Those who had the money to flee . . . ran into hours-long traffic jams. Those too poor to leave the city had to find their own shelter - a policy that was eventually reversed, but only a few hours before the deadly storm struck land.
. . . Residents with cars took to the highways. Others wondered what to do.
"They say evacuate, but they don't say how I'm supposed to do that," Latonya Hill, 57, said at the time. "If I can't walk it or get there on the bus, I don't go. I don't got a car. My daughter don't either."
Advocates for the poor were indignant.
"If the government asks people to evacuate, the government has some responsibility to provide an option for those people who can't evacuate and are at the whim of Mother Nature," said Joe Cook of the New Orleans ACLU.
The Associated Press, "Ivan exposes flaws in N.O.'s disaster plans." Ivan, as in Hurricane Ivan. As in, last year.
New Orleans did, in fact, have a hurricane plan, and it wasn't followed. At all. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority was supposed to "supply transportation as needed," "place special vehicles on alert," "dispatch evacuation buses," and -- the understatement of the year -- "if warranted by scope of evacuation, implement additional service." They didn't do any of that. NORTA, if you're wondering, had more than 350 buses. The New Orleans public schools had more than 200 -- but don't take my word for it; you can count 'em. In Florida, part of our hurricane prep is to make sure that buses that might need to be used to evacuate folks are kept in as secure an area as possible -- i.e., in shelter and/or on high ground. New Orleans, apparently, not so much.
New Orleans's hurricane plan was designed, in part, by James Lee Witt Associates. Witt was head of FEMA under President Clinton, and Governor Blanco has retained Witt to be involved in the recovery. Maybe they'll actually listen to him this time.
Some of the best Katrinablogging is being done by Brendon Loy, who's tearing into the feds and the local government alike. I wondered why the evacuation took so long to order, and according to an interview Mayor Nagin gave, it's because he didn't even call the Hurricane Center until the governor interrupted his dinner and told him to. The recriminations are flying fast and thick now, and though everybody's yelling at the feds, Nagin has lately started getting angry with Governor Blanco, and claiming that he himself did everything he could: "...I elevated the level of stress to the citizens. I said to make sure you have a fricking axe in your house."
You hear that, folks? Make sure you have a fricking axe.
Other people have said plenty about FEMA director Michael Brown, who not only deserves to be fired, but shouldn't have been hired in the first place. I don't have anything to add, but a weird thought struck me. Brown been the object of widespread and justified derision for his ludicrous comment that nobody foresaw this scenario. In a weird way, though, there's something in his statement that's almost sort of right, if you squint at it in a dim light.
If Katrina hadn't weakened and turned at the end, there would not be a shattered, desperate city left behind. There would be a *lake.* We wouldn't be worrying about rescue efforts or dropping supplies, because pretty much everybody who hadn't evacuated would be dead. And that, perversely, would make the job easier.
The dead don't need much. If you can't get to them right away, they'll wait. It'll be harder for you to identify them when you get to them, but that's your problem, not theirs. They don't need food or potable water or medical attention or a warm place to sleep; they don't need resettlement or jobs or assistance for the future.
The United States has a disaster mortuary team. It's called DMORT. Sort of like the Army Reserves for forensics types. Right now they've got about ninety people in Louisiana, and they're setting up temporary mortuary facilities in a small town. Mississippi, in which several towns were literally wiped off the map, falls under the jurisdiction of another DMORT team. Best I can figure out, they've got small teams of observers in right now, but haven't set stuff up yet. They'll be taking care of the dead.
In one of the few mercies from this mess, they won't have to take care of as many as they might have.