Hurricane, Katrina, has moved on, leaving devastation it her wake. The Gulf Coast has experienced hurricanes in the past, and some were serious blows, indeed. However, the scope of this most recent storm raises Katrina to historical status. No natural disaster in this country can surpass the havoc, physical and emotional, that this hurricane left behind. A review of the past few days makes clear some of the things that went wrong, especially in New Orleans. Hindsight is all that there is to prevent a recurrence of the calamity.

The first question that comes to mind in hindsight is this: What was the cityís disaster plan? Was there a strategy in place? The levee system has always posed a threat for this city built below sea level. More funding has been sought time and again for projects to strengthen these dikes. Itís not as if the failure of the levees comes as a great surprise. Now, we hear talk of rebuilding the city on the same site. Thatís insane, folly of the highest order. The very earth is waterlogged and probably host to contamination for years to come.

The next thing to consider is why heavy loss of life, suffering of stranded citizens, and onset of anarchy took place. In hindsight, that answer is obvious. There was no workable plan in place. Itís incredible that, after many decades of hurricane visits, and full knowledge that the levees might not stand, nobody worked to devise a realistic plan. The officials of New Orleans appeared to be paralyzed at the time the levees gave way. From the slow response time, it can also be seen that state officials, from the governor on down, were without a clue.

In hindsight, we can now see that mandatory, and enforced, evacuation should have been standard policy when a category 4 hurricane was likely to strike the below-sea-level city of New Orleans. Immediately, on hearing the weather report, every city vehicle, including school busses, should have been filled and driven to high ground, where designated shelters had been long established. Before the storm came ashore, these busses should have made trip after trip to move those poorer people with no means of transportation.

It was crucial that, over the years, all inhabitants of the city should have been educated as to what to do in such an emergency situation. School children should have had it drummed into their heads that the likelihood of drowning was always a possibility if those levees failed. The instilling of fear in the minds of children might not have been a desirable thing, but a necessary matter, nevertheless. Hotel doors should have had placcards affixed to the rear, warning of the remote danger of levee failure in case of hurricane. Regardless of the negative tourism aspect of this, city officials had that responsibity. Again, the condition of the levees was no secret to officials.

Another thing that should have been put into place as the storm approached, was martial law and increased security. There was no arrangement for moving convicts from jails, and they were merely turned loose as flood waters spread. Looters (and these convicts no doubt among them) helped themselves to weapons and ammunition from stores. Law abiding citizens became prey for these criminals. Gang members were on the prowl, seeking vengeance against their opposite gang antagonists. The police were either busy with more urgent business, or were, themselves, fleeing the city, much to their disgrace.

Most importantly, warehouses stocked with ample canned food, drinking water, baby food, diapers, and other necessities, should have been constantly on standby status for such an event. What was in the vapid minds of city and state officials? This city was below sea level! In my mindís eye, I see our huge C-130 aircraft ferrying in massive aid to tsunami victims in Indonesia and to other victims throughout the world. While people died, exposed on route 10, where were these aircraft in initial days? Where were the pop-up tents? Where were rubber rafts and air mattresses? Parachute drops have been successfully employed elsewhere in the past.

Further, every hospital in this sunken city should have had a ready evacuation plan, with transport designated. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff should have had their mission clearly in mind, with prearranged stations on high ground to report to.

Was it unexpected that there would be a total breakdown in communications, once the power went off and the streets became clogged? Tens of thousands of citizens were literally in the dark, and without information. Why were no informational flyers preprinted to be dropped from helicopters. People could have picked these up and learned where best to assemble, what to expect as to pending aid, how to comport themselves, where to seek medical help, the long list of data that should have been disseminated goes on.

Instead, the majority of victims were left to wonder if they had been abandoned by their ďleadersĒ. The federal government printing office should have been called upon immediately, and flyers kept current, air-dropped with wide distribution. That printing facility can make available thousands of telephone directory sized books touting the latest amendment passed, or the newest report on the horror of 9/11. It would be a minor thing to have printed up essential flyers on demand.

Such is hindsight!

 




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