Thursday, September 15, 2005

9/11 Commissioner says rescue efforts 'national scandal'

The recriminations from slow rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina continue to flare, and former 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean, who chaired the investigatory body which made recommendations after the attacks, has said that communication difficulties in the hurricane’s wake are a ‘national scandal’.

Police, firefighters and federal emergency officials should have been able to communicate after the hurricane hit, but were completely unable to do so because of downed phone lines and mobile phone cells, as well as radio systems which were woefully inadequate. Other cities in the US are anticipating similar trouble:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said that the delays in getting timely help to residents in New Orleans and other nearby communities is further evidence that residents in his city, who face the threat of catastrophic earthquakes, need to be prepared to care for themselves and their families for 72 hours before the government could mobilize a major rescue effort.

The likelihood, he said, is that the two major bridges out of San Francisco would be damaged in a severe earthquake, leaving only one southern route out of the city — making it hard for people to evacuate and for rescue workers to come to the city’s aid.

The retrieval of corpses from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans has also started to be examined, as the effort itself gets underway some two weeks after the disaster. Thad Allen, the new federal emergency chief in charge of the response, has said that a Department of Defense and federal response should have come sooner, with personnel deployed into all areas immediately. In New Orleans alone, there are now 7,000 Army personnel at work alongside coroners and private contractors to find and recover bodies. 34 of those have caused controversy: the residents of a nursing home who were left behind. The home’s owners have been indicted on 34 counts of negligent homicide and are yet to face trial.

Evacuees continue to make choices about whether to stay where they are or try to return, with some being targeted by recruiters near their evacuation sites, a trend which is worrying for the regeneration of New Orleans and other formerly populated areas. PEople who are returning to New Orleans are finding it easier than expected to enter the city, but face waters more toxic than originally suggested — there are indications that the EPA’s original floodwater tests were glaringly invalid and incomplete — and catastrophic difficulties with insurance claims.

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