Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This is The Big One


I've been watching this story obsessively for many hours now, and I'm going to have to take a break and get a little rest. One last observation before I do: everyone involved, officials, emergency workers, reporters, anchors, analysts, they all (all but a few, anyway) seem to be havng trouble coming to grips with what I think is the reality of this crisis, which is that this is The Big One.

The drowning of New Orleans and the devastation of the Gulf Coast region is the equivalent of an earthquake hitting San Francisco or Los Angeles, or the East Asian tsunami. A million plus people with no jobs, no place to live and no assets, an entire major U.S. city all but wiped off the face of the earth, our energy infrastructure significantly crippled -- all that and more make this a big, big deal which will adversely affect the entire country for years.

In one respect or another, we've all been waiting for The Big One, the major disaster which would happen in our lifetimes. The attacks of 9/11 felt like it, but in many ways it really pales in comparison to the devastation caused by Katrina. We thought it would be an earthquake, or a terrorist attack, but this is it.

(Wed 3:30pm):
  • I woke up from a little nap to see the news conference being held by high Federal officials (cabinet level, mostly) and was amazed (well, not really) that their first impulse was not to assure the public that they're mounting a massive relief effort using all the tremendous power of the Federal government, but the very first thing they thought of doing was to loosen restrictions on the oil companies abotu sulphur content and volatility, and on the rules about how many hours truck drivers can work.

    Does anyone in their right mind really believe that if Joe Trucker drove day and night to bring in relief supplies the Feds were going the slap him with a violation?

  • My disdain for Wolf Blitzer continues to know no bounds. I've just watched him repeatedly talk over a reporter on the ground who was giving brand new first-hand information about the relief effort. What was so important that Wolf had to interrupt new data? He wanted his studio cohort to use his Google Earth display to show where the reporter was located.

    Blitzer is truly an idiot.

    Not that the others are much better. Soledad O'Brien (if that's her name) this morning was uninformed and combatative. She hectored the poor mayor of New Orleans (who seems to be in a very bad psychological state, alternating between unjustified optimism and total gloominess), a man whose city has just been practically wiped off the face of the earth, about why the emergency response plan wasn't better. That's a legitimate question, but her attitude was of a know-it-all college sophomore -- just dump some shipping containers in front of the breach, that will do it, duh!

    And then there's Paula Zahn whose stock-in-trade seems to be allowing her emotions to color everything she "reports".

    These are all CNN people because that's what I'm watching primarily -- I'll switch over to MSNBC for a break, but then I have to put up with people like Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews. Faux News is not an option, of course, and ABC is occasionally bearable.

    Aaron Brown hasn't been fabulous, but he's been better than the others, at least.

  • Good news that the water has apparently crested. I hope that means they'll be able to make some progress on plugging up the breaches.

  • Heard that Bush spent 35 minutes looking at the devastation out the window of Air Force One. I'm glad he was able to squeeze such a dynamic response into his busy vacation schedule.

    Wonkette has it right:
    The President's Response to Insurgent Katrina

    Fox News and others are reporting that the President just got "his own bird's eye view" of Katrina's damage as Air Force One flew over the devestated region. Shortly after, Bush gave prepared remarks to the press pool:
    We are making progress in New Orleans. The flood is in its last throes. Clearly, the hurricane has a hateful ideology and does not like our freedom or our dryness. We cannot surrender to it. In New Orleans, they are working on a draft evacuation; it is an evacuation process, and we must expect that if we are to bring American-style democracy to the Mississippi Delta.
    The president added that "to pull out now would only give aid to the elements."

    [Thanks to Trish]

(Wed 5:15pm):

  • Bush is speaking now. As always, I find it valuable (and much better for my blood pressure) to interpret him by keeping the sound off and watching his face and body language, while his words roll by on closed captions. He seems like he's attempting to look both resolute and concerned, but he's only managing to look angry -- and I think it's probable that this is just what he feels. I don't know if he's angry at the storm, mad that he had to stop vacationing, or upset that he's been called on to do something presidential instead of political, but he looks much more like a parent scolding an errant child than a strong leader taking charge in a crisis.

  • I'm surprised we haven't heard from Pat Robertson, blaming the residents of New Orleans for bringing this disaster on themselves, as he did to New Yorkers after 9/11. Surely New Orleans, with its lascivious French Quarter, the excesses of Mardi Gras and its reputation for sensuality and sexuality, must rate as a junior Gomorrah to New York's Sodom, so it's strange that Pat hasn't interpreted the storm as God's wrath on the Crescent City for its evil ways.

    Of course, if Katrina was the expression of the deity's retribution, it has to be said that his aim is as bad as his design capabilities. Just as plants and animals prove to be patched-together Rube Goldbergian mechanisms and not the well-designed systems that intelligent design adherents claim, Katrina could have done a lot more damage to New Orleans if God had just sent it slightly to the west of the city instead of to the east. If that had happened, the full power of the strongest part of the storm, the north-east quadrant, would have hit Lake Ponchartrain directly, and the city would have been devasted much more quickly, without the period of time we've got now to rescue people and try to patch things up.

    Of course, perhaps Pat is holding his tongue because he learned his lesson after 9/11 (not likely), or maybe because too many good religious people, both in New Orleans and in the rest of the greater Gulf Coast region, were badly hurt by the storm, and how would he explain that?

    Of course, that was also the case for New Yorkers and 9/11 (we're not all homosexuals and godless atheists, after all), and it didn't stop him then.

(Wed 7:40pm): Talk about fiddling while Rome burns! [Thanks to Shirley]

(Wed 8:15pm): The media emphasis on "law and order" consistently fails to make the vital distinction between people who take things which are essential for their survival -- food, water, medical supplies, clothing, equipment -- which there is no other way to get in a city which has totally broken down, and those people who take luxury items and other non-essentials. One is surviving, the other is looting. And stealing, whether of essentials or non-essentials, is really unimportant compared to the threat of violence and mob behavior.

It seems as if the police understand the difference, and have their priorities in order:

The officers were rushing to a break-in next door at the Sports Authority, desperate to secure the store's stockpile of guns and ammunition.

"I think we ran them off before they got any of it," said the commanding officer at the scene. The cops secured the store with heavy plywood before moving on to other emergencies.

At about 2 p.m., the officers rushed back to disrupt a second break-in at the sporting goods store. An officer in a squad car tried to chase a Bell South utility truck that fled the scene, but he lost the truck amid fallen trees.

Upon surveying the thefts, the officer said the most conspicuous missing items were all the weapons from the store's knife case.

Before boarding up again, the officers took some essential supplies for themselves: socks, T-shirts and Power Bars.

[Emphasis added -- Ed]

Note that I'm not criticising the cops: they took what they needed, in a circumstance where they couldn't get it any other way -- which is my point exactly.

Addendum: This is from the Times-Picayune:

Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 police officers to leave their search-and-rescue mission Wednesday night and return to the streets to stop looting that has turned increasingly hostile as the city plunges deeper into chaos.

"They are starting to get closer to heavily populated areas — hotels, hospitals, and we're going to stop it right now," Nagin said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The number of officers called off the search-and-rescue mission amounts to virtually the entire police force in New Orleans.

Well, it sounds wrong to me, but I'm not on the scene, and don't have any real sense of just what conditions are like in the city. Unlike certain TV anchors, I'm willing to cut the mayor a lot of slack in his efforts to save his city.

At one store, hordes of people from all ages, races and walks of life grabbed food and water. Some drove away with trunkloads of beer.

At one point, two officers drew their guns on the looters, but the thieves left without incident. One of the officers said he was not going to arrest anyone for snatching up food and water.


"It's really difficult because my opinion of the looting is it started with people running out of food, and you can't really argue with that too much," [Mayor] Nagin said. "Then it escalated to this kind of mass chaos where people are taking electronic stuff and all that."


New Orleans' homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert, said looters were breaking into stores all over town and stealing guns. He said there are gangs of armed men moving around the city. At one point, officers stranded on the roof of a hotel were fired at by criminals on the street.


Several residents of Algiers Point have posted door signs telling would-be trespassers that they are home and have guns to defend themselves. Resident Vnnie Pervel, former Algiers Point Association president, said he and a few other residents had been trying to sleep by day and patrol the streets at night.

(Wed 10:32pm): Looking over the last couple months of entries on unfutz, it's clear that I wasn't much motivated to post. One thing I was doing a lot of (and continue to do) is watching baseball, both the Mets and the Yankees. Baseball is something I've enjoyed since I was a kid, and it's something of a calm harbor for me when things get overwrought in the real world. (Not that don't get exercised about baseball too when things don't go well, but it's the kind of thing that's much easier to shake off, because it's not real.)

I was very happy to hear during tonight's Yankees game, that the team is donating $1 million to help disaster relief in the wake of Katrina. That's a very decent thing to do, and I thank them for doing it. (Other ball clubs are doing their part as well.)

If anyone reading this hasn't had the time or opportunity yet to make a donation, I urge you to do so, for whatever amount you can afford. As the title of this post says, this is big, and I'm sure they'll need every possible penny they can get. Use the link below to give to the Red Cross, or the links on the right in the "hurricane 2005 relief" box, or find another relief agency you're comfortable with and give what you can.

(Wed 11:00pm): Some people are just damned unlucky.

Dawn and Alan Hooley, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., were vacationing in New Orleans when Katrina approached. Ironically, they were taking a break before starting to rebuild their Dairy Queen restaurant, which was destroyed by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year.

[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/31/2005 09:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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