Breathtaking Ignorance at the Washington Post (New Orleans flooding)

Here is the lede paragraph from a Washington Post Editorial today (3 September), entitled “Left Behind”:

“THE LACK OF National Guard troops because of the war in Iraq; the Bush administration's failure to protect coastal wetlands; the reorganization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: All have been blamed, somewhat arbitrarily, for the stunning scenes of chaos at the New Orleans Superdome and convention center, for the unprecedented floodwaters in the city, and for the huge numbers of people without food or water. But if blame is to be laid and lessons are to be drawn, one point stands out as irrefutable: Emergency planners must focus much more on the fate of that part of the population that -- for reasons of poverty, infirmity, distrust of officialdom, lack of transportation or lack of information -- cannot be counted on to leave their homes after an evacuation order.”


There is no “lack of Guard troops.” There was only a failure of the Governor to call for them, until the last two days in which they have flowed in and taken charge.

The lost of the marshes south of New Orleans, its first line of defense, has been continuous for seventy or so years that the Mississippi has been channelized. Reversal of that has just BEGUN in recent years. And, reorganization of FEMA is utterly irrelevant.

Emergency planners DID focus on the need to evacuate people who lack access to public transportation. Here is a quote from page 13 of the Southeast Louisiana Evacuation Plan, last revised in 2000:

“5. The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.”


Census Bureau statistics show that New Orleans had a greater percentage of both children and adults using buses there, than any other major city in the US. So there were ample buses in the city to carry all the remaining residents out in a single trip. The buses were not used.

The Mayor of New Orleans was late in declaring evacuation (later than both the President and the Governor of Louisiana in declaring emergencies). But that was only his first failure. His greatest failure was not moving all those buses to high ground, and telling the remaining residents of the city, “If you want to live, get on the bus.”

There have been many failures over many decades, the biggest being the decades-old decision to defend New Orleans only up to a Category 3 Hurricane. The canal wall which breached had been recently rebuilt to that standard.

But the final, fatal failure was the Mayor of New Orleans not lining up all the available buses in the city, and telling his citizens, “If you want to live, get on the bus.” That is the truth. What the Post editorial offers instead is breathtaking ignorance.

Washington Post