Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina Encours et Toujours VIII

Please reforward if you like -- I haven't added many names from earlier contacts and suggestions. For previous Katrina postings, see:

www.truthtalkziraq.blogspot.com

This weekend I've accompanied a small group of medical relief professionals on what is called an "explo mission" to the hurricane region. In the course of the past two days, I've been from Houston to Baton Rouge to Bogalusa, Mandeville, Metaire, Uptown, CBD, Bywater, Algiers, the West Bank and back tonight to Lake Charles. It's a long experience, and I will only write tonight until I fall asleep. Below my posting I've posted other articles about Katrina today, to act as a future media diary of sorts.

Yesterday we visited Baton Rough first. It's filled to twice its normal population, and gas got nearly impossible to find late last night. Otherwise, it's not damaged much, everything works, and it's the normal staging spot for recovery operations.

Then we visited Mt. Herman and Bogalusa, two towns on the upper northeast corner of the Florida Parishes (the upper toe of the LA shoe), right on the MS border. It's famous as being the home parish of Brittany Spears. This area is about 50 miles north of Lake Pontchartrain, yet there was an unbelievable number of trees down. Huge trees, strewn all over the countryside. The electrical crews and the road crews were working away, and a lot of impressive work had already been done on road clearing. We visited two shelters and a hospital. What we learned from this is that the Red Cross has quite a lot of resources, but a fairly basic medical protocol in its shelters -- largely due to the wide range in skill levels of its volunteers. They need to keep it simple, which they do. That's fine, but it shows that on occasion there can be need for supplementary medical assistance.

In Mt. Herman, all the folks were from Jefferson Parish, and were sent there as JP employees -- with a few exceptions of folks from Plaquemines. By the time we'd gotten there, most had moved on, but those who remained were overwhelmingly African-American females, mostly overweight and not so healthy.

In Bogalusa, we visited one shelter that was being assisted by the Southern Baptist Convention, which was capable of offering hundreds of meals per day -- along with prayer circles. The Red Cross station was right next door, complete with 10-12 emergency relief vehicles. Unclear what purpose they were serving. We also visited the hospital, and were quite impressed with what the staff was managing to do in spite of no electricity and all the rest. They actually expected to be the first regional facility to get electricity back, and to then have to face an overload problem.
After Bogalusa, we drove down through Covington to I-12, where we found that they already had electricity back in parts of downtown. Last night we slept on the ballroom floor of a large BR hotel, which was bone-chillingly cold due to the AC system. There's a story about how we got to stay there, but the hero of the day must remain anonymous to keep her job.

This morning we headed down to NO via I-10, hoping that we could get approved as emergency personnel in order not to get stuck on the line at Airline. Our explanation satisfied the State Trooper, as we had hoped. As a result, we got to continue on I-10 into the city. While checking the situation in Metairie, we confirmed that most of East Jefferson is dry, except for Airline Hwy at least up to Causeway. The trees are all over the place, and most side streets are blocked at the moment. The lack of electricity means no traffic lights -- which was sweet nirvana today. There were some looted cars behind Causeway and the Galleria, and the Galleria has lost about 10% of its windows (can we have our grass back now?).

We found two congenial, older Spanish-speaking fellows at Metairie Rd. and Labarre. They had just trooped back from Sam's Club, where a distribution center had given them ice and water.
After seeing JP, I'm not sure that people should stay out -- as long as they can deal w/o electricity. A lot of people can, which makes me think that those who can deal w/o electricity should stick it out and help clean up. On this point I do not agree with the consensus strategy of driving everyone out of town. I don't agree with it at all. There are people camping out, and I don't see why more can't do the same.

The only way from Jefferson to Orleans is River Rd, because all the other entries are flooded on the Orleans side. There's a checkpoint at the parish border, which seems to be only stopping folks from getting into Jefferson, but not out of Jefferson.

Magazine St. seemed to be far less looted than I'd heard, but again the trees were all over the place -- especially at Audubon Park. I'm not at all sure that the looting has been as bad as said, at least beyond downtown. We'll have to see, but at least today my parent's house in Metairie was fine, as was my brother's house in Bywater. The military was just starting to make its presence felt downtown today, but as we were leaving town today we saw several other convoys coming in.

We then found some guys at Magazine and Camp just hanging out, and one of them told us that a fellow needed to be evacuated. While he wasn't in such bad shape, we agreed to take him out, which provided us with great entertainment the rest of the day. His name was Richard, he'd been an actor for many years, and he worked at the Convention Center with the building management. He had a number of horror stories about the convention center in the past week, but mostly he was happy to get out and a lot of fun to listen to. At one checkpoint, he offered to pretend to go into seizures so that we could get through the checkpoint. Considering that the checkpoint was going INTO absolutely devastated Plaquemines FROM relatively less damaged Jefferson, the offer was comical to say the least.

After picking up Richard, and doing a small cigarette distribution to some of the crunchies hanging out in the area right near the Coliseum Theatre (which has now completely lost its lovely art-deco facade), we moved on downtown. The FEMA flunkies have set up a command post at Harrah's Casino, and otherwise were not in evidence out in any of the neighborhoods. People are getting by on the now-started park distributions, with MRE's and water available.
Then onto Bywater, passing by the site of yesterday's fire at the warehouse across from Dr. Bob's. Saw minimal to no looting in Bywater, although there were numerous "Looters will be shot" signs all over the place. Bywater was dry as well. A whole bunch of folks were camping out in the block by Sugar Park Tavern, and they seemed to be watching over each other (and armed).

Then we looped back to the bridge, and went over to Algiers. We had hoped to see if there were truly desperate people on the Chalmette landing side of the Algiers-Chalmette ferry. We found two DHS Border Patrol helicopter crews who told us that there were no longer any concentrations of people on the other side. There were only a few people still hanging out on the roofs of their homes surrounded by water -- and refusing to leave. The pilot was dumbfounded by this, and couldn't understand it in the least, and thought everyone should leave town because it was in such bad shape. I asked him about the bodies on the other side, and he said he'd seen some, but didn't personally think there would be 10,000 or so dead in the end. He felt the numbers were exaggerated. AGain, we'll see.

Then we met our NOPD officer, who escorted us into Lower Algiers where we helped out some families who had so far decided not to leave. They were quite poor, all African-American, and really relaxed and happy to accept whatever we felt we could offer. When I passed on the message of the chopper pilot that they would be escorting anyone who wanted over to the airport for evacuation, and that he thought everyone should go. I agreed that I wasn't sure they should leave, because they had running water and sewerage, electricity might come back in about a month, they could not know where the officials would take them if they went to the airport, they wouldn't be able to take much at all in a helicopter, and they might not get sent back all that quickly.

Another woman, when we asked if she was allright, she responded that she was fine, but that she almost killed a guy trying to break into her truck this morning. She asked the officer, "can I kill him if he's breaking into my truck? I almost killed him." The officer replied, "yes maam, you can kill him if he's trying to break into your truck." Ah, only in America.

The whole episode with the Lower Algiers family got me to thinking that again I'm not at all sure I agree with making everyone get out when they don't have to. There are groups of neighbors camping out all over the city, and I actually think that shouldn't be discouraged. If everyone leaves, noone knows what would happen while they're gone -- and conditions are tolerable now that some support has started to come. That said, one can't be sure. Everyone we saw today was armed. If everyone came back, conditions could very well deteriorate. Etc.

After Lower Algiers we circled over to English Turn, hoping to drive down into Plaquemines, which should be as badly hit on the West Bank as the East Bank. We tried the English Turn checkpoint and the Belle Chasse Road checkpoint, and they were equally firm. It was explained that there was a lot of damage, water was 10-18 ft high in some places, but that there were doctors, there weren't many people left in the area, and that therefore there wasn't much reason for us to go in. So, we let that one go.
Although it's true that the St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish catastrophes are not being reported on, I think one of the reasons is their inaccessibility, whether due to flooding or checkpoints. This prioritizing of security over everything else, evidence all over the New Orleans area, is coming at the expense of bringing in supplies to those still in the area. The strategy of emptying it almost seems to be by "starving em out," which I don't think is the right policy.

Then off to Lafitte, which wasn't hit nearly as badly as points east. Then back to Baton Rouge and back to Lake Charles, where it's now getting very late and I have to turn in...More in coming days I hope...

Before I give up, some impressions:
- Is everyone in New Orleans packin a pistol? It seems so.
- The looting seems exaggerated
- Much of the town is not under water, and rebuilding could start now if the authorities would allow.
- FEMA's hierarchical, security-obsessed, and militaristic approach to relief work is preventing private efforts from getting in, causing people to leave who shouldn't necessarily leave, and in my opinion is largely responsible for the breakdown in order. While they have been holding press conferences, setting up communications, and manning checkpoints, people in the city have been getting progressively more desperate without full reason.
- Tourists were rounded up with all the other folks put in the Convention Center and Dome. That will take years for the Tourism Office to live down, because there are Brits, Italians, etc. who nearly died on a New Orleans vacation, and aren't likely to return soon. Oops.
There's more, but that's all I can think of right now.

Now, for other postings:

1) Today I had a long talk with a slightly older, wonderful, kindly, and caring NOPD officer working the Lower Algiers beat. He was a personal friend of the Officer Paul Accardo who killed himself the other day -- the same Officer Accardo who always appeared on local TV news as the NOPD spokesperson. Accardo always came off as a nice fellow, the local boy made good (the accent was clearly 9th ward descendant) who was doing his best for his city. The other officer killed himself after finding out that his entire family drowned in the hurricane. And W was...
a) On vacation.
b) Casting aspersions on NO politicians.
c) Making jokes about his partying days in NO.
d) all of the above.

The NOPD officer I was talking to today usually works as a Court Police Officer, having left his street days to the younger folk. He was 15 when Betsy hit NO, and told me how he remembered people trapped in roofs then -- but that this was indeed far larger in scale.
He told me that he'd been through some horrific times in the past week. The worse for him was when he was with a group working the Convention Center on Wednesday. There were thousands of folks hanging out at the place, and conditions were deteriorating because they hadn't received food or water. As it was getting dark, three nice air-conditioned buses pulled up to the lot and the guys in blue started organizing the crowd to get the worse off on the bus. The crowd was getting impatient, but the officers reassured them that they would all get out soon, and that it was all gonna be allright. As they were doing this, the bus organizer said "oops, we've come to the wrong place," and then the 3 buses drove off to another spot -- presumably the Dome. That night the shooting started. As the officer put it: "you gotta give 'em hope. As soon as they lost hope, the situation was lost".

As we're on the Convention Center, it seems that it was the most horrible place to be in town. We saw the thousands of chairs outside and the trash, but there weren't any people left in it today. According to reports, there were nearly 20 folks who died due to the heat, dehydration, or discomfort for the aged and weak. There were shootouts whereby the police were shot at but couldn't shoot back because it was pitch dark and they couldn't know who to shoot at in the crowd. They would see the light from the gun flash and some officers tried to apprehend those shooting without themselves firing. After everyone lost hope, there were also reports of rapes in the dark. It sounds hellish.

Back to the NOPD. I heard Compass give a radio interview on WWL 870 today where he defended his department vigorously (even viciously) against those who have criticized their performance -- and after today I'd have to take Compass's side on this one. The highlights: they've had to cope with only 1300 out of the full 1700 police force. They had no communications, because the HQ flooded and the antennae had blown down. They've had to face shootings in the darkness, horrific convention center conditions, and criminals with more weapons and manpower than the police. They've seen a lot of bodies, were engaged in search and rescue at the same time that they were trying to provide some relief to concentrations of people and maintain order -- the whole time without knowing what happened to their own families. It's been so bad, that the two officers mentioned above killed themselves. Three officers have been shot, two seriously (one in the head). Sheriff Lee of JP had helped them as much as he could, so no blame goes there. Compass closed his interview challenging anyone criticizing the NOPD (read: Feds) to gear up and take their place on patrol one night. Again, I'm inclined to side with Compass on this one -- although it certainly counters Jordan's experience being one of the shelter people...

Anyhow, here's an article on the NOPD:

http://www.nola.com/newsflash/national/index.ssf?/base/news-18/112587684054131.xml&storylist=hurricane

New Orleans' thin blue line has ruptured
9/4/2005, 6:35 p.m. CT
By JIM LITKE
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — There may be no better way to explain the desperation on the city's ravaged streets than this: In the past few days, two police officers took their lives with their own weapons and dozens have turned in their badges. Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley on Sunday identified two officers who committed suicide as Sgt. Paul Accardo, the department's spokesman, and Patrolman Lawrence Celestine. He called both "outstanding cops" and friends.
Asked how they died, Riley put a finger to his temple, then paused.

"Both of them," he said, shaking his head slowly. "Used their own guns."
Several dozen of the city's 1,600 police officers have failed to report for duty, and some have turned in their badges.

Published reports put the number as high as 200, but Riley declined to comment on those figures, saying more than 100 officers may have been trapped in their own homes or unable to reach command centers.

"We just don't know," he said, standing outside a downtown command cent
er set up in the driveway of Harrah's casino.

But a moment later, Riley motioned back in the direction where several dozen heavily armed officers milled around, eating and smoking. He said he didn't care — not at the moment.
"We still have at least a thousand policemen out here trying to rescue people and take back the city. I don't know what's in their minds. I don't know what gives the others out here their adrenaline, what gives them their push."

On top of the burdens of law enforcement, officers have had to forage for food and water and even for places to relieve themselves.

"Our officers have been urinating and defecating in the basement of Harrah's Casino," Police Superintendent Eddie Compass said last week. "They have been going in stores to feed themselves."

They also have had to deal with personal losses.

"What's affected most of our officers is they don't know where their wives or kids are. They don't have homes ... they don't have anything," Riley said.

That sentiment was echoed by Capt. Kevin Anderson, commander of the Eighth District, which includes the fabled French Quarter.

"It hurts to the heart, but I don't have the luxury of dwelling on who's not here. "We'll welcome them back with open arms maybe someday. But that day ain't today."

Exhaustion was evident in the officers' faces and even their dress. Many were wearing T-shirts and blue jeans brought in by fellow officers.

"We're having to find clothes for some," Riley said. "The only reason I'm dressed in a uniform is that I didn't lose my house."

Some police who remained on the job expressed outrage that some of their fellow officers abandoned the city when it most needed law and order.

"This is our area," said one officer, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he feared retribution from commanders. "I was raised in this town. I'm not giving this city up. Police are turning in their badges and running away."

Officers also have struggled with the emotional impact of the devastation.

"The most stressing part is seeing the citizens we serve every day being treated like refugees," Riley said. "There were cops walking through the crowd at the convention center and people were coming up to beg for food. Not being able to help is a difficult thing. People were calling our names because we know them and to not be able to help, man, that's stressful."

Riley told of one officer who tried to rescue an elderly woman from an attic but could not reach the window from his boat. Another rescued a man who had punched a hole in the roof of his house to escape but the man lost his daughter in the swirling floodwaters.

"Imagine what that does to somebody," he said. "And I'm sure when the 911 tapes come out, there'll be stories more horrific than that."



2) Here's a sign that the NOPD is not in a mood to be messed with just now:

http://www.nola.com/newsflash/national/index.ssf?/base/news-18/1125869642234002.xml&storylist=hurricane



3) The attempt by the Bush Administration to dig itself out of Katrina reaction blame is disgusting beyond belief, and I challenge ANY New Orleanian to side with Bush against Nagin, Blanco, Broussard, Compass, et al. Having just been there, I'm more convinced than ever that the problem lies with the FEMA Feds, not our local heroes who've been left holding the bag in a catastrophe -- and now appear to be under attack for holding that stanky bag that Bush refuses to accept. I KNEW that Blanco and Mary Landrieu should never have thanked Bush for his "assistance" -- they should have nailed him consistently, like Nagin and Broussard have now done. If Jindal and Vitter DARE imply that Bush has done well and the locals failed, they should be thrown out of office without so much as a "thanks for the memories". Hang together, y'all!:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/0,16441,1562882,00.html

Bush team tries to pin blame on local officials

Julian Borger in Washington
Monday September 5, 2005
The Guardian

Bush administration officials yesterday blamed state and local officials for the delays in bringing relief to New Orleans, as the president struggled to fend off the most serious political crisis of his presidency.

His top officials continued to be pilloried on television talk shows by liberals and conservatives alike, but the White House began to show signs of an evolving strategy to prevent the relief fiasco from eclipsing the president's second term.

The outrage over the government's relief effort has hit Mr Bush at a time when he is already weakened by the gruelling war in Iraq. The threat is not only to his place in history; it could also cripple his second-term agenda, undermining his plans to privatise the social security system and to end inheritance tax.

Mr Bush also faces a much more difficult task in appointing an ideological conservative to take the supreme court seat of William Rehnquist, who died on Saturday.

The White House drew encouragement from an initial poll suggesting most Republican voters were sticking by him, and his supporters also pointed to Mr Bush's track record of recovering from mistakes. His initial response to the September 11 attacks was also sharply criticised. With that in mind, the first plank in the political recovery strategy has been to try to make up for lost time. On Saturday Mr Bush ordered 7,000 more troops to the Gulf coast.

As important as the content of the speech was its sombre tone. It was clear the White House realised that making a joke about his young hell-raising days in New Orleans in the course of a flying visit to the flooded city on Friday, was a mistake that reinforced allegations he had failed to take the disaster seriously enough.

The White House also announced yesterday that the president had cancelled public engagements, including a meeting with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao. Instead, he was due to return to the scene of the devastation.

The second element of the White House plan is to insist, in an echo of the September 11 attacks, that the scale of the disaster, the combination of a hurricane and the collapse of the levee system around New Orleans, could not have been foreseen.

Mr Bush was castigated for saying on Wednesday: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees". It was pointed out that there had been a string of investigations and reports in recent years which had predicted the disaster almost exactly.

Nevertheless, administration officials stuck to the line yesterday. In a string of television interviews, Michael Chertoff, the head of the homeland security department, called the situation an "ultra-catastrophe", as if the hurricane and flood were unrelated events. "That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight," he said.

The third element in the administration's political response has been to counter-attack against the blame directed at the federal authorities, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and its parent body, the homeland security department.

In his weekend radio address, Mr Bush implied many of the problems had been caused by lower levels of government. The scale of the crisis "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable."

Unnamed White House officials, quoted in the Washington Post, directed blame at the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, for being slow to call for outside help and to declare a state of emergency. Ms Blanco, meanwhile, resisted a federal attempt to take over control of local police and national guard units - an attempt some Louisiana officials saw as a political manoeuvre that would help blame the weak response in the first week on the state.

The depth of America's polarisation could prove a bulwark preventing Mr Bush's political support from collapsing altogether. A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News on Friday night, showed that, of those questioned, 46% approved of the way the president had handled the relief efforts while 47% disapproved.

The spotlight began to turn yesterday on Michael Brown, the head of Fema, who had minimal emergency management experience before joining the agency in 2001, and had spent the previous 10 years organising horse shows for the International Arabian Horse Association. Press reports claimed he had had to leave that job because of questions about his performance.

4) This article says what far too few American journalists are willing to see or say. That said, he's not entirely right about the assumptions of race driving house loss. While the residents of devastated Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly, and New Orleans East are primarily African-American poor. However, the residents of the equally devastated and flooded Lakeview, Mid-City, Chalmette, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines are primarily white -- and not all poor. Still, I largely agree with what he says about what Katrina says about American racism and governance, vulnerability, and weaknesses:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/0,16441,1562901,00.html

Receding floodwaters expose the dark side of America -but will anything change?
Jonathan Freedland sees a country waking up to injustice and high-level incompetence
Monday September 5, 2005
The Guardian

Molly Weems, 6, and Larry Devone, no relation to one another, at an emergency shelter in Biloxi, Mississippi. Photo: Barbara Davidson/AP The waters flow in and the waters flow out, washing away all that once lay on the surface -and revealing what lies beneath. So it is with all floods in all places, but now it is America which stands exposed. And neither America nor the world much likes what it sees.

The first revelation was not spoken in words, but written in the faces of those left behind. Television viewers from Bradford to Bangalore could not help but notice it, and Americans from Buffalo to Bakersfield could not deny it. The women pleading for their lives in handwritten signs, the children clinging to tree branches, the prisoners herded on to a jail roof - they were overwhelmingly black.

This will not be news to most Americans. They know that a racial divide still haunts their country, as it has from its very founding. Like a character in Shakespearean tragedy, race is America's fatal flaw, the weakness which so often brings it low.Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, could see the danger. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," he wrote in 1785, reflecting on the crime that was slavery. "His justice cannot sleep forever."

Time and time again, America has been forced to wake up to the racial injustice which has been its historic curse. It was the source of a civil war in the 19th century and of repeated battles through the 20th. From the desegregation and civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the Los Angeles riots and even the OJ Simpson trial of the 1990s, America has undergone periodic reminders that it is in the relationship between black and white that it has failed to honour its own, animating ideals.

Katrina has rammed home that message once more, with lacerating force. White Americans, who regarded New Orleans as a kind of playground, a place to enjoy the carnal pleasures of music, food, drink and more, have learned things about that city - and therefore their society - that they would probably have preferred not to know. They have discovered that it was mainly white folks who lived on the higher, safer ground, while poorer, black families had to huddle in the cheaper, low-lying housing - that race, in other words, determined who got hit.
They have also learned that 35% of black households in the area did not have a car. Or that the staff and guests of the Hyatt hotel were evacuated first, while the rest, the mainly poor and black, were at the back of the queue. Or that 28% of the people of New Orleans live in poverty and that 84% of those are black. Or that some people in that city were so poor, they did not have the money even to catch a bus out of town - that race, in other words, determined who got left behind.

Most Americans want to believe that kind of inequality belongs in the past, in the school textbooks. But Katrina has shaken them from that delusion.

They have had to face another painful truth. Their government has proved itself incompetent. Yes, it could act quickly once it had decided to act - but it idled for days. This disastrous performance will surely saddle the remainder of George Bush's presidency, just as the botched Desert One rescue of American hostages from the besieged US embassy in Tehran hobbled that of Jimmy Carter. Americans expect competence from their leader as a minimum requirement. And if an image of a crashed helicopter in the Iranian desert could undo one president, surely pictures of an American city reduced to a Somali or Bangladeshi kind of chaos spell disaster for this one.

But the shock may well do more than shift perceptions of the current administration. For 25 years, the dominant US ideology has been to shrink the state. "Government is not the solution to our problem," declared Ronald Reagan. "Government is the problem."

That defined the limits for state activism thereafter. After decades of energetic government programmes, from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the 1960s, the state was compelled to retreat. Taxes would go down and the government would do less.

Mr Bush personifies that ideology with more vigour than anyone since Reagan. Yet now, after Katrina, the national mood might alter. Americans have seen where small government leads. The authorities in Louisiana, including the military, pleaded long ago with Washington to reinforce the levees that were designed to save New Orleans from a great flood. The Army Corps of Engineers asked for $105m (£57m): the White House gave them $40m.

It is conceivable that Americans will now call a halt to their quarter-century experiment in limited government - and the neglected infrastructure that has entailed. There are some tasks, they may conclude, which neither individuals nor private companies can do alone - and evacuating tens of thousands of people from a drowning city is one of them.

Yesterday the New York Times' resident conservative columnist David Brooks wondered if there could now be a "progressive resurgence". There is a precedent. After an earlier Louisiana disaster, the floods of 1927, there was public outrage that not a single federal dollar had gone to feed or shelter the victims: the army had even demanded reimbursement from the Red Cross for the use of its tents. From now on, the public resolved, the federal government would have to protect the vulnerable. That shift paved the way for the activism of FDR and all that followed. Nearly 80 years on, history might be about to repeat itself.

Finally, America will have to get over the shock of seeing itself in a new, unflattering light. It is not just the lawlessness, violence and gun culture that has been on show in New Orleans. It is also that America likes to think of itself as the "indispensable nation", the strongest, richest, most capable country on the face of the earth.

That belief had already taken a few blows. The vulnerability exposed on 9/11 was one. The struggle in Iraq - where America has become a Gulliver, tied down - was another. But now the giant has been hit again, its weak spot exposed. When corpses float in the streets for five days, the indispensable nation looks like a society that cannot take care of its own. When Sri Lanka offers to send emergency aid, the humiliation is complete.

That could lead to a shift in priorities, a sense that too many energies were diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan and away from the home front. It could even see the US retreating from the world and hunkering down.

But don't count on it. At the end of the 1970s, American confidence was also shaken - by defeat in Vietnam, by the serial failure (and worse) of government institutions. What followed, after the interval of the Carter presidency, was a period of gung-ho bullishness that became the Reagan era. It may look battered - but only a fool would count America out.

5) Now Nagin has hit out at Blanco:

Nagin said slow response cost lives
Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005 7:57 p.m.

Frustrated and grieving, Mayor Ray Nagin on Sunday again ripped the painfully slow response of state and federal authorities to the plight of tens of thousands of stranded New Orleanians in the days following Hurricane Katrina, saying their inaction cost lives and caused needless misery.

Nagin singled out Gov. Kathleen Blanco for criticism,saying that the governor had asked for 24 hours tothink over a decision when time was a luxury that noone, especially refugees, had.
“When the president and the governor got here, I said,'Mr. President, Madame Governor, you two have to getin synch. If you don't, more people are going to die.”Blanco and Bush met privately at his insistence, Naginsaid, after which Bush came out and told Nagin that hehad given Blanco two options, and she requested a fullday to decide.

“It would have been great if we could have walked offAir Force One and told the world we had it all workedout,” Nagin said. “It didn't happen, and more peopledied.”

Police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said Sunday that“about a dozen” corpses were being taken out of theSuperdome. The convention center “has not been sweptyet,” he said.

Apart from the deaths, Nagin said people needlesslysuffered, particularly at the Dome.

“There was suffering at an unprecedented level in thiscity, at this place and at the convention center,” hesaid. “This is one of the richest countries in theworld. I'm looking at my city and I see death anddestruction, and I see a lot of it. And I'm pissed.”Nagin said while much of the suffering was borne bypoor people, it would be a mistake to think it waslimited to the poor.
“When the final script is written, they're going tosee that everyone suffered,” he said. “Not just blackpeople - white people, Hispanics, people from Italy.At the convention center, you had tourists, you hadpeople from hospitals, you had a mixture of people.”Asked whether he himself bore responsibility for thedebacle, Nagin responded: “I'll take whatresponsibility I have to take. But let me ask youthis: When you have a city of 500,000 people, and youhave a Category 5 bearing down on you, and the bestyou've ever done is evacuate 60 percent of the people…and there's never been a mandatory evacuation in thiscity's history.

“I did that, and I elevated the level of stress to thecitizens. I said to make sure you have a fricking axein your house. And as a last resort, there are nobuildings in the city to withstand a Category 3 stormother than the Superdome, and when that filled up, westarted sending them to the convention center. Youtell me what else I was supposed to do.”

Nagin said the government needs to learn quickly fromits nightmarishly slow reaction to Katrina.

“Our response to a significant disaster is appalling,”he said. “What went down is a national and statedisgrace.”

The mayor said his next fear is that the decomposingbodies of those who died in the storm and its wakewill spread disease, via mosquitoes, across the regionif the corpses aren't picked up soon. Again, he feelsthe response has lagged.

“I requested a crop duster as soon as possible,” themayor said. “I still don't see a plane flying.

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