Political effects of Hurricane Katrina
Political controversies and electoral consequences
Issues relating to the cause of the hurricane itself
relating to the cause of the damage to
Issues relating to the government's response
Orleans will undoubtedly remain depopulated for some time, at least
many weeks. It is likely that many existing residents will never
return there, setting down roots in other cities, possibly where they
have been evacuated. This raises some questions about who will be
eligible to vote in the next two November elections. While the
Louisiana legislature will doubtless make provisions for the
continuation of the New Orleans political structure and allow for
absentee ballots, the question remains as to how these suddenly
depopulated legislative districts will be dealt with.
Many critics have noted that while the local government gave a mandatory evacuation order on August 28, before the storm hit, they did not make provisions to evacuate the large numbers of homeless, low-income people, the elderly, the infirm or car-less households. Evacuation was mainly left up to individual citizens to find their own way out of the city. Officials knew that many residents of New Orleans lack cars. A 2000 census revealed that 27% of New Orleans households, amounting to approximately 120,000 people, were without privately-owned transportation. Officials also did not take into account the fact that New Orleans has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States at about 38%. These factors prevented many people from being able to evacuate on their own. Consequentially most of those stranded in the city are the poor, the elderly, and the sick.
Tumulty of Time magazine stated
have refused to allow consular officials of Australia access to the
affected areas, citing dangerous conditions. Evacuation of tourists
has been facilitated by foreign journalists.
Funding of New Orleans flood defenses
There has been criticism of the cutbacks in federal funding for New Orleans' flood defenses. Early questions were raised about proper funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of many hurricane-protection programs across the United States, in light of warnings issued by scientists.
Certain funds that were earmarked for strengthening the New Orleans levee were cut, although these particular funds would have been earmarked for multiyear projects focused on different parts of the levee system than those which have failed.
Many claims faulted President Bush for cutting some of these funds, although neglect precedes his administration. The levees themselves were only designed to protect New Orleans from a Category 3 hurricane and this decision was made by the corps decades ago "based on a cost-benefit analysis." Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers of the corps was quoted as saying, "I don't see that the level of funding was really a contributing factor in this case. Had this project been fully complete, it is my opinion that based on the intensity of this storm that the flooding of the business district and the French Quarter would have still taken place."
Blumenthal, from the Clinton Administration, appeared as a guest on
BBC's The World on September 1, 2005. He said that the Bush
Administration had specifically diverted tens of millions of US
dollars in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from water and storm
protection efforts to be used instead by the Corps in Iraq. As a
result, Blumenthal said, the Corps had performed only last-minute and
substandard reinforcement of levees, some of which subsequently
failed. The levees that did fail were those that had been been built
up to the full standards needed to survive a Category 3 hurricane,
not a Category 4 like Katrina, as it was statistically more likely
for a Category 3 to strike the city and so was most cost effective to
Federal wetlands policy
In addition, there has been criticism of a federal policy, since 2003, of turning over wetlands to developers. Every two miles of wetland between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge by half a foot.
Provisions for the poor and elderly
Another major criticism is that the mandatory evacuation called on August 28 made no provisions to evacute homeless or low-income and carless households, as well as large numbers of elderly and the infirm. In 2000, a census revealed that 27% of New Orleans households were without any means of privately-owned transportation.
released onto the internet several days after the storm showed as
many as 205 New Orleans school buses sitting idle in their lots,
flooded and useless. Additionally, the city had access to over three
hundred buses attatched to the public transportation authority for
New Orleans. Why these resources were not immediately pressed into
service during the mandatory evacuation of the city to get the poor,
sick, and stubborn out of the city is not known.
of local and national government response is widespread in the media,
as reports continued to show hunger, deaths and lack of aid.
More than two and a half days after the hurricane struck, police, health care and other emergency workers voice concerns, in the media, about the absence of National Guard troops in the city for search and rescue missions and to control looting. Media reports have also criticized the fact that National Guard units are short staffed in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama because they are currently on a tour of duty in Iraq, including 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Brigade.
The failure to immediately evacuate or re-supply New Orleans area hospitals, and the lack of a visible FEMA presence in the city and surrounding area has raised concerns in the press.
Governors and other officials in several states have expressed surprise that they did not get formal requests for their National Guard troops until days after the hurricane struck. "We could have had people on the road Tuesday," said the commander of the Michigan Guard.
Mayor Richard Daley, announcing the creation of a city-sponsored
"Chicago Helps Fund," said of the slow Federal response:
"I was shocked . . .
Questions have been raised about proper funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of many hurricane-protection programs across the United States. In February 2005, following in the tradition of past Presidents including President Carter and President Clinton, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed cutting the Corps budget by 7%, in 2004 he proposed a 13% cut. However corps officials stated that a decrease in funding was not to blame. The levees themselves were only designed to protect New Orleans from a direct hit by a Category 3 hurricane and that this decision was made by the corps decades ago "based on a cost-benefit analysis" said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers of the corps.
Though the levee system as a whole had yet to be completed, those that failed, most notably the 17th Street Canal, were already up to the standards required to survive a category 3. Claims have appeared that, although completed, the 17th St levees had not been compacted, planted or sealed with rock or concrete because of funding shortfalls and were therefore prone to failure. (Wonkette)These claims however, dont bear out as the 17th street levees were concrete walls and not earthen works that would require such shoring up.
(projects) were not funded at the full ability of the Corps of
Engineers to execute the project," said General Strock. "But
the important question is, 'Would that have made a difference?' And
my assessment is, no, it would not." Strock also said
"I fought every . . . administration when they tried to use the Corps of Engineers as a piggy bank to pay for other projects," said former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who represented the New Orleans suburbs for more than 20 years. "I had major battles with the Clinton administration. Going back to Carter. They've all sought to draw down the Corps of Engineers and put it elsewhere," he said.
The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back in the spring of 2005 with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project was reduced to $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million.
The money would have gone into funding studies about the feasibility of upgrading the current levees to withstand Category 4 and Category 5 Hurricanes instead of just Category 3. It is worth noting that, even if the Corps had had full funding, no work beyond finishing the study and making plans for levee upgrades would have been acomplished by the time of Katrina's arrival.
New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert, is cited as saying "This is a national disgrace. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
There are also major concerns about the Government suspending search and rescue efforts to focus on protecting businesses from looters. U.S. President George W. Bush has said that saving lives should come first but he and the local New Orleans Government have also stated that they will have zero tolerance for looters. In response to a question about the President's zero tolerance policy, White House press secretary Scott McClellan affirmed that looters should not be allowed to take food, water or shoes, that they should get those things though some other way.
Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco warned that troops had orders to shoot to kill. She said "These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets." She went on to say "They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will."
On September 2, CNN's Soledad O'Brien asked FEMA head Mike Brown "How is it possible that we're getting better info than you were getting . . . we were showing live pictures of the people outside the Convention Center . . . also we'd been reporting that officials had been telling people to go to the Convention Center . . . I don't understand how FEMA cannot have this information." When pressed, Brown reluctantly admitted he had learned about the starving crowds at the Convention Center from news media reports. O'Brien then said to Brown, "FEMA's been on the ground four days, going into the fifth day, why no massive air drop of food and water . . .in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, they got food drops two days after the tsunami."
Former Mayor of Atlanta and UN Ambassador Andrew Young, who was born in New Orleans, had a more nuanced reaction to the disaster:
was surprised and not surprised . . . It's not just a lack of
preparedness. I think the easy answer is to say that these are poor
people and black people and so the government doesn't give a damn . . .
Thursday, an 18-year old boy commandeered a school bus and drove a
group of survivors from downtown New Orleans to the Houston
Astrodome, beating thousands of evacuees that didn't arrive in FEMA
buses until hours and days later. "I just took the bus and drove
all the way here . . .
officials became aware of the conditions at the convention center a
small amount of basic food supplies were diverted there by
helicopter, but there were no large-scale deliveries until a truck
convoy arrived at midday on Friday, September 2, due to the damage
incurred by the still present flood and the attacks on those who have
attempted to deliver aid. Federal officials have also underestimated
the number of people converging on the convention center. Even as
refugees are evacuated, more are arriving every hour.
On Friday September 2 the Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin was livid about the response thus far given the seriously deteriorating conditions there and said that State and federal agencies were "thinking small" in the face of a massive crisis
Orleans mayor blasts federal government for slow response
Orleans police officer described the conditions to be like Somalia
saying "It's a war zone, and they're not treating it like
one". Officers have been giving up after working days straight
with little or no support. The convention center conditions were
described as appalling having become surrounded by refuse, human
feces and even corpses. The downtown Charity hospital has had a
number of critically ill patients die as a result of delays in
evacuations. Federal officials were apparently unaware of the
conditions in central New Orleans until late Thursday (September 1).
The flooding of New Orleans occurred after the worst of Hurricane
Katrina's fury had been spent and the storm itself moved further
North, which caught officials off guard. The destruction wrought by
Katrina, and the flooding thereafter, severely damaged the roads and
other infrastructure needed to deliver relief.
Kerik, former New York City police commisioner who received much
recognition for his handling of the response to the 9/11 attacks,
criticised Mayor Nagin's criticisms of the federal response
Mayor Nagin had access to those five hundred buses he had demanded
in the form of the New Orleans school bus fleet, which commands at
least two hundred school buses, and the public transit authority, who
have at least 300 at their disposal. The school buses were apparantly
never called upon to ferry residents out of harms way before the
storm in spite of a City
of New Orleans Hurricane Preparedness Plan calling
for use of all available forms of transportation to evacuate those
who had no personal transportation or were handicapped, elderly, or
physically unable to travel on their own. Photos of a massive parking
lot full of empty, flooded buses
Tuesday afternoon, August 30, President Bush attended a VJ Day
commemoration ceremony at Coronado, California. Earlier in the day,
protecting the coty of New Orleans, greatly exacerbating the damage.
The president rushed to the aid of Washington and New York following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which has invited comparisons in regards to his travel schedule following the levee collapses in New Orleans.
The New York Times described a 1 September speech by President Bush as "casual to the point of carelessness".
Bush was also criticised for not breaking off his vacation until Wednesday afternoon, over a day after the Monday hurricane.
This, in spite of the fact that he had telephoned Gov. Blanco before Katrina struck and urged her to get a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans going.
Bush subsequently visited the Gulf Coast on Friday. Apart from his presence delaying the delivery of some aid (due to the ban on helicopter flights in his vioinity for security reasons),
has been accused of staging a photo opportunity on the relief effort,
Exacerbating the vulnerability of the poorest residents
African-American leaders and others have expressed outrage at what they see as the apparent neglect of the poor and black residents of affected region. After decades of white flight, New Orleans is two-thirds black and over a quarter live at or below the poverty line. Within the city itself, the poorest tended to live in the lowest parts that are most vulnerable to the flooding.
In the Lower Ninth Ward, which is almost completely submerged, 98% of residents are black and more than a third live in poverty. Many of the poor depend on welfare, Social Security or other public assistance checks, which are received at the first of each month, meaning that Hurricane Katrina made landfall just when many of the poor had exhausted their resources. They were thus unable to afford to flee the city before the hurricane struck. Reports were that many people stayed in their homes rather than evacuating because they didn't want to miss receiving their upcoming checks.
Speaking at a press conference from a relief center in Lafayette, Laura Bush explained that the poor are always the main victims of natural disasters, but that there was nothing that could be done about it. "This is what happens when there's a natural disaster of this scope," Bush said. "The poorer people are usually in the neighborhoods that are the lowest or the most exposed or the most vulnerable. Their housing is the most vulnerable to natural disaster. And that is just always what happens."
Reverend Jesse Jackson asked why the President has not named blacks
to top positions in the federal response to the disaster,
particularly when the majority of victims remaining stranded in New
Orleans are black: "How can blacks be locked out of the
leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of
sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of
incompetence." He has also said that racism was partly to blame
for the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, U.S. Army Lt.
Gen. Russel Honoré, head of the military task force overseeing
operations in the three states, is black.
Accusations that race was a factor in the slow response
One source of blame for the slowness of the federal response is based on the fact that poor urban blacks have not supported the administration of George W. Bush. Rev. Jesse Jackson, upon visiting Louisiana, stated, "Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response."
This point was asserted more bluntly by Kanye West, during a September 2 NBC Telethon to raise funds for hurricane victims. West stated, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," and that the U.S. is determined "to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible." He concluded by stating, "They've given them permission to go down and shoot us."
When federal response did start arriving, much of it was focused on stopping violent looters, some of whom had reportedly delayed the delivery of vital relief by attacking authorities attempting to conduct relief operations. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent a directed warning that incoming guard troops "have M-16s and they're locked and loaded . . . [and they] know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
commentator Lou Dobbs of CNN, has claimed that local officials
should bear some responsibility saying that "the city of New
Orleans is 70% black, its mayor is black, its principle power
structure is black, and if there is a failure to the black Americans,
who live in poverty and in the city of New Orleans, those officials
have to bear much of the responsibility."
Characterizations of "looting"
In addition, there has been controversy over racially biased captioning of photographs featured on Yahoo's newswire. Criticism began after Yahoo featured similar images of New Orleans residents carrying off supplies from a grocery store. One image showed an African-American man "after looting a grocery store," while the other featured a Caucasian man and woman "after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store"
Yahoo summarily removed the offending images and issued an apology. The two images were taken from separate news sources, and Yahoo claimed no fault as "we [Yahoo] present the photos and their captions as written, edited and distributed by the news services with no additional editing at Yahoo News."
The photographer who captioned the AFP photo in question had this response to the controversy:
"The people were swimming in chest deep water, and there were other people in the water, both white and black. I looked for the best picture. There were a million items floating in the water - we were right near a grocery store that had 5+ feet of water in it. It had no doors. The water was moving, and the stuff was floating away. These people were not ducking into a store and busting down windows to get electronics. They picked up bread and cokes that were floating in the water. They would have floated away anyhow."
This would seem to indicate that the original premise that there were racial overtones to the captioning of the separate photos was false, and that the photos were taken in different contexts.
Kanye West also commented on this at the NBC Telethon, stating, "If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food."
interview on WWL-TV Oliver Thomas, a member of the New Orleans City
Council, said that communities in Louisiana had started refusing to
accept evacuees from New Orleans. He blamed this on the media
portrayal of those who had remained in the city as looters.
Accusations of preferential treatment
Huffington Post mentions that new bankruptcy legislation that is set
to go into effect on October 17 may severely affect people's ability
to financially recover. This new legislation forces individuals
wanting to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where all debts are wiped
out, to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where a payment plan is
established based on certain criteria. When the legislation was
introduced, a Democrat-sponsored amendment would have protected
victims of natural disasters from this, but was voted down without
debate along party lines. Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) plan to introduce legislation that would
attempt to again provide this exemption. It remains unclear as of
September 4, 2005 what effect Katrina will have on the legislation.
scientists and critics have stated that global warming was
responsible for the raise in ocean surface temperatures that caused
Katrina to go from a tropical storm to a devastating hurricane as it
crossed the Gulf of Mexico between south Florida and New Orleans.
"There's no question that the warm waters of the Gulf provided
the heat that turned Katrina into a major storm," said Ross
Gelbspan, a journalist and author of several books on global warming.
Other scientists acknowledge the possible long term effects of global
warming on cyclonogenisis, but attribute the strength of Hurricane
Katrina to a 12 year cycle.
Assertions of supernatural causation
Various religious leaders have suggested that Hurricane Katrina was sent as a punishment for the City of New Orleans, or the Southern United States, or for the United States as a whole. A variety of past actions are blamed, from the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and future changes in political policy are recommended:
Kuwaiti Minister Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi says Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah
Repent America director Michael Marcavage claims Katrina caused by decadence
Avner Bosky: Katrina and Gaza: is God speaking in New Orleans? (asserting that the hurricane is God's punishment for U.S. pressure for Israel to withdraw from Gaza)
The controversial Reverend Fred Phelps gives his explanation for Katrina
Speaking from Jackson, Mississippi, in a interview with the American Family Association's AgapePress, the Reverend Bill Shanks of the New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans celebrated the effects of Katrina:
New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion [ . . . ] God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again. [ . . . ] It's time for us to stand up against wickedness so that God won't have to deal with that wickedness.
responses immediately placed Hurricane Katrina, and particularly the
devastation of New Orleans, in a line of events which have been taken
as examples of divine retribution for supposedly immoral acts. Fred
Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church has made many claims that natural
disasters and terrorist attacks are punishment for human actions that
contravene Biblical proscriptions. In the wake of the September 11,
2001 terrorist attack on New York City, televangelists Jerry Falwell
and Pat Robertson suggested that God may have ceased protecting the
United States as a result of secularism, feminism and the sexual
revolution. Most religious leaders stridently reject such claims. One
Christian response to claims that the flooding of New Orleans was
divine retribution might be to point out that, according to Genesis,
God promised Noah that he would not punish via deluge again. Critics
of claims of supernatural causation in the past have, as well as
pointing to scientific explanations, accused those making such claims
of being religious fundamentalists and trying to exploit tragedies in
an attempt to influence political decisions.
Accusations of price gouging
rise in gasoline prices following the disaster has led to many
citizen-complaints of price gouging.
Reports of contract awards
Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, has received reconstruction and damage assessment contracts for naval facilities in Mississippi and New Orleans affected by Katrina.