor how many people in the city didn't have cars. He answered, "about 100,000." For those 100,000, nothing moved.
Yet there were plenty of means to evacuate the city. Buses could have run block by block, through every neighborhood, around the clock. Nursing homes, hospitals, housing for the elderly would have been the first evacuated. Passenger trains could have taken carloads of people to way stations a short way north of New Orleans, then returned for more, while trains from other cities mobilized to shuttle people from the way stations further out of harm's way. Receiving centers could have been designated and warehouses of food and water, diapers and clothing and medicines could have been requisitioned and trucked there.
Refugees did not need to be treated like cattle, herded from place to place, dumped in the middle of nowhere. The region's vast array of private hotels and motels, university dormitories, military bases and private academies all could have more than served the refugees, giving them dignified and respectable places to stay. If they had been used.
A mobilized population, given the resources it needs, can accomplish a tremendous amount in five days. It can evacuate a major city in an orderly way, and it can locate safe and dignified conditions in which to live until an emergency is over. If it was not done in New Orleans, it was because the safety of the population was not the government's first priority.
If such things were not done, it was because the officials planned NOT to do those things!