A Disastrous Response

The Bush Administration’s deadly inaction in the wake of Hurricane Katrina needs to be the subject of a serious inquiry. President Bush failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region by not adequately responding to the disaster. FEMA and Homeland Security officials arrived too late and too unprepared to handle the crisis. Then, in typical Karl Rove fashion, White House officials shoved the blame for the horrendous disaster relief on the local governments. “The way that emergency operations act under the law … rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials,” explained Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. Regardless of what this clueless bureaucrat says, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security dropped the ball handling the disaster. Michael Brown, director of FEMA, waited until 11:30a.m. on Monday to request 1,000 DHS employees to the Gulf Coast region. Even after three days on the ground in New Orleans, FEMA had not established central command in the city. Why didn’t Chertoff and Brown order personnel to the Gulf Coast region before the storm hit? After all, the hurricane didn’t take us by surprise. Meteorologists even pinpointed the path of the storm. Because of their ineptitude, chaos and death gripped New Orleans.At the height of the looting, Pentagon officials claimed that the states had adequate National Guard units to handle the disaster. Meanwhile, armed thugs roamed the streets of New Orleans, ransacking homes, murdering residents and robbing stores. More disturbingly was the picture of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld taking in a baseball game in San Diego on the Monday the storm hit. But even more disturbing was the fact that the USS Bataan, with helicopters, doctors, food, water and medical supplies, happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico right after the storm hit. For most of the relief effort, the ship sat essentially unused. Rumsfeld obviously had more important things to worry about in his luxury box at Petco Park in San Diego.As for Bush’s response, it ranks as one of worst in presidential history. Almost three full days of death, destruction and anarchy passed in the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region before the President addressed the nation in a low key news conference that left a lot to be desired. In times of crisis, the president is supposed to be a symbol the nation rallies around. After the Oklahoma City Bombings, President Clinton addressed the nation that very evening and consoled the victims of the disaster. In the days following 9/11, President Bush stood atop the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center and vowed to make those responsible for the attacks pay dearly. This time, Bush gave us no leadership, symbolic or substantive. It took President Bush two full days to establish a task force to coordinate a federal response to Hurricane Katrina. What the heck took so long? People were dying in the Superdome and drowning in the streets of New Orleans. Bush’s lack of leadership in the aftermath of this disaster cost some Gulf Coast residents their lives.Baffling is the Bush Administration’s failure to admit that they made mistakes. The President told incompetent FEMA chief Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Just this week, Vice President Dick Cheney returned from his vacation to shower praise on the relief effort, calling it “very impressive.” Unfortunately for Cheney, Gulf Coast residents didn’t feel the same, shouting at the Vice President, “Go f*ck yourself, Mr. Cheney.”One can only hope that this lack of accountability in the Bush White House won’t lead to even more deadly and destructive disaster.