The book made me realize the REAL reason the aftermath of Katrina was so chaotic. AND it changed my mind on how George W. Bush handled it all.
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”The Great Deluge”, by Douglas Brinkley
It took me almost two months to read this book. Number one, I started over the busy Christmas 2010 holiday season and of course was pulled away from it quite often. Number two, I am a bit of a Hurricane Katrina aficionado and I really did want to read the entire tome carefully. Number three, TOME is definitely the correct word for the book is over 700 pages long.
In fact, I have an entire Blog devoted to Hurricane Katrina as, number one, I am fascinated by hurricanes being an east coaster and having lived through many of them and number two, if ever one natural event would effectively illustrate the weakness of a body politic run amok, is this hurricane and its horrific aftermath. At the end of this review I have links to my Hurricane Katrina Blog, all written and posted AS the hurricane was happening.
Finally, after reading this book and what with my close attention to the events, I have determined what was the BIGGEST and most DAMAGING problem in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I kept my Hurricane Katrina blog for the benefit of my granddaughter, who was but three years old at the time of the storm. I want her to have the benefit of a true life journal of events before the liberals re-write history.
Let us begin with some big kudos to Douglas Brinkley for writing a wonderful well-documented book. Brinkley is viewed by man conservative types like myself as a bit of a liberal and prone to coloring his historical books with a slightly leftoid bent.
“The Great Deluge” is no different, for Brinkley did tend to play up some elements of the story while playing down others. This is the prerogative of a writer some might say but it’s no mind. Brinkley mostly got it right, he footnoted all of his information and rarely inserted his editorial into the story. But he did from time to time. Fortunately I knew enough of the story to even out the keel.
Something Brinkley also did, to my own surprise, is convince me of some things that before I read this book I’d never have admitted. Such as I now slightly agree that George Dubya Bush could have done a better job in handling this storm, a notion I’d have spit at before reading the book. Which is not to say that the President of the United States ever should be getting in all deep and dirty with a local disaster such as a hurricane. That’s the job of the locals, I said this before reading the book, I still say if after reading the book, I’ll say it to the day I die.
But Hurricane Katrina was more, so much more, than just your average hurricane.
Brinkley positively excoriated New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and as well he should have. Louisiana Governor Blanco doesn’t fare much better in Brinkley’s eyes and she too was a boobaloob. President Bush is way down on the list of political figures deserving a lambaste but after reading the book I’d have to suggest that Bush too should have handled things better.
Brinkley begins from the beginning of the storm, leading up to the date of the storm and a couple of terrible decisions made by local politicos that cost thousands of lives.
Local Parish President, Aaron Broussard decided to remove all operators of the huge pumps that pump storm overflow from the “bowl” that includes the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. This was a move that caused major property damage and loss of life.
"It was also...illogical to evacuate essential personnel to a site 110 miles away. That was the case with the pump operators, who ended up in the town of Mount Hermon, near the Mississippi line. ...it took them hours to return to Jefferson Parish ...and assume their posts. During those nine hours, thousands of homes in Lakeview and Metairie that might have remained dry were destroyed."
NO Mayor Ray Nagin decided against forcing mandatory evacuations. This was another mistake that cost many lives. Nagin, as well as Governor Blanco, didn’t want to be responsible for the cost of getting buses and bussing these people out. The SuperDome was opened as a place to go for refuge from the storm should the citizens in the lower 9th ward require, but if they didn’t want to leave they wouldn’t have to.
A picture of hundreds of school buses sitting, unused, in many feet of water is an image that will forever encapsulate this very bad decision.
After the storm, Brinkley tells the story of many of the survivors, in their own words. The scene at the SuperDome and later, the Convention Center, isn’t pretty, but it was never as bad as the frothing media made it out to be.
Citizens of New Orleans were left to languish in the oppressive heat, often without water or food, in the SuperDome, in the Convention Center, on the Interstate I-10 off ramp, often for four to five days. The reader is shocked that a country that is over in Thailand after a huge tsunami within a day, pulling survivors out of the havoc, or in Haiti within hours of a major earthquake….the USA left its own citizens to languish desperately on roof tops, to suffer, to thirst, to hunger, without medical care, without, as so many New Orleaneans left in the flooded bowl after the storm had to think, a soul in the world caring whether they lived or died.
Meanwhile, FEMA head Brown didn’t have a clue where to begin and Director of Homeland Security Chertoff demanded that fellow Americans traveling to help the citizens of Louisiana take “diversity” classes first, as any good bureaucrat would demand.
Governor Blanco moaned, wrongly, about the National Guard:
Governor Blanco….re the National Guard…" 'Their first responsibility is to local disaster recovery efforts. We didn't have our Louisiana National Guard stateside.'
Yes, she did. Instead of setting up outside the New Orleans bowl, north of Hurrican Alley, like the U.S. Coast Guard did in Alexandria, the Louisians National Guard chose to set up at Jackson Barracks in the below=sea-level Lower Ninth Ward. The rest, as they say, was history."
I was fascinated in the reading. At times I wept at the tragedy, at times I cursed the stupidity.
At the end I was able to discern what the biggest problem with Hurricane Katrina was.
The hurricane itself was, really, naught but a hurricane. Yes hurricanes are horrific events but the Monday after Katrina hit the pubs of New Orleans were alive with celebrants. They’d dodged the “Big One”. The electricity was out, things were a bit wet, but the city was there, the Mardi Gras would go on the following year.
Then the levees broke. Then Lake Pontchartrain poured into the “bowl” that was New Orleans. Citizens climbed into their attics, then onto their roofs. Some looted the stores, others searched for lost pets and loved ones, many died.
President Bush kept abreast of what was going on with New Orleans. But he did make one major, major mistake and it will forever haunt him, his leadership, and cast a pall on his presidency.
For the BIGGEST problem of them all after Hurricane Katrina is what ultimately caused more confusion, death and chaos than anything else.
THERE WAS NO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION FOR MANY DAYS!
And THAT, yon reader, is what felled them all. President Bush cared about New Orleans. It’s just that he was getting bad reports from FEMA. FEMA was getting bad reports from the locals because they only spoke to the few national guards assigned to the Superdome. The New Orleans cops, shameful, shameful, almost all abandoned their posts. Mayor Nagin holed up at the Hyatt Regency, close to a mental breakdown. Governor Blanco chewed her fingernails and blamed the Iraq war for taking all the national guards out of her state.
It could be a comedy if it weren’t so damn tragic.
Nobody had any kind of effective communication with anybody. Nobody knew what was going on. The citizens were unable to contact their family outside of Louisiana as the cell lines didn’t work. A few folks has satellite phones, but a very few and often they didn’t work.
It wasn’t until almost a week after the storm that the extent of the breeched levees, the sad state of the Convention Center where so many NO citizens went in their desperation for help, the dead hospital patients, the people stuck in roof tops or in attics….it was one of the biggest snafus in American history.
Brinkley describes President Bush as "remarkably incurious". This seems like a hurtful description. Throughout our history there’ve been hurricanes in many, many states. Hurricane Andrew dealt Florida one awful blow. I remember how Hurricane Agnes literally destroyed entire Maryland eastern shore islands in its path.
It was never the job of Presidents to be “remarkably curious” about hurricanes.
Beyond getting updates from Homeland Security, it’s never been the job of Presidents to get involved in hurricanes, local rescues, that sort of thing.
Hurricane Katrina was, to beg the wit here, the perfect storm.
The local politicos were simply too damn dumb to handle the job, from local parish president to New Orleans Mayor to Louisiana Governor. The city of New Orleans, carrying cause and effect back a few more steps, shouldn’t even be there, much less a heavily populated area such as the 9th ward, right in the center of a “bowl” just waiting for the lake to fill it to the top. The levees, Lord knows how well they were built. There are other cities on this planet, Amsterdam for one, that are below sea level. Levees and pumps, properly built without corruption and graft, keep them safe.
Surely some fault goes to the citizens of New Orleans themselves. Most of the residents of the city DID, in fact, evacuate, at the pleading of the local government. Those that didn’t, well they took a chance. To be fair, I’m not sure that having a lake pour unceremoniously into the town was something those that stayed behind considered. They were planning to ride out a hurricane and if it had stopped after the winds and rain, they likely would have done it handily.
The communication issue was the biggest problem AFTER the storm passed. Absolutely no one knew what was going on, where to go. Hospitals had patients but no one to help them evacuate. Citizens holed up in attics or on roof tops, no one even aware there was a problem.
Those running the show, the NO cops, FEMA, the local politicians…they didn’t know up from down.
At around day three after the storm, dawn began to break over American heads. Something was seriously wrong in New Orleans. It was at this point that the remarkably incurious president Bush should have taken over the reigns and gotten things done. With one phone call Bush could have stopped the nonsense of Chertoff and his “diversity” training of would-be rescuers. With another phone call Bush could have gotten the busses so desperately needed to bus those poor souls out of the hell they were living in.
The buck, as the saying goes, does stop somewhere. I don’t think for a minute that President Bush wished one bit of suffering on the citizens of New Orleans. It’s just that he, and those who were reporting to him, didn’t know what a hell the place had become. For sure Bush could have avoided that ridiculous pep rally thing where he shouted what a good job “Brownie” was doing at FEMA.
Brownie, and his merry band of bureaucratic minions were doing a lousy job. That poorly planned exercise in public relations didn’t help a damn thing.
Below, the links to my Hurricane Katrina Blog.