New Orleans Times-Picayune: An Open Letter to the President

There’s a wealth of OP/ED’s today exposing the lies and injustices of miserable (putting it mildly) job the Bush administration has done handling the Katrina disaster… Here’s one from the center of the destruction…

OUR OPINIONS: An open letter to the President

Dear Mr. President:

We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, “What is not working, we’re going to make it right.”

Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a “Today” show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: “Buses! And gas!” Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, “We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.”

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, “You’re doing a heck of a job.”

That’s unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.

Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again.

When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

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One Response to New Orleans Times-Picayune: An Open Letter to the President

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    I think this really hits the “your head has been where?” thoughts. From the Times-Picayune 6/02 5 part special report, day 2:

    “In the past year, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have begun working with state and local agencies to devise plans on what to do if a Category 5 hurricane strikes New Orleans.
    [So this had been started in ’01, Mr Brown, and Sec Chertoff]
    Shortly after he took office, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh ordered aides to examine the nation’s potential major catastrophes, including the New Orleans scenario.

    “Catastrophic disasters are best defined in that they totally outstrip local and state resources, which is why the federal government needs to play a role,” Allbaugh said. “There are a half-dozen or so contingencies around the nation that cause me great concern, and one of them is right there in your back yard.”

    In concert with state and local officials, FEMA is studying evacuation procedures, postdisaster rescue strategies, temporary housing and technical issues such as how to pump out water trapped inside the levees, said Michael Lowder, chief of policy and planning in FEMA’s Readiness, Response and Recovery directorate. A preliminary report should be completed in the next few months.

    Louisiana emergency management officials say they lobbied the agency for years to study how to respond to New Orleans’ vulnerability, finally getting attention last year.

    With computer modeling of hurricanes and storm surges, disaster experts have developed a detailed picture of how a storm could push Lake Pontchartrain over the levees and into the city.”

    The day 2 report started with this ’98 forewarning:

    “The line of splintered planks, trash and seaweed scattered along the slope of New Orleans’ lakefront levees on Hayne Boulevard in late September 1998 marked more than just the wake of Hurricane Georges. It measured the slender margin separating the city from mass destruction.

    The debris, largely the remains of about 70 [fishing] camps smashed by the [Lake P] waves of a storm surge more than 7 feet above sea level, showed that Georges, a Category 2 storm that only **grazed** New Orleans, had pushed waves to within a foot of the top of the levees. A stronger storm on a slightly different course — such as the path Georges was on just 16 hours before landfall — could have realized emergency officials’ worst-case scenario: hundreds of billions of gallons of lake water pouring over the levees into an area averaging 5 feet below sea level with no natural means of drainage.”

    “A catastrophic hurricane represents 10 or 15 atomic bombs in terms of the energy it releases. Think about it. New York lost two big buildings. Multiply that by 10 or 20 or 30 in the area impacted and the people lost, and we know what could happen.”
    Joseph Suhayda
    LSU Engineer

    1) Another example of the national media ( except PBS) ignoring the need for this kind of local story to be carried nationally. The rest of us could have weighed in with our Congressmen on funding.
    2) I’d like to know what happened to Allbough and Lowder. (Bets: resigned, released or transfered)
    3)The national media need reminders that some of these flat out lies and other distortions need to be fully and extensively exposed.

    That WOULD be a heck of a job.