I just listened to NPR’s All Things Considered recount the timeline of what happened leading up to and in the days following Katrina. It’s an amazing series of two reports, about a half an hour total. Audio will be available here and here after about 7:30 tonight Eastern time. It’s well worth a listen if you haven’t heard it already.
One of my perceptions prior to hearing this was that the majority of the blame here for the poor response should go to local officials who failed to understand the seriousness of the situation that lie ahead. They had been warned many time of the dangers of a storm like this to New Orleans, they should have been ready. The report paints a different picture of local, state (and neighboring states) and federal officials working together to be ready to respond.
The biggest problem, at least immediately, seems to have been the extent of the damage to infrastructure. They simply hadn’t planned for the fact that all the groups ready to mobilize would have no means at all to communicate with each other for reports and to give orders. There was simply no way to coordinate the plan and no plan for what to do without coordination.
Someone also pointed out that an evacuation order was given and that about 1 million people fled the city in the days prior to Katrina. Certainly countless lives were saved because of this.
The report paints a very poor picture of our president and FEMA in the days following. They seemed to be completely disconnected with what was happening on the ground. It’s not simply that they were saying they didn’t know what was happening, they were making assertions that were simply false. At one point, after the levy breach, an official in Washington says that New Orleans is not simply filling up “like a bowl” while that was precisely what was happening. Supplies were sent to the wrong places with no one to meet the drivers to unload them. Help offered by other states was not asked for. FEMA contractors ready to send aid waited for 2 days for orders on what to do, and then were sent to the wrong place.
One of the most disturbing things to me was the description of Bush’s first visit. Sitting on the runway at the New Orleans airport in Air Force One he met with the Governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans. He reportedly told the governor that he could send in troops but they would have to be completely under federal control. The governor reportedly asked for 14 hours to think about it.
The image of these two people jockeying for power while a couple hundred yards away doctors work frantically to save lives in a makeshift hospital in the airport terminal is sad, to say the least. I’m sure there was more to the context than what was reported, but why does it matter who’s in charge; just get the help in there.

One thought on “Katrina Timeline

  1. I think we’ll be figuring out for a long time “who is to blame.” And, I am sure the media will have a lot to say on who gets it. People are hurting so they want to attack someone. It was nice to see people finally saying late last week that who cares let’s just do it.

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