Without question Katrina overwhelmed and initially swamped the available standby resources. And the errors that made New Orleans so vulnerable were known and largely ignored. None of that matters.
When a major disaster strikes, it is the responsibility of the federal Government to get on a war footing immediately and move heaven and earth to quickly resolve the disaster. It is the final insurance. And resolving the disaster means immediate and quick action.
The simple matter of clearing condemned buildings should have been an immediate response. In fact, major burn outs should have been conducted to largely reduce the debris to remove and to also partially sterilize the soils. It is not pleasant but this happens when the city is already fully abandoned and before any significant population returns. The alternative was to convert the bulk of the city into an open uninhabitable garbage dump perpetuating an unimaginable environmental disaster.
This was also the time to recognize that the city needed to abandon all land that was below sea level for residential occupation and to throw it open to commercial usage or parkland, In the case of New Orleans, that left little of the city to work with but still salvaged the old city.
Residential could then be established miles away on high ground and linked by rapid transit to the old city as has been done by a growing number of cities who have recognized the virtue of such multiple city centers. Transferring ownership rights from the city to such new centers is easy and final.
This all took leadership. There was none and there certainly was no sign of a contingency plan for this completely predictable event. It is obvious that a proper evacuation was not even possible had the decision been made in time.
What gives me pause is that I see little evidence of preparedness anywhere for such a disaster. Imagine a ten foot tsunami breaching on the waterfront of Los Angeles. Or a magnitude eight earthquake in the Mississippi Valley to match the new Madrid quake of 1812. Or Mount Rainier or Mount Baker evaporating and putting several cubic miles of ash in the air. How about a ten foot tsunami rolling up the Hudson? The point is that these are all rather unlikely but actually possible. There surely are a lot more possibilities we have absolutely no evidence of, let alone a warning.
It took the war of 1812 for the USA to discover the value of professional soldiers and quit appointing political friends to handle life and death situations. We need to broaden the mandate of the military to include direct management of a disaster zone. They alone have the immediate call on the resources needed and the planning and preparation culture needed. It is foolish duplication to create an alternative organization. After all, war is a managed disaster inflicted preferably on your enemy.
Katrina Pain Index: New Orleans Three Years Later
by: Bill Quigley, t r u t h o u t Perspective
Truthout Original - Tuesday 26 August 2008
Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years ago this week. The president promised to do whatever I took to rebuild. But the nation is trying to fight warsin several countries and is dealing with economic crisis. The attention of the president wandered away. As a result, this is what New Orleans looks like today.
0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant - compared to 116,708 homeowners.
0. Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.
0. Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed, privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.
.008. Percentage of rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied - a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.
1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in percentage of housing vacant or ruined.
1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in murders per capita for 2006 and 2007.
4. Number of the 13 City of New Orleans Planning Districts that are at the same risk of flooding as they were before Katrina.
10. Number of apartments being rehabbed so far to replace the 896 apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the Lafitte Housing Development.
11. Percent of families who have returned to live in Lower Ninth Ward.
17. Percentage increase in wages in the hotel and food industry since before Katrina.
20-25. Years that experts estimate it will take to rebuild the City of New Orleans at current pace.
25. Percent fewer hospitals in metro New Orleans than before Katrina.
32. Percent of the city's neighborhoods that have less than half as many households as before Katrina.
36. Percent fewer tons of cargo that move through Port of New Orleans since Katrina.
38. Percent fewer hospital beds in New Orleans since Katrina.
40. Percentage fewer special education students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools than traditional public schools.
41. Number of publicly funded, privately run public charter schools in New Orleans out of total of 79 public schools in the city.
43. Percentage of child care available in New Orleans compared to before Katrina.
46. Percentage increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.
56. Percentage fewer inpatient psychiatric beds compared to before Katrina
80. Percentage fewer public transportation buses now than pre-Katrina.
81. Percentage of homeowners in New Orleans who received insufficient funds to cover the complete costs to repair their homes.
300. Number of National Guard troops still in City of New Orleans.
1,080. Days National Guard troops have remained in City of New Orleans.
1,250. Number of publicly financed vouchers for children to attend private schools in New Orleans in program's first year.
6,982. Number of families still living in FEMA trailers in metro New Orleans area.
8,000. Fewer publicly assisted rental apartments planned for New Orleans by federal government.
10,000. Houses demolished in New Orleans since Katrina.
12,000. Number of homeless in New Orleans even after camps of people living under the bridges have been resettled - double the pre-Katrina number.
14,000. Number of displaced families in New Orleans area whose hurricane rental assistance expires in March 2009.
32,000. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans, leaving the public school population less than half what it was pre-Katrina.
39,000. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding who still have not received any money.
45,000. Fewer children enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare in New Orleans than pre-Katrina.
46,000. Fewer African-American voters in New Orleans in 2007 gubernatorial election than in 2003 gubernatorial election.
55,000. Fewer houses receiving mail than before Katrina.
62,000. Fewer people in New Orleans enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare than pre-Katrina.
71,657. Vacant, ruined, unoccupied houses in New Orleans today.
124,000. Fewer people working in metropolitan New Orleans than pre-Katrina.
132,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the City of New Orleans current population estimate of 321,000 in New Orleans.
214,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the US Census Bureau current population estimate of 239,000 in New Orleans.
453,726. Population of New Orleans before Katrina.
320 million. Number of trees destroyed in Louisiana and Mississippi by Katrina.
368 million. Dollar losses of five major metro New Orleans hospitals from Katrina through 2007. In 2008, these hospitals expect another $103 million in losses.
1.9 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to metro New Orleans for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.
2.6 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to State of Louisiana for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.
[Bill is a human rights lawyer, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and author of the forthcoming book, "STORMS STILL RAGING: Katrina, New Orleans and Social Justice." A version with all sources included is available. Bill's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information see the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and Policy Link. http://www.gnocdc.org/index.html]