Haiti as Seen via New Orleans

The earthquake disaster in Haiti, while owning tragic dimensions far worse that those of Katrina in 2005, nevertheless provides some insight as to the performance of FEMA in 2005, although it has been demonstrated in Congressional hearings, etc., that FEMA got a bad rap. ABC’s Dianne Sawyer stood on the tarmac of the airport at Port Au Prince on 15 January and bewailed the fact that supplies were on-scene but weren’t being delivered. She all but stamped her foot. Perhaps she had forgotten New Orleans.

Supplies were not being distributed primarily because there is no governmental infrastructure in Haiti equipped to do much of anything such as clear roads, set up distribution points, set up communications, appoint personnel, set up morgues, put emergency plans for hospitals in place, etc. Add to that the fact that the UN is probably supposed to take the lead – a disaster in itself – and it’s easy to see how lack of planning, red tape and every other bureaucratic nightmare imaginable is extant. The U.S. Air Force finally got the airport functioning and has an aircraft carrier and boatloads of helicopters available but...who’s in charge?

It’s perfectly obvious that the Southern Command of the United States ought to be in charge. A couple thousand U.S. GIs are on-scene but they probably will act more in keeping the peace than anything else. After all, the Port Au Prince prison was shattered during the earthquake, meaning that about 4,000 convicts are roaming the area. Whatever police force may be in existence cannot be expected to cope if for no other reason the fact that many of its personnel are intimately affected by the quake and tied up in family matters of life and death.

How about Katrina? The following or similar material was the subject of talk radio in 2005 and came from one of the highest-profile bloggers in the nation, Ann Althouse, a law professor in Madison, Wisconsin: “Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday [Aug. 26], the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state’s emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. ‘Quite frankly, if they’d been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals,’ said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.” Incredible! A political decision concerning human lives, with a horrible hurricane about to hit.

President Bush was in contact with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, an African American, well in advance of the storm’s onslaught on the morning of Aug. 29, urging him to evacuate the city. It apparently had been reported that 68-foot waves were churning through the Gulf as Katrina approached. The mayor had at his disposal hundreds of school-buses, as well as city buses and other forms of transportation. He did little more than finally (if memory serves, sometime Sunday, the 28th) tell everyone to get out, but did not move one bus to get anyone out, even though thousands had no means of transportation.

Nagin did direct people to the Superdome, where he had provided no food, no water, no toilet facilities – nothing, in short. Citizens also went to the Convention Center, where there were no food, water, toilets – in short, no provisions for some 70,000 people altogether. Thousands more were simply trapped in their homes. Some one-third of the city’s policemen disappeared, and anarchy overtook the city. But for the intransigence of local and state officials, the looting, shooting, sniping, and other atrocities might have been avoided, because the Army and the National Guard could have been on the scene. Also, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield in Miami called Nagin at home and told him: Get people out of New Orleans.

Sawyer and other reporters were plainly dismayed but had absolutely no understanding of the problems confronting rescuers, most of whom had never seen Haiti and didn’t know anything about the place. This reminds of Fox News reporters Shephard Smith and Geraldo in New Orleans days after the fact in 2005 caterwauling about governmental dereliction but apparently having no comprehension of what had actually happened. At the time, the Coast Guard was rescuing hundreds of people.

Local officials, not FEMA and not George Bush, played the major role in causing the tragedies in New Orleans in 2005. The same is true of officials in Haiti, although, of course, on a much larger scale. As for the reporters who expect miracles overnight, they need to get a life. Just as no one could have foreseen the terrible tragedies in Haiti, no one could have imagined New Orleans in 2005. It was/is virtually criminal to push agendas in the midst of such tragedies.