September 11, 2005

Katrina Craziness

There are so many stories coming out of New Orleans, it's hard to know what is true and what is not. Although the story from the EMS workers about getting shot at by police and repeatedly bullied by law enforcement seemed plausible, numerous comments are debunking the story (e.g., in this blog and this Free Republic blog), pointing out the authors' political history and inconsistencies in their story. The sad thing, of course, is that the story was so believable.

Another story from Thursday's New York Times ("New Orleans Begins Confiscating Firearms as Water Recedes") does, in a way, highlight at least one (perhaps more) political axe people might grind: gun control.

No civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns or other firearms, said P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.
I understand that looters stole guns and have been shooting rescuers etc. But taking guns away from legally registered owners serves no point. Worse, the well-connected get to keep their bodyguards' weapons:
But that order apparently does not apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property. The guards, employees of private security companies like Blackwater, openly carry M-16's and other assault rifles. Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards, but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.
What is the difference between a law-abiding, legally registered owner of a gun who might help fight off looters, and a security guard with a gun (besides the rented uniform)?

There are a number of "question the government" items. Another one is the story about the buses that were ordered by a hotel to evacuate its guests which were then confiscated by police before the buses could get to those who ordered them.

And what about FEMA commandeering a hospital's generator fuel? To what better use could that fuel possibly have been put?

The craziness and the state of decay was summed up well by a couple of incidents related in another NYT article from Thursday("Macabre Reminder: The Corpse on Union Street"):

In the downtown business district here, on a dry stretch of Union Street, past the Omni Bank automated teller machine, across from a parking garage offering "early bird" rates: a corpse. Its feet jut from a damp blue tarp. Its knees rise in rigor mortis.

Six National Guardsmen walked up to it on Tuesday afternoon and two blessed themselves with the sign of the cross. One soldier took a parting snapshot like some visiting conventioneer, and they walked away. New Orleans, September 2005.

Hours passed, the dusk of curfew crept, the body remained.
Night came, then this morning, then noon, and another sun beat down on a dead son of the Crescent City.

That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week's hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
The incomprehensible has become so routine here that it tends to lull you into acceptance. On Sunday, for example, several soldiers on Jefferson Highway had guns aimed at the heads of several prostrate men suspected of breaking into an electronics store.

A car pulled right up to this tense scene and the driver leaned out his window to ask a soldier a question: "Hey, how do you get to the interstate?"

The forced evacuation of the city is another item that confuses me. Does martial law really give the mayor the power to force everyone to leave the city?
Many of the residents still in the city said they did not understand why the city remained intent on forcing them out.

"I know the risks," said Renee de Pontchieux, as she sat on a stool outside Kajun's Pub in the working-class Bywater neighborhood east of downtown. "We used to think we lived in America - now we're not so sure. Why should we allow this government to chase us out and allow people from outside to rebuild our homes? We want to rebuild our homes."

What about the rebuilding, and what about taking care of those who are in hospitals?
When police officers came to Billie Moore's 3,000 square foot Victorian to warn her of the health risks of remaining in the city, she pushed her identification tag from the hospital where she works as a nurse through slats in the door.

"I guess you know the health risks then," the officer said as he walked away.

Ms. Moore and her husband, Richard Robinson, who do not drive and use bicycles for the 5-mile ride to their jobs at the still-functioning Ochsner Hospital in suburban Jefferson Parish, have no plans to leave. Their circa-1895 home, on the city's southwest flank, suffered virtually no damage in the hurricane or its aftermath.
Ms. Moore said she had not worked since the hurricane because there are few babies left at the hospital, but that she remains on standby; her husband has been on duty the past five days.

"I don't want to go, I don't want to lose my job," she said. "Who's going to take care of the patients if all the nurses go away?"

While kicking everyone out so you can just raze entire neighborhoods may make it easier to rebuild, what if that's not what people want? And for those few who stay behind, why not give them the option, as long as they don't demand free medical care if/when they get cholera?

The entire situation is, of course, confusing and complex, so there's no clear answers to most of the questions (except that it's a bad idea to build a city below sea level in a hurricane zone). It does seem clear, though, that the "system," which encompasses agencies, the law, etc. at city, state, and federal levels, is broke. Feds were hemming and hawing about trodding on the state, state leaders didn't know to call FEMA, and a zillion things went wrong that shouldn't have. There is no one individual or any single action that can be blamed - the chaos is a result of numerous causes. I do not have high hopes that the system will be dramatically improved any time in the next few years.

UPDATE: No forced evacuations:

A police spokesman said Sunday that authorities will not forcibly remove the holdouts.

Posted by Tom Nugent at September 11, 2005 08:32 PM

I wonder if confusion and problems like this aren't the norm for a huge disaster.

A decade ago we didn't have the lazyweb, satellite time was expensive and news reports were sent gathered up by an editor, and then pushed onto the air. There was time to 'tell a story' in a narrative format.

Now we're seeing what happens when news is posted as it happens, without filters. In many ways this reminds me of what it is supposed to be like in a commmand post during war. A whole lotta stuff is happening, all out of earshot. You get radio reports of this or that, information flows in random bits and chunks. There isn't a narrative, just a lot of stuff happening.

Chaos is the norm, we've just never had it pushed into our faces before.

Posted by: Brian at September 11, 2005 10:22 PM
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