The link above to Wikipedia has a pretty good round-up of "what went wrong" in its article on the political impact of Hurricane Katrina. Last night I ran into the stunning fact that the National Guard prevented people holed up at the Convention Center from walking across the bridge to escape New Orleans. I imagine they were concerned about a flood of people going into the next town, or whatever. It's bad enough that there were these ridiculous delays in getting help, but to even prevent people from seeking food and water on their own is just unimaginable cruelty. It's like locking someone in a prison cell without food and water.
During the disaster, I've been watching CNN, but I found some dramatic footage from Fox with Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith getting very emotional and pleading for these people to be let out of the Convention Center, to walk across that bridge to where food and water was. This was Friday, when the trucks and buses started rolling -- but the people at the Convention Center were still without food and water when this was shot, and there was no information about when it would arrive. Take a look; you won't soon forget it.
You know what's really amazing? That there wasn't a riot. If I'd been without food or water for six days, with old people and babies dying around me, and soldiers told me I couldn't go to where food and water could be found, I'd just say "Shoot me now. Better to die fast than slow." By not letting people through, they were killing them just as sure as putting a bullet in them anyhow. Why didn't the guys who set up this checkpoint have supplies to give these people? It just boggles the mind.
The situation with the people crossing the bridge is more complicated than it sounds; I used to live there. Among other things, people are INCREDIBLY parochial. When you cross that bridge you are going into Jefferson Parish, and the people in charge there and the people in Orleans Parish do not get along well at all. People on both sides of the river view the other side as "other."
The Jefferson authorities had maintained control and, rightly or wrongly, didn't want the chaos caused by a few (who were impossible to pick out of the many) to spread to their side. They didn't have any more food or water than the New Orleans side anyway. And when some of the first people to cross immediately set fire to a mall that's at the base of the bridge, who can blame them for being concerned about letting more over?
Also, several thousand people DID make it across, and were sheltered under an elevated freeway and bussed out quietly. Nobody heard about this because it was organized and orderly.
The entire situation was a complete screwup in a lot of ways, but I really think you have to have lived there to understand some of this. The biggest point being there WASN'T water or food across the river, and the Westbank had come through the storm relatively well. They didn't want more damage from a few violent idiots (that were from out of the parish anyway, so were Other) than they had had from the storm. I can't bring myself to blame them, though the whole Westbank-Eastbank thing still makes me say, "Huh???" though I lived on the Westbank for two years.
Thanks for chiming in -- it's nice to get a perspective from somebody who is familiar with that part of the country.
Well, you know, there's Shepard Smith fuming at the camara about how there is food, water, and electricity on the other side of that bridge -- and trapped people without any of those things, while old people and babies are dying -- it's tough to be dispassionate, or to consider complexities.
In fact, I don't know if I've ever seen anything like the outpouring of anger we're seeing right now.
Anyway, thanks for giving us the local story.
I agree that it looks absolutely awful. I think a lot of the problem is that nobody in authority was talking to anybody else in authority, local or otherwise. The local governments never have, being too busy fighting each other and being happily corrupt. I'm sure that security arrangements could have been made (assuming there were enough supplies on the Westbank side to justify letting more people in) since things were well under control there IF they weren't so dang parochial. If you cross the bridge from either side it's like you're on another planet. To me it's just a five-minute ride, but I'm not a native either!
It absolutely sickens me that supplies coming in have been blocked by FEMA. Pure evil. I think that's far, far worse than the bridge crossing situation, which is incredibly regrettable at best and possibly just as bad at worst.
Yes, I agree with you there. As I said earlier, the whole point of establishing security is so that aid could reach the people stranded in there -- but there has been story after story of FEMA refusing aid and/or preventing it from coming through. Some of the biggest heros in this whole sorry tale are those who just took matters into their own hands and *acted*, while government agencies at all levels dithered around.
Blocking the bridge wouldn't have mattered if, at the same time, supplies were reaching those people and/or evacuation efforts would under way. But then, FEMA claims not to have even known that thousands of people were stranded at the Convention Center until Thursday -- even though everyone else in America knew.
You might be right about things being nearly as bad in Jefferson Parish -- I just ran across a taped phone call (sorry, didn't snag the URL) from a man who was trapped in a Middle School there, with 60 others -- as the filth piled up, and people got sick. Locals, apparently, did get food in to them, at least. He was begging and begging that someone get them out, and this was on Sunday, the 4th, nearly a week after the hurricane made landfall.
It makes you wonder how many people are still trapped, while we only hear about those who are refusing to leave. And how are people faring in places other than New Orleans?
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