Blame starts in New Orleans

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2005

It is striking how many press accounts and letters to the Empire about recent hurricanes stem from an assumption that the federal government is omnipotently responsible for almost everything that happens to us. While it's natural to assign blame (well deserved in many ways) and be critical of Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Corps of Engineers, that is far from the whole story.

The scenes at the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center were a national disgrace, but the blame starts at the city and parish level. How many people who couldn't get there on their own died because the city's "plan" to use school busses was totally ineffective? Of some 1,700 police officers, hundreds either quit or were unaccounted for within days of Katrina's landfall. How many people died, through accident or foul play, in the absence of local law enforcement? The state of Louisiana equivalent of FEMA was overwhelmed as quickly as the city, and the governors office may turn out to be the most inept of all in the long run. Yelling for help doesn't count as an effective response. The dilatory actions of the Bush administration added to and made worse, but was not the primary cause of, the outrageous situation.

And how much blame belongs to the complacency of the individual citizens of New Orleans? They live in a town of half a million people that would be underwater without levies and pumps. Tens of thousands ignored the "mandatory" evacuation, and the thousands more who were unable to leave on their own were abandoned or misled by local authorities, nursing home staffs and neighbors.

Juneau's 1984 Thanksgiving Day storm clocked gusts of over 70 miles per hour, knocked down trees, sunk boats and flipped airplanes, partially demolished Marine Park and overflowed Egan Drive, yet didn't qualify as a hurricane of any category. Katrina had sustained winds at landfall of twice that velocity and was hundreds of miles wide. It also dumped 2 inches per hour of rainfall on ground that was swamp or lowlands. An event of that magnitude wouldn't leave much standing here either, and it wouldn't be anybody's fault.

Americans should stop relying on the feds to solve everything or blame them if they aren't there to save the day all the time. They clearly aren't capable of it, and the press and politicians should stop pushing that notion, too.

Rick Kaufman


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