Waist-Deep in the Big Easy

Right-wing spin doctors are hard at work blaming state and local authorities in an attempt to absolve George W. Bush of the impotent governmental response to Hurricane Katrina.
Lest we forget where the blame should rightly fall, let’s review the events of the week of Aug. 27 to Sept. 2, when strong leadership could have averted a catastrophe, but during which time Bush showed levels of incompetence unseen since he read ‘My Pet Goat’ in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.
On Aug. 27, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco requested that Bush declare a federal state of emergency for Louisiana, saying, ‘This incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments. … Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health and safety.’
Bush responded by authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ‘identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.’
To review: On Aug. 27, two days before Katrina hit land in Buras-Triumph, La., Bush acknowledged that state and local governments were not prepared to respond to Katrina and authorized the use of federal aid.
On Aug. 28, the National Weather Service predicted ‘devastating damage,’ saying, ‘most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks’ and ‘water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.’
Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, contacted Bush (on vacation in Crawford, Texas) to warn that the levees in New Orleans were likely to fail. Mayfield gave a similar warning to Michael Brown, the woefully inexperienced director of FEMA.
With the situation in Louisiana looking increasingly dire, Bush flew to Arizona. On Aug. 29, the same day that Katrina made landfall and New Orleans’ levees were breached, Bush enjoyed birthday cake with Sen. John McCain and discussed a prescription drug program with retirees before flying to San Diego, Calif. and checking into the ritzy Hotel del Coronado.
Meanwhile, two days after he had been given the authority to do so, Brown finally got around to dispatching some workers to the Gulf Region. Five hours after the hurricane made landfall, Brown gave orders for 1,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security to be in New Orleans in two days. Part of their stated mission was to ‘convey a positive message’ about the federal government’s response.
On Aug. 30, the situation in New Orleans worsened. Victims who had not yet been supplied with food, water and other essential items began taking such necessities (and in some cases, luxury items) from local stores. Although several victims were still stranded on rooftops, police had to cease search-and-rescue missions in order to try to restore lawfulness.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, Bush delivered a V-J Day speech at a naval base and played guitar with country singer Mark Willis. Later that night, he flew back to his beloved Crawford ranch.
By Aug. 31, tens of thousands of evacuees had crammed into the squalid Superdome and 3,000 more were in the convention center. Two women were raped. At least three people died. One man committed suicide. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said that he was ‘extremely pleased’ with the federal response.
On Sept. 1, Bush declared, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees,’ although he had been informed of such a possibility just four days earlier.
Brown, evidently vying for a position as the new Iraqi information minister, claimed, ‘I’ve had no reports of unrest,’ and, ‘Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well.’
On Sept. 2, Bush visited New Orleans, but did more harm than good. During his visit, air traffic, including rescue helicopters and three tons of food ready for air delivery, was grounded. Bush declared that he was ‘satisfied with the response,’ but ‘not satisfied with the results,’ and praised Brown, saying, ‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.’
Brown resigned 10 days later. Bush has yet to follow suit.

Ben Ritter is a third-year English major. Contact him at britter@uci.edu