Evacuation, Levees, and the Convention Center

Even Jonah Goldberg understands that blaming the New Orleans poor for their lack of resources to flee the path of Katrina is misplaced:

That said, it’s becoming increasingly less obvious that more first responders etc, would have made an enormous difference in the aftermath of this unfolding calamity. The disaster zone after 9/11 was less than 40 square blocks. Rescue vehicles shot straight down Broadway, Fifth Avenue, the West Side Highway etc. The disaster zone, as the President mentioned, is the size of Great Britain. Would relief vehicles have made it to the center of Ground Zero on 9/11 immediately if the rim of the disaster area was deep inside New England? All of the truly damnable mistakes were made before Katrina hit land. Why weren’t more people evacuated? for example. Such mistakes are legion and fall disproportionately at the state and local level. And whatever criticism I stil think is valid for the President, the hysteria about how Bush doesn’t “care” about black people is as stupid as it is disgusting.

It would seem that Goldberg is playing the blame local authorities game. Kash is right that 1500 police and a hundred local buses was not enough. Goldberg seems to be confused on the geography of New Orleans as its port status allows alternatives to simply evacuating by land. MSNBC reports that FEMA had discussed this matter:

But other officials said they warned well before Monday about what could happen. For years, said another senior FEMA official, he had sat at meetings where plans were discussed to send evacuees to the Superdome. “We used to stare at each other and say, ‘This is the plan? Are you really using the Superdome?’ People used to say, what if there is water around it? They didn’t have an alternative,” he recalled. In the run-up to the current crisis, Allbaugh said he knew “for a fact” that officials at FEMA and other federal agencies had requested that New Orleans issue a mandatory evacuation order earlier than Sunday morning. But DHS did not ask the U.S. military to assist in pre-hurricane evacuation efforts, despite well-known estimates that a major hurricane would cause levees in New Orleans to fail. In an interview, the general charged with operations for the military’s Northern Command said such a request to help with the evacuation “did not come our way.” “At the point that we were all watching the evacuation and the clogged Interstate 10 going to the west on Sunday, we were watching the storm very carefully,” Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe said. “At that time, it was a Category 5 storm and we knew that it would be among the worst storms to ever hit the United States. . . . I knew there was an excellent chance of flooding.” Others who went out of their way to offer help were turned down, such as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who told reporters his city had offered emergency, medical and technical help as early as last Sunday to FEMA but was turned down. Only a single tank truck was requested, Daley said. Red tape kept the American Ambulance Association from sending 300 emergency vehicles from Florida to the flood zone, according to former senator John Breaux (D-La.) They were told to get permission from the General Services Administration. “GSA said they had to have FEMA ask for it,” Breaux told CNN. “As a result they weren’t sent.” Federal authorities say there is blame enough to go around. In a news conference yesterday, Chertoff cautioned against “finger-pointing” and said no one had been equipped to handle what amounted to two simultaneous disasters — the hurricane and subsequent levee break.

As far as the levee matter, Chertoff’s Meet the Press appearance to whine about the blame game and he engaged in blaming everyone except himself had this in response to Russert’s levee question:

Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, “New Orleans Dodged The Bullet,” because if you recall the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break.

When I heard this, I had to wonder what kind of brain-dead engineer forgot to tell him the continuing rush of water could still break the levees. Kevin Drum, however, notes that the Army Corp of Engineers knew of the levee break on Monday morning.

As far as the Convention Center and the lack of food and water, Chertoff said:

We became aware of the fact at some point that people began to go to the Convention Center on their own, spontaneously, in order to shelter there. And I think it’s for that reason that people found themselves without food and water and supplies.

Odd – even the President knew people were told to go to the Convention Center, which is why the President assumed these people were getting food and water. Is Mr. Chertoff flat out lying or is he really this clueless? Either way – it’s time to replace him.

Update: The Times-Picayune blames the Federal government and notes that New Orleans has many avenues for aid to come in:

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.

Not only does Jonah Goldberg need to buy a map – it seems those running FEMA also need geography lessons.