WASHINGTON, D.C.—On the fifth day after Hurricane Katrina struck, National Guard troops finally managed to get
themselves into downtown New Orleans.
How many people could have been saved while the government sat on its ass, we’ll never know. And that’s to say nothing of the people who might have lived had the federal government provided support before the storm, bussing people out of the city rather than leaving them to carry out the evacuation order on their own limited—or absent—means.
Imagine if this had been a terrorist attack. Think of all the money spent, of all the contracts let and new companies formed to help us preserve homeland security in the wake of 9-11. Of all the innocent people arrested and interrogated under the USA Patriot Act. In this disaster, the Department of Homeland Security was utterly useless—with the exception of the Coast
Guard, the one federal agency that actually rescued people in and right after the storm. The Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff ought to have the simple decency to resign. If not,he should be fired, and if Bush won’t fire him, then he should promptly be impeached.
As for the pathetic military response, the responsibility lies with Donald Rumsfeld, who runs the Defense Department. These two should be held accountable for their actions.
On 9-11 the government was unable to defend the U.S. But nobody was held responsible. There was no accountability. Is this to happen again?
Won’t the Congress for once stand up for the ordinary people of the nation? Or is that just too much to expect.
The National Guard is poorly equipped and poorly trained to handle any of this. Not only are its ranks depleted by the Iraq war, but its heavy equipment is gone overseas. According to one report, the Guard can only put together 35 percent of all the quipment,trucks,planes, etc., that it is supposed to have. The state Guards are so depleted they have to borrow from one another.
Although the government could have flown in the medical equipment and doctors to staff existing or makeshift hospitals, it didn’t move. Only at midday today ,did the AP report, “Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the largest public hospital and trauma center in the city, where gunshots prevented efforts on Thursday to evacuate more than 220 patients. “We moved all of the babies out of Charity this morning,” said Keith Simon, spokesman for Acadian Ambulance Service Inc.
This is the United States. Rescuing babies from a natural disaster took five days!
All week doctors made do with battlefield triage, leaving the badly ill to die, while trying to save the younger and healthier people.
Dr. Richard Bradley, a professor at both the University of Texas Houston Medical School and Baylor College of Medicine, is assigned to the elite Texas Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue team. The team went to New York after the 9-11 attacks. And he has been in New Orleans since the hurricane. Here is what he had on his blog yesterday. “We have been pulling thousands of people out of their locations where they are stranded and surrounded by water. There are so many stranded that
the military helos are actually sling loading food and water in to these people.
“There is no local government to be seen where we are—except for a few law enforcement types. Many of these guys are now carrying long guns. You may have heard about the civil unrest here—it’s so bad, even the Coast Guard rescue crews are carrying shot guns. Our Incident support team told us they have requested 200 armed National Guard troops to protect us today during Search & Rescue ops.
“The medical condition is bad. We don’t have any DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) support—we have been told they are all being used in Baton Rouge. Acadian Ambulance set up a triage area which somehow morphed into the city-wide evacuation center. It is located under an overpass on I-10. It is an amazing site. There are thousands of evacuees there. Some are uninjured and waiting to get on buses to go somewhere. Others are waiting hours for triage. Helicopters are landing in the grass at the rate of 2 – 3 per minute. They are full of evacuees. . . . Later today the unit was pulled from operations because conditions worsened. Once law enforcement improves, they’ll resume rescue operations. Is this really America?”
Additional reporting: Isabel Huacuga
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 30, 2005