Sleepwalking in Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The sleep walk in political Washington continues this morning, with President George Bush trying to defend his lackadaisical response to Hurricane Katrina. He’s staging a bunch of photo ops in the hard-hit areas of the Gulf Coast, while federal officials say they are really very efficient and doing a great job. This place is la-la land.

Everybody’s taking off for the Labor Day weekend. You’d never know anything was going on.

But so much is, and it’s not limited to New Orleans.

In Mississippi, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reports this morning that fuel shortages are horrendous throughout the state with lines at the pumps stretching for miles. Governor Haley Barbour says he thinks the problem is not a real shortage but drivers topping off their tanks.

Michael Barnett in his New Orleans blog called Interdictor gives some first hand reporting on what’s going on in New Orleans with the cops and military. The Interdictor spoke by cell phone to a citizen who provided this account of the National Guard in action:

“Although obviously he has no exact count, he estimates more than 10,000 people are packed into and around and outside the convention center still waiting for the buses. They had no food, no water, and no medicine for the last three days, until today, when the National Guard drove over the bridge above them, and tossed out supplies over the side crashing down to the ground below. Much of the supplies were destroyed from the drop. Many people tried to catch the supplies to protect them before they hit the ground. Some offered to walk all the way around up the bridge and bring the supplies down, but any attempt to approach the police or National Guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them.”

Quoting the same citizen:

“Before the supplies were pitched off the bridge today, people had to break into buildings in the area to try to find food and water for their families. There was not enough. This spurred many families to break into cars to try to escape the city. There was no police response to the auto thefts until the mob reached the rich area—Saulet Condos—once they tried to get cars from there. . . well then the whole swat teams began showing up with rifles pointed. Snipers got on the roof and told people to get back.”

Meanwhile, Mississippi is bracing for an influx of storm victims heading north from New Orleans. The governor is asking the shelters to stay open to help. Jerry Mitchell, of the Clarion Ledger, reports that FEMA staff actually ran practice drills on how to handle a real-time disaster by acting out a worst-case scenario in which a fictional Hurricane Pam hits New Orleans.

There’s been more looting along the Gulf Coast, with the Mississippi National Guard trying to stop it "If our lives are threatened, we shoot to kill," Major General Harold Cross, told press there. "We don't shoot to wound."

The world must be fairly shocked by the U.S. handling of this mess. Agence France Presse reports, “Around 200 frightened Japanese, European, and American tourists, who had been thrown out of their hotel on Thursday morning, told how police fired over their heads as they attempted to get to buses to take them to safety.”

With people all over the country throwing open their homes to stranded hurricane victims, the Dallas police are telling people to be wary in accepting such visitors: "I would suggest you know who you are taking into your home," Senior Cpl. Max Geron, a Dallas police spokesman told the Dallas Morning News. "There are so many reputable organizations, such as the Red Cross, trained to help refugees that it's best left in their arms."

And former Dallas Bar Association president Al Ellis told the paper potential hosts better have some safeguards. "I would want to see identification, a driver's license, something . . . hopefully, a photo ID," said Mr. Ellis. "I would probably ask questions about who they are, who their family is, where they lived, if they have family in other parts of the country."

Additional reporting: Isabel Huacuja

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