The tales of inept management get deeper by the day. Where is the help for these people?
Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, red tape and poor planning have left thousands of evacuees without basic services, according to local and state officials, public policy experts and survivors themselves.
Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities have fled, sometimes to neighboring states and beyond, moving in with friends and family or into shelters, public housing and hotels funded by the Red Cross. With little guidance from federal and state governments — and no single person or entity in charge of the overall operation — cities and counties have been left on their own to find survivors homes, schools, jobs and health care. A patchwork of policies has resulted, causing relief agencies to sometimes work at cross-purposes.
And why isn’t anyone answering the phone?
In his Thursday speech, Bush implored evacuees to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross to register themselves, because “we need to know who you are.” Bush was referring to people such as Steve Lacourt, whose mobile home in Pass Christian, Miss., washed away.
Lacourt has tried to do just what the president asked — for more than a week. One night, the 42-year-old mechanic said, he drove to a highway overpass, where his cell phone got some reception, and speed-dialed the toll-free numbers for FEMA and the Red Cross for six hours straight, from 8 in the evening until 2 in the morning.
He could not get through.
John Kerry was right in his response to Bush’s speech Thursday night, “Leadership isn’t a speech or a toll-free number.”
When will this president get it right?
“I don’t see much evidence of overall planning and guidance,” said Richard Murray, a public policy expert in Houston, which is hosting thousands of evacuees.
In an e-mail, Murray, who is director of the University of Houston’s Center for Public Policy, wrote: “Couple a multi-state disaster of Katrina’s magnitude, (including some of the poorer and less well-governed states in the union), add on a dysfunctional federal bureaucracy that had deteriorated in recent years, and a chief executive whose motto seemed to be, until yesterday, the buck stops there, and we get a helluva mess.”