When the Saints Go Marching In

National Guard Arrives

You may call me a Johnny-come-lately if you wish, but a week after Katrina’s strike, I cannot escape the conclusion that we failed the City of New Orleans. We failed the Gulf Coast.

“We” being “the government”, which I maintain is nothing more than a reflection of the individuals of society. More than the local officials who overlooked 200 school buses that could have been used to truck hundreds of stranded New Orleans residents out of harm’s way, more than the Bush Administration, which sparred with the Louisiana Governor’s office over who controlled the relief effort, more than the directors of FEMA which dallied in the face of hundreds of Americans eager to send some serious aid.

There was a moment on Monday when we thought that, perhaps, New Orleans had been spared the worst. There was a moment when the storm passed when we didn’t realize the true extent of the damage. And then there was a moment when, after we realized just how bad things had become, some of us started looking for others to blame.

As the incidents of poor planning multiply; as buses bypassed the beleaguered Superdome to pick up passengers from inside the high-and-dry convention centre, buses that were late in coming and initially ignored by FEMA, it’s clear that we will have hard questions to ask ourselves in the coming weeks. Did we do all that we could? For one brief moment, did we let our guard down? But I still believe it is too soon for blanket recriminations against any particular level of government or any particular agency, or any side of the political spectrum.

One reason that I counselled against recriminations is taking place right now: throughout the blogosphere and in the media, we’re seeing a flurry of accusation and counteraccusations as people try to avoid “their man” getting the blame. Some people point to budget cuts and the decision not to bolster the levys and blame the Bush Administration. Others point to miscues on the ground and blame FEMA. Still others, defending Bush from blame, turn that blame onto local officials, particularly Mayor Nagin of New Orleans.

See what’s happening? Many of these questions are legitimate, but the political motivations behind them are clouding the issue. Partisans on all sides are making political hay from this disaster. Some are salivating over the blow this deals Bush. Others are looking for others to blame in Bush’s stead. And many of those who accuse others of playing politics with Katrina are playing politics themselves.

And none of this changes the underlying truth of the matter: we failed the Gulf Coast.

And we will continue to fail New Orleans and the Gulf Coast for as long as we make knee jerk reactions over whose fault this all is, and who’s making the most political hay out of it.

Tough questions have to be asked over how this disaster was handled, before, during and after the hurricane. But looking through the posts and coverage, I despair that we can answer these questions rationally, for the benefit of the displaced citizens. Instead, the debates will be framed in the committee rooms in Washington, and in pundit corners in the media and through the blogosphere. We will do so in such a way as to avoid blame rather than prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

And we will fail the Gulf Coast again.

Good News in New Orleans

Jay Currie links to some good news in New Orleans:

An elite team of rescue experts from Vancouver saved 30 people Saturday who had been stranded in a New Orleans suburb devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Vancouver Urban Search and Rescue team leader Tim Armstrong said on the team — s website Saturday that it was the only operation of its kind deployed in the area around St. Bernard Parish, about 32 kilometres east of New Orleans.
times colonist

Mark at Section 15 also links to the story and has an excellent post describing Canada’s contribution to the relief efforts so far, which includes three warships and a coast guard vessel.

Despite some hold-ups by the Department of Homeland Security (take a note of that for future investigation), these individuals aren’t casting about for blame. They’re just interested in getting the job done.


I don’t know if it’s directly in response to this post, but Mark at Section 15 posts a rebuttal that is worth reading.

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