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Friday, September 02, 2005

So... who was at fault for the destruction of New Orleans?

I've been thinking about that a lot during the past few days, and the conclusion I'm coming to is...

...that it was nobody's fault, but a lot of people were not adequately prepared for this.

If anyone, blame the French, or one lousy Frenchman anyway...

...Because Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, Sieur de Bienville - the founder of New Orleans - conned the King of France to making all the cheap swampland that he swiped up near the mouth of the Mississippi be the new capital of French Louisiana. As New Orleans grew Bienville sold his parcels of land at outrageously higher prices than what he acquired it for. So New Orleans was a town born of a corrupt politician... and it looks like his lack of vision is going to be darn near the death of it too.
Feels weird to see that after writing it just less than a year ago.

I've seen a lot of reports blaming the New Orleans disaster on President George W. Bush. That he took away from the budget the funds that would have improved and reinforced the levees. I don't know if it's fair to blame that on him though: even if levee improvements had begun in 2001, it's been calculated that it would take twenty-five years to complete the entire project. I think a lot of things have been botched at the federal level so far as disaster relief goes - things that were far more expedited last year in Florida, f'rinstance - but in regard to the levees, I really can't put total blame on him for this. It was unwise to practically defund the measures, however. But in terms of time to do this, the levees couldn't have been redone even if Bush poured five times the requested budget into doing this.

I'm most tempted to blame the local politicians, namely Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Nagin especially: he really blew his chance to show leadership qualities on Saturday, two days before the storm hit. He actually conferred with the lawyers to see if he could declare a mandatory evacuation. It had never been done before in New Orleans history. It was unprecedented... but then a situation like Katrina was unprecedented also. This could have been Nagin's moment to take the initiative and earnestly try to get everybody out of town. Who cares about what the lawyers would have thought at this point? I think a lot of New Orleans people honestly thought there was nothing to worry about, that Katrina would change course, because of the city's reluctance to evacuate. A lot of them kept on partying even as the storm lay just off the coast. This is what the history books are going to judge Ray Nagin by, I'm afraid. Blanco showed a similar lack of leadership potential leading up to the storm: she failed to have adequate resources available to handle the situation. Among other things I've heard that the decision to impose "contraflow" on the highways leading out of town actually hampered some rescue/relocation efforts. She also failed to do enough to prompt people to evacuate, it could be judged.

That's how I see things as they relate to the actual hurricane. As far as now goes, it's too early to tell... but I've been disappointed in all three of the above mentioned people. Anderson Cooper was right when he confronted Lousiana Senator Mary Landrieu: the people of New Orleans do not want to hear politicians thanking and congratulating each other while they're starving to death and rats eating dead bodies in the streets. So far that's all the elected officials seem to be doing: posturing for the cameras, and blaming each other. It's way past time for the adults to take over in this situation.

But, ultimately, none of these people are going to be blamed for this. New Orleans was in a horrible geographical situation, and it played Russian roulette with the coming of each new hurricane season. This time it finally happened to get the bullet. It was an act of God, whatever His will was with regards to that once-great city. If any of us here on Earth are at fault, it is only in that we proudly have too much faith in ourselves, instead of remembering that despite all our abilities we are yet at the mercy of forces far beyond our control.


Roch101 said...

As you're mulling this over, read about Hurricane Pam.

Chris Knight said...

So far it doesn't look like FEMA learned very much from last year's exercise. I said a few days ago that a lot of conspiracy-minded people think FEMA is going to be how martial law/police state is going to happen to America. After seeing how they've been bumbling with aid after Katrina, I think it can safely be assured that FEMA is no threat to our liberty :-)