Saturday, September 03, 2005

Blame and counterblame as efforts finally start in earnest

New Orleans’ newspaper, the Times-Picayune, joined the city’s Mayor Ray Nagin in condemning the unforgivably slow start to relief efforts in the city and wider region.

We applaud the mayor for giving voice to an entire city’s frustration. How could the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the history of the world have responded so feebly to this crisis?

The president’s admission of his administration's mistakes will mean nothing unless the promised help is deployed immediately. Each life is precious, and there isn't a second chance to save a single one of them. No more talk of what’s going to happen. We only want to hear what is being done. The lives of our people depend on it.

Official statements on the progress of rescue and relief efforts have been listened to by those on the ground in the affected states, and found to be misleading or wrong. There is already racial discontent at the lot of the poorer victims and survivors; media attention has lagged behind the concerns of people on the scene — it is only now that newspapers are printing stories that report help was slow to arrive and ask why it was so.

Latest Reports

More on the political ramifications below. Latest reports are that aid convoys are starting to reach the city with military helicopters taking the supplies to various areas; the Army Corps of Engineers has said that it will take 3 months to initially drain the city of water; hospitals in the city have resumed evacuation which was delayed because of violence on the streets and even in hospital buildings; people still in hte Superdome are expected to be there until Sunday; Jesse Jackson has said that racism is partly responsible for the aftermath.

Everyone is now asking what could have been done differently and what was known in advance about the likelihood of damage. A preliminary examination of what is available online shows that knowledge of the likelihood and effects of flooding were very well known [#1] [#2] (no. 2 is a good summary) [#3] [#4].

All this has led to criticism of the lack of forward planning and funding. It appears that the Gulf Coast states have long known, and agonised, about the certainty of a big disaster happening someday — and that their appeals for enough money to adequately fortify themselves have been ignored. A plan to renew the New Orleans levees has been in existence since the year 2000 but stalled because of lack of Federal funding. The link in this paragraph is to a Slate story on newscasters’ anger — often coming from the least likely sources. From the column:

We knew it was coming. And yet, the poorest and the neediest and the most helpless of those in New Orleans, well, they’re still there, aren’t they? Despite the many angles of this tragedy — and lord knows there’ve been a lot of them in New Orleans — there is a great big elephant in the living room that the media seems content to ignore.

...we in the media are ignoring the fact that almost all of the victims in New Orleans are black and poor. [...] Almost every person we’ve seen, from the families stranded on their rooftops waiting to be rescued, to the looters, to the people holed up in the Superdome, are black and poor.

Recent photos

Both news and satellite photos continue to be updated and posted online. The most interesting if you have time to browse are always large-scale satellite updates: NOAA has posted New Orleans urban satellite sweeps. Google Earth has updated its photos to provide a more user-friendly before-and-after experience. There is a page of conventional photos too. FEMA has a page of maps indicating affected areas by county, giving a good overview of closed roads and flooded areas. The New Orleans Times-Picayune remains an excellent source for news photos covering all developments.

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