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More from readers on Katrina

Reader Dave Wright– AKA DaveW– offers his view on the response to the calamity on the Gulf Coast:

Here’s my response to Hazel’s comments from the (rather angry) perspective of an ex-Brit living in the US for 6 years.

Hazel, it would appear, like most Brits, has little idea of the scale of the US, or the administrative structure necessary to govern such a vast and diverse country as ours. You can drive from one end of England to the other is a few hours. The closest analogy I can think of is to imagine that a hurricane hit Aberdeen, with severe disruption everywhere north of Glasgow/Edinburgh. And with Aberdeen’s socio-economic make-up being that of Moss Side. And with most of the British army’s helicopters in Cyprus.

To make comparisons with the tsunami is specious. In that case, the devastation was generally limited to the coast, with many areas even a mile inland barely affected. Thanks heavens that was the case– it allowed locally-based foreign aid agencies to start work immediately, and avoided a far worse catastrophe– similar to what we have seen on our TV screens this week, but multiplied a thousand fold. But the Gulf Coast is very different, with the devastation stretching miles inland; if Baton Rouge had been unaffected, the situation should have been very different.

Disaster preparedness planning is, and must be, primarily a local activity. The local officials know the geography (both human and physical) and control the resources that will be available before and in the immediate aftermath of an emergency. The Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana had 24-48 hours to prepare. In that timescale, only they could do anything, and it is now clear that what they did both immediately before and immediately afterwards was woefully insufficient.

Hazel notes: “I also read incredulously, that the head of FEMA blamed the Mayor for the problems in the Sports Dome– apparently it was the Mayor’s responsibility to bus the remaining residents out – 100,000 people? What– on transporter beams?”

No, he had hundreds of school busses, and at least 24 hours. Where were the school busses? The New Orleans authorities had hundreds of buses at their disposal. Across southern LA there are thousands. If all bus drivers in New Orleans and southern LA had be ordered to drive to New Orleans before Katrina hit, all those at the Superdome, and many others could have been safely evacuated. This is just one small example of shortcomings in the necessarily local emergency response; there are many others. Perhaps she thinks that FEMA has thousands of buses that can be sent by “transporter beam” to any location in a country 70 times the area of England? As far as federal assistance, it was at most 12 hours behind the fastest practical given the distance and the disruption to transport infrastructure.

From the BBC coverage I’ve seen, perhaps its not too surprising that people like Hazel think that this is all GWB’s fault. Hazel, perhaps, has little knowledge of the US, but the BBC can have no excuse. I came here believing, as almost all Britons do, in the BBC’s impartiality and authoritativeness; I even wrote a “Tivo for web radio” software app so that I could listen to Radio 4 at breakfast, delayed 8 hours. However, the BBC’s consistent inaccuracy and slant in their coverage of US news quickly convinced me otherwise, once I had local sources of news (PBS) to correlate BBC coverage with.

Hazel asks: “How come after 4 days there are still US citizens with nothing no food no water no clothes sleeping rough and the US is turning down help? How come it seems quite a lot of US citizens have very little sympathy for them?”

The answer appears to be that it only seems that way if your source of news is the BBC; anyone watching CNN, NBC, PBS, CNBC, MSNBC, ABC or Fox, or reading any US newspaper over the last few days could not possibly have come away with this impression. About the only lack of sympathy I have seen has been from a few commenting on HP, and possibly that implicit in the superior tone of some BBC coverage.

Hazel also says: “A BBC reporter tonight said they drove to Alabama today to get petrol and found only one relief vehicle, that of a private citizen who had driven up[sic] from California with water supplies he had purchased himself. It is quite beyond belief here in the UK.”

Yes, it would be quite beyond belief to someone in England that ordinary Americans would drop whatever they were doing with their lives and drive nearly two thousand miles to do what little they could to help out. Thankfully, after 6 years of living here, that is no surprises to me at all. Oh, maybe that isn’t what she meant. The BBC wouldn’t have told her that the closest big city out of the disaster zone is in Texas, and that is where most of the relief is coming from.

Dave the Mad Jock deals with most of the other points, so I’ll leave it at that.

And Hazel Jackson responds to David Terron:

For the record I am by no means hostile to the Bush administration overall or Dubya himself. I worked in a management role for a US oil company for several years and got on very well with my coworkers. I guess I understand the mindset as well probably as any European can. But national emergencies call for a national response and this seems to have failed here on a good many levels in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Can I make a few points to you to take into account perhaps.

1. Before the hurricane struck, the Mayor announced he had made provision for those unable to leave to remain in the Superdome. As it turned out this was overtaken by the scale of events. Desperate pleas for help were made. Was blaming the victims and the city for a failed evacuation then the best FEMA could do? It only bears out my point that the entire Command and Control structure went into meltdown as the disaster unfolded.

2. When it became apparent people were starving, why no air drops of food and water? The terrain and lack of infrastructure don’t come much much worse than Afghanistan yet the government managed air drops there?

3. I read on the Red Cross web site that once the federal authorities got involved, they would not allow the Red Cross into the stricken city, in case it encouraged people to stay rather than leave? What were the federal authorities trying to do, starve out the remaining residents?

4. Finally one of the most shocking things to European eyes (and indeed Asian eyes) was the breakdown in law and order in New Orleans. Not the looting of necessities but the shooting, raping and killing of fellow citizens and holding up hospitals. That didn’t even happen, as far as I know in Indonesia after the tsunami, where the hardest hit area, Banda Aceh, was held at the time by armed local rebels. There were no reports of Thais trying to mug local tourists. Everyone was co-operating in trying to get through. It has just highlighted how dehumanising life in some parts of black New Orleans must be on the residents.

Meanwhile, in the face of all the death, suffering, destruction, violence and blame-shifting, perhaps this photo offers some hope for the future of humanity:

Tanisha Blevin, 5, holds the hand of Nita
LaGarde, 105, as they are evacuated Saturday
from the New Orleans Convention Center.