Monday, August 27, 2007
Story of the Day-Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest hurricane on record that made landfall in the United States. Katrina formed on August 23 during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast. The most severe loss of life and property damage occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland. The hurricane caused severe destruction across the entire Mississippi coast and into Alabama, as far as 100 miles (160 km) from the storm's center. Katrina was the eleventh tropical storm, fifth hurricane, third major hurricane, and second Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic season.
It formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005, and crossed southern Florida as a moderate Category 1 hurricane, causing some deaths and flooding there, before strengthening rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico and becoming one of the strongest hurricanes on record while at sea. The storm weakened before making its second and third landfalls as a Category 3 storm on the morning of August 29 in southeast Louisiana and at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, respectively.
The storm surge caused severe damage along the Gulf Coast, devastating the Mississippi cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula. In Louisiana, the flood protection system in New Orleans failed in 53 different places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Hurricane Katrina passed east of the city, subsequently flooding 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks.
At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion (2005 U.S. dollars) in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Criticism of the federal, state and local governments' reaction to the storm was widespread and resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Congress and the resignation of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown. The storm also prompted Congressional review of the Army Corps of Engineers and the failure of the levee protection system. Conversely, the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service were widely commended for accurate forecasts and abundant lead time.
Hurricane Katrina death toll by locality
Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans
Timeline of Hurricane Katrina
TPM Hurricane Katrina Timeline
Tuesday, August 23:
# 5:00 PM EDT: National Hurricane Center announcement: "Data from an Air Force reserve unit reconnaissance aircraft...along with observations from the Bahamas and nearby ships...indicate the broad low pressure area over the southeastern Bahamas has become organized enough to be classified as tropical depression twelve."
Wednesday, August 24:
# 11:00 AM EDT: National Hurricane Center announcement: "Satellite imagery...Doppler radar data from the Bahamas and Miami... and reconnaissance wind data indicate [tropical depression twelve] has become much better organized this morning and has strengthened into tropical storm Katrina."
Thursday, August 25:
# 5:00 PM EDT: The National Hurricane Center upgrades tropical storm Katrina to "Hurricane Katrina".
# 7:00 PM EDT: Katrina makes landfall in Florida.
Friday, August 26:
# 11:30 AM EDT: Katrina is upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane.
# 5:00 PM EDT: The National Hurricane Center issues an advisory forecasting that Katrina would soon be a Category 3 hurricane.
# 5:00 PM CDT: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declares a state of emergency for Louisiana (see public document).
# Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declares a state of emergency for Mississippi (see public document).
Saturday, August 27:
# President George W. Bush's weekly radio address focuses on Gaza withdrawal and the Iraqi constitution. He makes no mention of Hurricane Katrina.
# President Bush officially declares that a "state of emergency" exists in Louisiana and orders Federal aid to the affected areas to complement state and local relief efforts.
# 4:00 pm CDT: Per Governor Blanco's order, Contraflow begins , reversing all traffic on inbound interstate lanes and making more room for evacuating vehicles in outbound lanes.
# 5:00 PM CDT: New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin declares a State of Emergency and issues a voluntary evacuation order, saying he is having his legal team determine if he can order a mandatory evacuation without exposing the city to legal liability for the closure of hotels and other businesses.
# 8:00 PM EDT: National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield briefs Louisiana Gov. Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Nagin and Mississippi Gov. Barbour on Katrina's status. (SRC=TPM reporting)
# 11:00 PM EDT: The National Hurricane Center issues a warning suggesting that Katrina is moving in a western direction in an area that includes New Orleans.
Sunday, August 28:
# 1:00 AM CDT: Katrina is declared a Category 4 storm.
# 8:00 AM EDT: Katrina is declared a Category 5 storm, the highest possible rating.
# Approx. 10:00 AM CDT: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin orders mandatory evacuations of New Orleans.
# Approx. 12:00 PM EDT: National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield personally briefs President Bush as part of regular FEMA briefing. (SRC=TPM reporting)
# Louisiana Governor Blanco sends letter to President Bush requesting various federal aid.
# President Bush declares a state of emergency for both Mississippi and Alabama, and declared Florida a federal disaster area in light of damage done by Hurricane Katrina.
# Afternoon: Director of the National Weather Service (NWS) National Hurricane Center (NHC), Max Mayfield, personally briefs President Bush about Katrina by videoconference.
# According to the AP, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offers Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard. Blanco accepts, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route doesn't come from Washington until late Thursday , Sep 2.
Monday, August 29:
# 6:10 AM CDT: Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds, makes initial landfall near Buras, La.
# FEMA director Michael Brown waits 5 hrs after Katrina has hit to ask his boss, Michael Chertoff, for 1000 Homeland Security employees to be sent to the region and gives them two days to arrive.
# Shortly before 8:00 AM CDT: Storm surge sends water over the Industrial Canal. Soon afterwards, Army Corps of Engineers officials believe "a barge broke loose and crashed through the floodwall, opening a breach that accelerated flooding into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish."
# 8:14 AM CDT: The National Weather Service New Orleans office issues a flash flood warning stating there had been a breach in the Industrial Canal levee with 3 to 8 feet of water expected in the 9th Ward and Arabi.
# Approx. 9:00 AM CDT: Eye of hurricane Katrina passes over city of New Orleans.
# Approx. 9:00 AM CDT: 6 to 8 feet of water covers New Orleans Lower 9th Ward.
# Mid-Morning: President Bush makes emergency disaster declarations for Louisiana , Mississippi, and Alabama, freeing up federal funds.
# Mid-Morning: En route from Texas to Arizona aboard Air Force One, President Bush calls Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss illegal immigration.
# Mid-Morning: President Bush receives a briefing on Katrina from FEMA Director Michael Brown. The president receives a second briefing from Brown later in the day.
# Mid-Morning: Members of the White House staff, including Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, participate in a Katrina video conference with federal and state officials from aboard Air Force One.
# Mid-Morning: Katrina rips two holes in the Superdome's roof. Some 10,000 storm refugees are inside.
# 10:06 AM MST: President Bush participates in discussion of new Medicare prescription drug program at Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in El Mirage, Arizona. (see White House transcript).
# Late morning: 17th Street Canal levee is breached. Other reports place the breach much earlier. According to Knight-Ridder, a National Guard timeline places the breach at 3 AM, three hours before the storm made landfall.
# 2:00 PM CDT: City officials publicly confirm breach of 17 Street Canal levee.
# At least eight Gulf Coast refineries shut down or reduce operations.
# 2:40 PM PDT: President discusses new Meidcare prescription drug benefits at James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California (see White House transcript).
# FEMA Head Michael Brown urges emergency service personnel "not to respond to hurricane impact areas unless dispatched by state, local authorities."
# The American Red Cross announces that it is "launching the largest mobilization of resources in its history" to assist Katrina victims. FEMA encourages the public to donate to this and other private organizations involved in relief work.
Tuesday, August 30:
# 9:04 AM PDT: President Bush delivers a speech in San Diego on the 60th anniversary of V-J Day. President begins speech with brief remarks on hurricane relief efforts, tells audience, "The federal, state and local governments are working side-by-side to do all we can to help people get back on their feet." Remainder of the speech is dedicated to the need to "stay the course" in Iraq.
# 9:24 AM PDT: The AP reports that President Bush will cut short his vacation to focus on the storm damage (see White House transcript).
# Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco says everyone still in New Orleans an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people must be evacuated. Crowds swell at the Superdome and the New Orleans convention center.
# Approx. 3:30 PM CDT: At press conference with Sen. Landrieu, Gov. Blanco and others, Sen. David Vitter tells press: "In the metropolitan area in general, in the huge majority of areas, it's not rising at all. It's the same or it may be lowering slightly. In some parts of New Orleans, because of the 17th Street breach, it may be rising and that seemed to be the case in parts of downtown. I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening."
# 10:00 PM CDT: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announces that the planned sandbagging of the 17th Street Canal levee breach has failed.
# "Late Tuesday": DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff declares Katrina an 'Incident of National Significance', "triggering for the first time a coordinated federal response to states and localities overwhelmed by disaster." Declaration is first use of DHS National Response Plan.
Wednesday, August 31:
# Early Morning: President Bush holds a videoconference from Crawford on Katrina. Participants include Karl Rove, Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch, Andy Card, Dick Cheney, Michael Chertoff, Deputy Secretary of DHS Michael Jackson, Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, Claude Allen, Dan Bartlett and others. The videoconference lasted approximately one half hour and began with a breifing from FEMA Director Michael Brown.
# President Bush heads back to Washington from vacationing in Crawford, TX. Though he does not land in Louisiana, Air Force One flies over the Gulf Coast so that he can view the devastation.
# Louisiana Gov. Blanco issues order for emergency occupation of hotel and motel rooms (see public document).
# Louisiana Gov. Blanco issues order authorizing the commandeering and use of buses for evacuation and relief efforts (see public document).
# HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt makes determination that public health emergencies exist in the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi (see public document).
# Shortly after 5 PM: President Bush holds a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House during which he details his strategy for short-term recovery efforts.
# Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana orders that all of New Orleans, including the Superdome, be evacuated. An exodus from the Superdome begins, with the first buses leaving for Houston's Astrodome, 350 miles away.
# New Orleans 's 1,500 member police force is ordered to abandon search and rescue missions and turn their attention toward controlling the widespread looting and a curfew is placed in effect. Mayor Ray Nagin calls for increased federal assistance
# 11:09 PM: The Times-Picayune reports that 3,000 or more evacuees are stranded at the convention center.
Thursday, September 1:
# 2:00 AM: The first evacuees arrive at the Astrodome in Houston
# The (suburban Chicago) Daily Herald reports that House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert says rebuilding New Orleans "doesn't make sense to me."
# 7:00 AM: President Bush appears on ABC News' Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer asks the President, " what's taking so long?" after telling Bush that "some of the things they have asked our correspondents to ask you is, they expected, they say to us, that the day after this hurricane that there would be a massive and visible armada of Federal support." Bush responds by noting that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm."
# At around the same time, evacuees from the New Orleans area and the Louisiana Superdome begin arriving at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
# FEMA announces guidelines to contractors interested in "doing business with FEMA during the Hurricane Katrina recovery."
# Looting, carjacking and other violence spreads, and the military decides to increase National Guard deployment to 30,000.
# New Orleans mayor Nagin calls the situation critical and issues ``a desperate SOS.''
# 12:00 PM EDT: President Bush has lunch with Fed Chairman Greenspan to discuss the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina.
# Bush asks his father and former President Clinton to lead a fund-raising campaign for hurricane victims.
# On NPR?s All Things Considered, Chertoff claims, "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water."
# On Nightline, Michael Brown tells Ted Koppel ?We just learned of the convention center -- we being the federal government -- today.?
Friday, September 2:
# The Reliant Center in Houston is opened to evacuees when the Fire Marshal declares the Astrodome to be at capacity.
# A chemical plant explosion rocks New Orleans in the early hours of the morning. Rumors that the chemical cloud produced by the explosion was toxic were later determined not to be credible.
# Louisiana Gov. Blanco issues second order authorizing the commandeering and use of buses for evacuation and relief efforts; order of August 31st rescinded (see public document).
# Louisiana Gov. Blanco issues public health emergency order temporarily suspending state medical licensing regulations, allow licensed out-of-state medical professionals to work in the relief and recovery effort (see public document).
# President Bush tours Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to survey Katrina's damage. He describes the result of relief efforts up to that point as "not acceptable."
# 10:35 am CDT.: While visiting Mobile, President Bush says about the efforts of FEMA and its director, Michael Brown: "Again, I want to thank you all for -- and, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA Director is working 24 -- (applause) -- they're working 24 hours a day."
# National Guard arrives in New Orleans.
# FEMA releases a statement: "patience in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."
# The Chicago Tribune quotes a frustrated Mayor Richard Daley as saying that FEMA had thus far requested that the city send "only one piece of equipment - a tank trunk to support the Illinois Emergency Response Team, which is already down there." Daley tersely noted that the city is "ready to provide considerably more help than they have requested....We are just waiting for the call."
# Congress approves and President Bush signs an initial $10.5 billion aid package for immediate rescue and relief efforts.
# The Congressional Black Caucus, along with the NAACP, Black Leadership Forum, and the National Urban League express dismay over the sluggish relief efforts in New Orleans, citing the poverty of the victims as a primary reason for the delay.
# The Bush administration asks Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to request a federal takeover of relief efforts. The move would have given the federal government control over Louisiana's National Guard and local police. The state eventually rejected the proposal.
Saturday, September 3:
# Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declares that Katrina constituted "a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight." CNN reports that "government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years."
# Chertoff also asserts that "our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor," in response to a question about the federal government's response to the catastrophe.
# Governor Kathleen Blanco (D-La) hires James Lee Witt, FEMA director under President Clinton, to advise her during the relief effort.
# DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and other Bush aides hold two hour meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other black leaders.
# 4 PM: the Department of Homeland Security releases a document of "Highlights of the United States Government Response to the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."
Sunday, September 4:
# FEMA establishes a hotline to collect donations for assisting victims.
# Jefferson Parrish president Aaron Broussard claims on Meet the Press that aid to his parrish was blocked by FEMA.
# The Chicago Tribune reports that the USS Bataan, a large navy ship positioned close to New Orleans, is "underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort," with its 600 beds and six medical operating rooms empty. The Tribune notes that the ship's 1,200 sailors have not been asked to join the relief effort. >
# The Washington Post prints an article announcing that Louisiana Governor Blanco had not declared a state of emergency (later, it printed a correction, noting that she had, in fact, made the declaration on August 26)
Monday, September 5:
# President Bush returns for second visit to the Gulf Coast region.
# The AP reports that Kellogg Brown & Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton Co that has been criticized for its reconstruction work in Iraq, has begun work on a $500 million U.S. Navy contract for emergency repairs at Gulf Coast naval and marine facilities that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina
# While touring the Astrodome, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, tells American Public Media's "Marketplace" program:"Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.?
Tuesday, September 6:
# Bush announces that he will lead an investigation into what went wrong in hurricane relief efforts.
Wednesday, September 7:
# 1:23 PM EDT: The White House announces it will send a $51.8 supplemental budget request to congress, for expenses in excess of the $10.5 billion congress approved earlier in the week.
# Senator Frist and Speaker Hastert announce their intention to conduct a bipartisan investigation at an event to which no Democrats were invited. Democratic congressional leaders say they will not take part in the panel as announced.
# Congress temporarily postpones its proposed $10 billion cuts in Medicaid.
Thursday, September 8:
# Citing "a national emergency", President Bush suspends the Davis-Bacon Act in storm ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
# President Bush meets with Speaker Hastert and Senator Frist to discuss a "joint bipartisan investigation" of the response to Katrina.
Friday, September 9:
# 9:49 AM EDT: The AP reports that Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a 20/20 interview to be aired later that night, criticizes the response at all levels of the government to Hurricane Katrina, saying "When you look at those who weren't able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own. These are people who don't have credit cards; only one in 10 families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing ? but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor."
Saturday, September 10:
# New Orleans Times Picayune runs front page banner headline: "Death Toll May Not Be as High as Feared." The Army Corps of Engineers reportsthat it has closed the final breach in the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal systems.
Monday, September 12:
# FEMA director Michael Brown, (aka "Brownie") resigns from FEMA. Bush names R. David Paulison as acting director of FEMA.
Tuesday, September 13:
# Bush takes responsbility for the federal government's failures during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
# The owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home in New Orleans are charged with negligent homicide for the deaths of 34 patients who were not evacuated before the storm hit.
Friday, September 16:
# Reports spread of oil spills rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Monday, September 19:
# Residents begin streaming back into New Orleans after Mayor Nagin urges them to return to the city.
# In a speech at Brown University, former presidential candidate John Kerry blasts Bush's recovery plan for the Gulf Coast region as a "right-wing ideological experiment."
# The AP reports that slightly more than $1 billion has been raised for charities aiding families displaced by the disaster.
Tuesday September 20:
# As Hurricane Rita gathers strength off the coast of Florida, Mayor Ray Nagin calls off his plan to allow residents to return to their homes in New Orleans, urging those who had come back to evacuate.
New Orleans braces for monster hurricane
Crescent City under evacuation; storm may overwhelm levees
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans braced for a catastrophic blow from Hurricane Katrina overnight, as forecasters predicted the Category 5 storm could drive a wall of water over the city's levees.
The huge storm, packing 160 mph winds, is expected to hit the northern Gulf Coast in the next nine hours and make landfall as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane Monday morning.
The National Hurricane Center reports that conditions are already deteriorating along the central and northeastern coast. (Watch video to see the worst case scenario)
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency Sunday and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. (Watch video of mayor's announcement)
"This is a threat that we've never faced before," Nagin said. "If we galvanize and gather around each other, I'm sure we will get through this."
He exempted essential federal, state, and local personnel; emergency and utility workers; transit workers; media; hotel workers; and patrons from the evacuation order.
About 1.3 million people live in New Orleans and its suburbs, and many began evacuating before sunrise. (Watch video to see who's staying and who's leaving)
Nagin estimated that nearly 1 million people had fled the city and its surrounding parishes by Sunday night. (Watch time lapse video of the evacuation)
Between 20,000 and 25,000 others who remained in the city lined up to take shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, lining up for what authorities warned would be an unpleasant day and a half at minimum.
City officials told stranded tourists to stay on third-floor levels or higher and away from windows. (See video from New Orleans, a city below sea level)
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that New Orleans could expect a complete loss of electricity and water services as well as intense flooding.
"We know we're going to have property damage," she told CNN's "Larry King Live." "We know we're going to have high wind damage. We're hoping we're not going to lose a lot of lives."
About 70 percent of New Orleans is below sea level, and is protected from the Mississippi River by a series of levees. (Full story)
Forecasters predicted the storm surge could reach 28 feet; the highest levees around New Orleans are 18 feet high.
Hurricane-force winds extend 105 miles from the center of the mammoth storm and tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 230 miles. It is the most powerful storm to menace the central Gulf Coast in decades.
Isolated tornadoes are also possible Sunday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency teams and other emergency teams were in place to move in as soon as the storm was over, FEMA Undersecretary Michael Brown said.
Katrina is blamed for at least seven deaths in Florida, where it made landfall Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane. As much as 18 inches of rain fell in some areas, flooding streets and homes. (See video of the damage floodwaters left in one family's new house)
At midnight ET, Katrina was centered about 90 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was moving to the northwest at about 10 mph.
National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said: "There's certainly a chance it can weaken a bit before it gets to the coast, but unfortunately this is so large and so powerful that it's a little bit like the difference between being run over by an 18-wheeler or a freight train. Neither prospect is good." (Watch Mayfield's assessment of Katrina)
Bush issues disaster declarations
President Bush announced Sunday that he had issued disaster declarations for Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of southern Florida. The declaration for Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida will allow residents there to apply for federal disaster aid.
"We'll do everything in our power to help the people and communities affected by this storm," he said.
The president urged anyone in the storm's path "to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground."
Jesse St. Amant, the emergency management chief for Louisiana's southernmost Plaquemines Parish, said nearly 95 percent of the parish's 27,000-plus residents had fled by Sunday afternoon. Those who remained were being told that they are "gambling with their own lives."
"I think they just don't believe something of this nature can ever happen in their lifespan, and I think they're going to be wrong," he said.
As far east as Mobile, Alabama, 118 miles away from New Orleans, authorities warned of storm surges approaching 20 feet.
"I'm afraid most people look at the map and say, 'It's going to New Orleans, we're all right,'" said Mobile Mayor Mike Deal. "We're in harm's way with the current path of this storm."
Hurricane warnings are posted from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama-Florida state line, including New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. This means winds of at least 74 mph are expected in the warning area within the next 24 hours.
A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect from the Alabama-Florida state line eastward to Destin, Florida, and from west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. A tropical storm warning is also in effect from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, west to Cameron, Louisiana, and from Destin, Florida, eastward to Indian Pass, Florida.
A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions, including winds of at least 39 mph, are expected within 24 hours. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible, usually within 36 hours.
Category 5 is the most intense on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Only three Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since records were kept. Those were the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, 1969's Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the Miami area in 1992. Andrew remains the costliest U.S. hurricane on record, with $26.5 billion in losses.
Camille came ashore in Mississippi and killed 256 people.
Is Global Warming Fueling Katrina?
hurricane katrina links to global warming
Katrina Makes Landfall
Comes Ashore Just East Of Grand Isle, Louisiana
Hurricane Katrina came ashore just east of Grand Isle, Louisiana, at 6:30 a.m. ET. About a hundred miles to the north, New Orleans is said to be 80 percent evacuated, with the potential for historic damage. Evacuations were also ordered in Alabama and Mississippi.
As New Orleans battened down its hatches Sunday, evacuations were ordered, the Superdome was turned into a shelter, and emergency plans swung into effect against a flood threat the below-sea-level city has long dreaded.
The danger is also real in Alabama and Mississippi, where many in coastal areas rushed Sunday to get out of harm's way and onto higher ground.
The storm might spare New Orleans a direct hit, while posing a greater danger to the coastal Mississippi cities of Gulfport and Biloxi.
Three residents of a Louisiana nursing home died late Sunday while trying to get out of the path of the storm, according to CBS News Affiliate WWL-TV, which reports the three people were killed in an incident involving a school bus in the Baton Rouge area.
Click here for live Webcast coverage of Hurricane Katrina, from CBS News Affiliate WWL-TV in New Orleans.
Because of its size, with hurricane-force winds extend up to 105 miles from the center, and its potential to spawn tornadoes - even areas far from the landfall could be devastated.
"It's capable of causing catastrophic damage," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, referring to the danger for New Orleans. "Even well-built structures will have tremendous damage. Of course, what we're really worried about is the loss of lives... New Orleans may never be the same."
Much of coastal Alabama was evacuated Sunday as emergency officials warned that Hurricane Katrina could bring historic flood levels to Mobile's downtown riverfront and leave bayou and beachfront roads under a sea of water. Mobile Mayor Michael Dow said the possible flooding could be worse than the 9-foot surge that soaked downtown and turned a key interstate connector into a lake during Hurricane Georges in 1998.
Evacuations were also ordered in coastal Mississippi, as the many floating casinos in the area packed up their chips and closed.
Hundreds of thousands in the three states heeded official advice Sunday to evacuate, some heading to shelters and others clogging the roads as they tried to reach friends, relatives and motels on higher ground.
"Have God on your side, definitely have God on your side," Nancy Noble said as she sat with her puppy and three friends in six lanes of one-way traffic on gridlocked Interstate 10 in Louisiana. "It's very frightening."
"I'm really scared," said Linda Young as she filled her gas tank near New Orleans. "I've been through hurricanes, but this one scares me. I think everybody needs to get out."
Because much of New Orleans is below sea level in a basin, a complex levee system is New Orleans' only protection from major flooding. Chief Joseph Matthews of the Office of Emergency Preparedness tells CBS News that if the levees wind up underwater, the resulting floods could take as long as two weeks to drain.
Dr. Walter Monsour, director of emergency management in the New Orleans area, says the city is "going to experience a significant tidal surge" and is asking evacuees to stay out of town until well after the storm - to give authorities time to assess the expected damage.
Rain began falling on southeastern Louisiana at midday Sunday, the first hints of a storm with a potential surge of 18 to 28 feet, topped with even higher waves, tornadoes and as much as 15 inches of rain.
"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," Mayor Ray Nagin said in ordering the mandatory evacuation for his city of 485,000 people, surrounded by suburbs of a million more. "The storm surge will most likely topple our levee system."
"This is very serious, of the highest nature," said Nagin. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."
Conceding that as many as 100,000 inner-city residents didn't have the means to leave and an untold number of tourists were stranded by the closing of the airport, the city arranged buses to take people to 10 last-resort shelters, including the Superdome.
President Bush, as he readied the federal government for a massive relief effort, on Sunday urged people in the path of Hurricane Katrina to forget anything but their safety and move to higher ground as instructed.
New Orleans hasn't been this concerned about a storm since Hurricane Betsy blasted the Gulf Coast in 1965. Flooding approached 20 feet deep in some areas, fishing villages were flattened, and the storm surge left almost half of New Orleans under water and 60,000 residents homeless. Seventy-four people died in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare scenario a big storm could bring to New Orleans (video), a bowl of a city that's up to 10 feet below sea level in spots and dependent on a network of levees, canals and pumps to keep dry. It's built between the half-mile-wide Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, half the size of the state of Rhode Island.
Estimates have been made of flooding that could overrun levees with the potential to turn many neighborhoods in New Orleans into a 30-foot-deep toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from refineries, and waste from ruined septic systems.
Despite the dire predictions, a group of residents in a poor neighborhood of central New Orleans sat on a porch with no car, no way out and, surprisingly, no fear.
"We're not evacuating," said 57-year-old Julie Paul. "None of us have any place to go. We're counting on the Superdome. That's our lifesaver."
The Superdome, the 70,000-seat home of football's Saints and the New Year's Sugar Bowl, opened at daybreak Sunday, giving first priority to frail, elderly people on walkers, some with oxygen tanks. They were told to bring enough food, water and medicine to last up to five days.
In the French Quarter, most bars that stayed open through the threat of past hurricanes were boarded up and the few people on the streets were battening down their businesses and getting out.
Sasha Gayer tried to get a train out of town but couldn't. So she walked back to the French Quarter, buying supplies on the way, and then stopped at one of the few bars open on Bourbon Street.
"This is a lot more fun than sitting at home listening to apocalyptic media reports," she said. "This is how you know it's a serious hurricane. You can't find a slice of white bread in the city, but you can still buy beer."
Katrina is "unmitigated bad news" for motorists across the nation because it shut down offshore production of at least 1 million barrels of oil daily and threatened refinery and import operations around New Orleans.
'Thousands dead' in New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina is thought to have killed hundreds, probably thousands of people in New Orleans, the city's mayor, Ray Nagin, has said.
Mr Nagin said there were significant numbers of corpses in the waters of the flood-stricken city, while many more people may be dead in their homes.
There would be a total evacuation of the city, he said, warning it could be months before residents could return.
President George W Bush said the area could take years to recover.
Map of central New Orleans
Cutting short a holiday in Texas to take charge of the federal recovery effort, Mr Bush said the government was dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in US history.
"This is going to be a difficult road, the challenges we face on the ground are unprecedented, but there's no doubt in my mind that we'll succeed," he said.
Mr Bush, whose Air Force One plane flew low over the affected area, was taken aback by the scale of the disaster.
"I can't tell you how devastating the sites were," he said.
With conditions still deteriorating, the government has declared a public health emergency along the whole of the Gulf coast, to speed up the delivery of food, water and fuel to the region.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said 1,700 truckloads of essential supplies were on their way there.
Medical shelters are being set up offering 10,000 beds, while the US military is providing dozens of rescue helicopters and boats.
The Pentagon has ordered 10,000 extra national guardsmen to Louisiana and Mississippi.
Mayor Nagin said he had no choice but to remove the 50,000 to 100,000 people left in the city when the hurricane struck.
"We have to. The city will not be functional for two to three months," he said.
He said dead bodies in the water would soon create a serious disease problem.
Survivors could be taken out at a rate of up to 15,000 a day.
Counting the dead remains a secondary priority until they are rescued, officials say.
In Mississippi, officials have warned the death toll is likely to climb above the current 110.
Harrison County bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina as it slammed into Biloxi and Gulfport before heading inland.
New Orleans has been plagued by looting, floods and increasingly desperate people, two days after the hurricane.
About a million people evacuated from the area before the hurricane struck, but tens of thousands of others are trapped in the city.
The authorities are planning to evacuate up to 20,000 people from the city's Superdome stadium where sanitary conditions are said to be appalling.
Four people believed to be elderly or infirm died there overnight, according to reports.
Surges of flood water submerged more areas of the city after failed attempts to plug breaches in the barriers which are supposed to protect it.
The pumps which usually assist are no longer working because of the rising levels.
The BBC's Alastair Leithead in New Orleans says there is panic as vital supplies run out. Heavily armed police have been trying to impose a form of martial law to stem looting.
While some looters are stealing non-essential goods, others are simply trying to find food and water.
Survivors are being found all the time.
In Mississippi, two children who lost their parents were taken to safety. In New Orleans, people are still being winched from roofs.
Nine Health Hazards in Katrina's Wake
If life were fair, simply surviving a hurricane as devastating as Katrina would be good enough. But as the residents of the Gulf Coast have now discovered, there are plenty of threats to life and limb in the days and weeks after the skies have cleared. Here's a rundown of some the hazards:
As with other, less-ruinous hurricanes, the greatest cause of death is drowning. Now that the actual storm surge has receded and thousands of people have been rescued from rooftops, the greatest danger is that folks will try their luck driving across flooded roadways. Two-thirds of the drowning deaths from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 in North Carolina occurred when people were trapped in their cars by floodwaters.
Water conducts electricity and live power lines can be deadly, especially if they are downed or not easily visible.
Fire and Carbon-Monoxide Poisoning
With no light or electricity, it's natural to light candles and use camp stoves for cooking. Even the water in some parts of the New Orleans may be flammable, however, as gasoline leaks from submerged cars and other vehicles. Fires have already erupted where gas pipes have broken. All cook stoves, generators, charcoal grills or any other machine that runs on gasoline or charcoal should be used out of doors as carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed areas.
Cuts, bruises, sprained ankles and more serious injuries like broken bones are common in the aftermath of a hurricane, often as a result of the understandable desire to search for prized possessions in the rubble or to start cleaning up right away.
Despite common belief, there is generally no health danger from corpses in the water. However, flood waters are full of sewage and the sanitary conditions in shelters, like the Superdome, are reportedly deteriorating—leading to pressure to evacuate, possibly to the Astrodome in Houston.
Drinking flood waters, either inadvertently or in desperation will lead to diarrhea. Wherever water mains have broken, as in New Orleans, whatever comes out of the tap is bound to be contaminated. All non-bottled water should be strained and boiled for at least a minute—preferably five minutes. Don't use even treated water to make up infant formula.
Throw away any food that has come into contact with water. Don't count on being able to tell that canned foods have gone bad simply by checking to see if they are bulging. If they are opened or damaged, throw them out.
Wash hands with soap and clean water or alcohol-based gels whenever possible.
There is plenty of crowding in shelters, which has led in the past to outbreaks of flu and even concerns about tuberculosis.
The Gulf Coast is the buckle on America's diabetes belt. Folks who had to run for their lives didn't necessarily have time to take their medications. Insulin needs to be refrigerated and the needles used to administer it must be clean—tough to do under current conditions.
Allergies and Asthma
As residents return to their homes—if the structures are still standing—mold becomes an even greater issue, especially in the humid conditions of the Gulf Coast. Wet, porous items like carpet and upholstered furniture should be tossed. Wear a protective mask and clothing while cleaning up to minimize exposure.
The stress of surviving a natural disaster and of losing house and home will take its toll. In the aftermath of the tsunami, community leaders discovered that getting back to as normal a routine as possible was a natural and highly effective way of dealing with that stress. That's why you saw children going to school right away, even if classes needed to be held outdoors.
Katrina Cops caught looting
Looting After Katrina
New Orleans mayor orders looting crackdown
Thousands feared dead from Katrina's wrath; stadium evacuation begins
NEW ORLEANS - Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 police officers to leave their search-and-rescue mission Wednesday night and return to the streets of the beleaguered city to stop looting that has turned increasingly hostile.
“They are starting to get closer to heavily populated areas — hotels, hospitals and we’re going to stop it right now,” Nagin said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, blue jeans, tennis shoes, TV sets — even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.
Police were asking residents to give up any firearms before they evacuated neighborhoods because officers desperately needed the firepower: Some officers who had been stranded on the roof of a hotel said they were shot at.
Police said their first priority remained saving lives, and mostly just stood by and watched the looting. But Nagin later said the looting had gotten so bad that stopping the thieves became the top priority for the police department.
With thousands feared drowned in what could be America’s deadliest natural disaster in a century, New Orleans’ leaders all but surrendered the streets to floodwaters and began turning out the lights on the ruined city — perhaps for months.
Nagin called for an all-out evacuation of the city’s remaining residents. Asked how many people died, he said: “Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.”
Struggle to plug the breached levees
With most of the city under water, Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans’ breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, and authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of remaining people and practically abandon the below-sea-level city.
Nagin said there will be a “total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months.” And he said people would not be allowed back into their homes for at least a month or two.
If the mayor’s death-toll estimate holds true, it would make Katrina the worst natural disaster in the United States since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which have blamed for anywhere from about 500 to 6,000 deaths. Katrina would also be the nation’s deadliest hurricane since 1900, when a storm in Galveston, Texas, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people.
A slow exodus from the Superdome began Wednesday as the first of nearly 25,000 refugees left the miserable surroundings of the football stadium and were transported in buses to the Astrodome in Houston, 350 miles away. Conditions in the Superdome had become horrendous: There was no air conditioning, the toilets were backed up, and the stench was so bad that medical workers wore masks as they walked around.
In Mississippi, bodies are starting to pile up at the morgue in hard-hit Harrison County. Forty corpses have been brought to the morgue already, and officials expect the death toll in the county to climb well above 100.
Tempers were beginning to flare in the aftermath of the storm. Police said a man fatally shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Bush: 'It's devastating'
President Bush flew over New Orleans and parts of Mississippi’s hurricane-blasted coastline in Air Force One. Turning to his aides, he said: “It’s totally wiped out. ... It’s devastating, it’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.”
“We’re dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history,” Bush said later in a televised address from the White House, which most victims could not see because power remains out to 1 million Gulf Coast residents.
The federal government dispatched helicopters, warships and elite SEAL water-rescue teams in one of the biggest relief operations in U.S. history, aimed at plucking residents from rooftops in the last of the “golden 72 hours” rescuers say is crucial to saving lives.
As fires burned from broken natural-gas mains, the skies above the city buzzed with National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters frantically dropping baskets to roofs where victims had been stranded since the storm roared in with a 145-mph fury Monday. Atop one apartment building, two children held up a giant sign scrawled with the words: “Help us!”
Hundreds of people wandered up and down shattered Interstate 10 — the only major freeway leading into New Orleans from the east — pushing shopping carts, laundry racks, anything they could find to carry their belongings.
On some of the few roads that were still open, people waved at passing cars with empty water jugs, begging for relief. Hundreds of people appeared to have spent the night on a crippled highway.
Tens of thousands remain in New Orleans
Nagin, whose pre-hurricane evacuation order got most of his city of a half a million out of harm’s way, estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained, and said that 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated in ensuing convoys.
“We have to,” Nagin said. “It’s not living conditions.”
He also expressed concern about people staying in the water: “People walking in that water with those dead bodies, it can get in your pores, you don’t have to drink it.”
In addition to the Astrodome solution, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was considering putting people on cruise ships, in tent cities, mobile home parks, and so-called floating dormitories.
Sewage, garbage fill the streets
The floodwaters streamed into the city’s streets from two levee breaks near Lake Pontchartrain a day after New Orleans thought it had escaped catastrophic damage from Katrina. The floodwaters covered 80 percent of the city, in some areas 20 feet deep, in a reddish-brown soup of sewage, gasoline and garbage.
Around midday, officials with the state and the Army Corps of Engineers said the water levels between the city and the lake had equalized, and water had stopped spilling into New Orleans, and even appeared to be falling. But the danger was far from over.
The Corps of Engineers said it planned to use heavy-duty Chinook helicopters to drop 15,000-pound bags of sand and stone as early as Wednesday night into the 500-foot gap in the failed floodwall.
But the agency said it was having trouble getting the sandbags and dozens of 15-foot highway barriers to the site because the city’s waterways were blocked by loose barges, boats and large debris.
In Washington, the Bush administration decided to release crude oil from the federal petroleum reserves after Katrina knocked out 95 percent of the Gulf of Mexico’s output. But because of the disruptions and damage to the refineries, gasoline prices surged above $3 a gallon in many parts of the country.
Full magnitude unclear
The death toll has reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone. But the full magnitude of the disaster had been unclear for days — in part, because some areas in both coastal Mississippi and New Orleans are still unreachable, but also because authorities’ first priority has been the living.
In Mississippi, for example, ambulances roamed through the passable streets of devastated places such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Waveland and Bay St. Louis, in some cases speeding past corpses in hopes of saving people trapped in flooded and crumbled buildings.
State officials said Nagin’s guess of thousands dead seemed plausible.
Lt. Kevin Cowan of the state Office of Emergency Preparedness said it is too soon to say with any accuracy how many died. But he noted that since thousands of people had been rescued from roofs and attics, it could be assumed that there were lots of others who were not saved.
“You have a limited number of resources, for an unknown number of evacuees. It’s already been several days. You’ve had reports there are casualties. You all can do the math,” he said.
On the flooded streets of New Orleans, dozens of fishermen from up to 200 miles away floated in on caravans of boats to pull residents out.
One of those rescued was 40-year-old Kevin Montgomery, who spent three days shuttling between the attic of a one-story home and a canopy he built on the roof.
Every once in a while, Montgomery would see a body float by. But he cannot swim and had to fight the urge to wade in and tie them down.
“It was terrible,” he said. “All I could do was pass them by and hope that God takes care of the rest of that.”
Rumors supplanted accurate information and media magnified the problem. Rapes, violence and estimates of the dead were wrong.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Maj. Ed Bush recalled how he stood in the bed of a pickup truck in the days after Hurricane Katrina, struggling to help the crowd outside the Louisiana Superdome separate fact from fiction. Armed only with a megaphone and scant information, he might have been shouting into, well, a hurricane.
The National Guard spokesman's accounts about rescue efforts, water supplies and first aid all but disappeared amid the roar of a 24-hour rumor mill at New Orleans' main evacuation shelter. Then a frenzied media recycled and amplified many of the unverified reports.
"It just morphed into this mythical place where the most unthinkable deeds were being done," Bush said Monday of the Superdome.
His assessment is one of several in recent days to conclude that newspapers and television exaggerated criminal behavior in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly at the overcrowded Superdome and Convention Center.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."
Indeed, Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."
Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor.
The wild rumors filled the vacuum and seemed to gain credence with each retelling — that an infant's body had been found in a trash can, that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through the business district, that hundreds of bodies had been stacked in the Superdome basement.
"It doesn't take anything to start a rumor around here," Louisiana National Guard 2nd Lt. Lance Cagnolatti said at the height of the Superdome relief effort. "There's 20,000 people in here. Think when you were in high school. You whisper something in someone's ear. By the end of the day, everyone in school knows the rumor — and the rumor isn't the same thing it was when you started it."
Follow-up reporting has discredited reports of a 7-year-old being raped and murdered at the Superdome, roving bands of armed gang members attacking the helpless, and dozens of bodies being shoved into a freezer at the Convention Center.
Hyperbolic reporting spread through much of the media.
Fox News, a day before the major evacuation of the Superdome began, issued an "alert" as talk show host Alan Colmes reiterated reports of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."
The Los Angeles Times adopted a breathless tone the next day in its lead news story, reporting that National Guard troops "took positions on rooftops, scanning for snipers and armed mobs as seething crowds of refugees milled below, desperate to flee. Gunfire crackled in the distance."
The New York Times repeated some of the reports of violence and unrest, but the newspaper usually was more careful to note that the information could not be verified.
The tabloid Ottawa Sun reported unverified accounts of "a man seeking help gunned down by a National Guard soldier" and "a young man run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer."
London's Evening Standard invoked the future-world fantasy film "Mad Max" to describe the scene and threw in a "Lord of the Flies" allusion for good measure.
Televised images and photographs affirmed the widespread devastation in one of America's most celebrated cities.
"I don't think you can overstate how big of a disaster New Orleans is," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a Florida school for professional journalists. "But you can imprecisely state the nature of the disaster. … Then you draw attention away from the real story, the magnitude of the destruction, and you kind of undermine the media's credibility."
Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss cited telephone breakdowns as a primary cause of reporting errors, but said the fact that most evacuees were poor African Americans also played a part.
"If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of middle class white people," Amoss said, "it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering."
Some of the hesitation that journalists might have had about using the more sordid reports from the evacuation centers probably fell away when New Orleans' top officials seemed to confirm the accounts.
Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass appeared on "Oprah" a few days after trouble at the Superdome had peaked.
Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing.
State officials this week said their counts of the dead at the city's two largest evacuation points fell far short of early rumors and news reports. Ten bodies were recovered from the Superdome and four from the Convention Center, said Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
(National Guard officials put the body count at the Superdome at six, saying the other four bodies came from the area around the stadium.)
Of the 841 recorded hurricane-related deaths in Louisiana, four are identified as gunshot victims, Johannessen said. One victim was found in the Superdome but was believed to have been brought there, and one was found at the Convention Center, he added.
Relief workers said that while the media hyped criminal activity, plenty of real suffering did occur at the Katrina relief centers.
"The hurricane had just passed, you had massive trauma to the city," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard.
"No air conditioning, no sewage … it was not a nice place to be. All those people just in there, they were frustrated, they were hot. Out of all that chaos, all of these rumors start flying."
Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron, who headed security at the Superdome, said that for every complaint, "49 other people said, 'Thank you, God bless you.' "
The media inaccuracies had consequences in the disaster zone.
Bush, of the National Guard, said that reports of corpses at the Superdome filtered back to the facility via AM radio, undermining his struggle to keep morale up and maintain order.
"We had to convince people this was still the best place to be," Bush said. "What I saw in the Superdome was just tremendous amounts of people helping people."
But, Bush said, those stories received scant attention in newspapers or on television
Behind Hurricane Katrina
The Threatening Storm
The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city's defenses should have withstood its surges, and if they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment "Heckuva job, Brownie." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city's man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government's response, but they still haven't come to grips with the government's responsibility for the catastrophe.
They should. Two years after Katrina, the effort to protect coastal Louisiana from storms and restore its vanishing wetlands has become one of the biggest government extravaganzas since the moon mission—and the Army Corps is running the show, with more money and power than ever. Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakes—and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you'll love what's coming next.
Before Katrina, the Corps was spending more in Louisiana than in any other state, but much of it was going to wasteful and destructive pork instead of protection for New Orleans; one Corps project actually intensified Katrina's surge. After Katrina, a series of investigations ripped the Corps for building flimsy floodwalls in soggy soils, based on wildly flawed analyses—and shoddy engineering was only one way the Corps betrayed New Orleans. But while fema director Michael Brown's resignation made front-page news, Corps commander Carl Strock's resignation hardly made the papers. By the time Strock admitted his agency's "catastrophic failure" eight months after the storm, the U.S. had moved on.
As the disaster's Aug. 29 anniversary approaches, there will be plenty of talk about the future of New Orleans—-how to rebuild; bring home the diaspora; and deal with crises like housing, crime and education. But in the long run, recovery plans won't matter much if investors, insurers and homesick evacuees can't trust the Corps to prevent the city from drowning again. "Katrina wasn't even close to the Big One," says Louisiana State University (lsu) hurricane researcher Ivor van Heerden, author of the Katrina memoir The Storm. "We better start getting ready."
Today, Corps leaders are rebuilding New Orleans levees, but they say it will still take four more years and billions of dollars more just to protect the city from a 100-year storm, the protection they were required to provide before Katrina. That's still paltry compared with Amsterdam's 10,000-year-storm protection. But Corps officials have also committed to restoring the surge-softening marshes, cypress swamps and barrier islands that are disappearing at a rate of a football field nearly every half-hour. They say they now understand that the survival of New Orleans depends on a sustainable coast. "This is not the Corps of old," says Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the agency's Task Force Hope. "The world has changed, and the Corps is changing too."
But for all the talk about restoring wetlands, almost every dime of the $7 billion the Corps has received since Katrina is going to traditional engineering: huge structures designed to control rather than preserve nature. And its latest plan seeks to extend those structures along the entire coast, calling for such massive levees across so much of the state that scientists call it the Great Wall of Louisiana. The Corps says it's just an idea, but Congress is about to authorize the first stretch of the wall—a $900 million, 72-mile (116 km) levee for isolated bayou towns like Chauvin, Dulac and Montegut. "Nothing has changed," says G. Edward Dickey, a former Corps chief of planning. "It's the same engineering mentality, except now they'll build the levees even bigger."
Bigger levees aren't all bad. New Orleans desperately needs them; one local slogan is, "Make Levees, Not War." But New Orleans needs its eroding wetlands just as desperately; another local slogan is, "Fix the Coast, or We Are Toast!" To prevent another disaster, the construction addicts of the Corps, their enablers in Congress and the U.S.'s cockamamie approach to water resources will all have to change. The Great Wall concept sounds a lot like the mistakes of the past.
Killing the Coast
New Orleans wasn't always a city in a bowl. The French founded it in 1718 on high ground along the Mississippi, a "natural levee" of sediment deposited by the river. That's why tourists in the French Quarter stayed dry during Katrina. And that's how all of south Louisiana was built—by the Mississippi River mutinying its banks and rambling around its floodplain like an unruly teenager, dropping mud around its delta and creating roughly 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf. So while the French built an earthen levee 1 mile long and 3 ft. high (1.6 km long, 1 m high) to block the river's annual tantrums, they didn't bother trying to block the occasional hurricanes that swept up the Gulf. "They didn't need hurricane levees," says Kerry St. Pe, a marine biologist whose ancestors arrived in 1760. "They had wetlands to protect them." New Orleans wasn't on the coast, and hurricanes wilt over land.
Now the Gulf has advanced some 20 miles (32 km) inland, thanks in large part to the Army Corps. The Corps started as a Revolutionary War regiment, fortifying Bunker Hill, but it evolved into an all-purpose engineering unit, eventually overseeing local flood control on the Mississippi. The Corps ordered communities to imprison the river in a narrow channel with a strict "levees only" policy, rejecting calls to give the river room to spread out. So levees rose, and the Corps repeatedly declared the river floodproof. But the constrained river also rose, and its jailbreaks repeatedly proved the Corps wrong. In the epic flood of 1927, crevasses shredded the entire valley and nearly destroyed New Orleans.
Congress rewarded this failure by allowing the Corps to seize control of the entire river and its tributaries, an unprecedented Big Government project that foreshadowed the New Deal and established the Corps as the U.S.'s manipulator of water and manhandler of nature. It built dams, floodways, revetments and pumped-up levees throughout the Mississippi basin, caging the beast in its channel, safeguarding riverfront cities, creating a reliable web of liquid highways. But by walling off the river, trapping its sediments behind giant dams and armoring its erosive banks with concrete, the Corps inadvertently choked off the land-building process. The straitjacketed river now carries less than half its original sediment load down to Louisiana. So there's little new land-building material to offset the natural erosion of the coast, much less the unnatural rising of the sea fueled by global warming.
The result is that New Orleans is sinking, and about 30% of the coast's wetlands have slipped into the Gulf, jutting Louisiana's chin even further into the path of Mother Nature's fist, endangering the U.S.'s largest offshore oil and gas fields, a lucrative seafood industry, a busy network of ports and about 2 million people. If Mexico had seized all that land, we'd be at war. lsu hydraulic engineer Hassan Mashriqui says just 100 yds. (91 m) of cypress trees can reduce wave energy 95%; he has seen a similar phenomenon with mangroves in his native Bangladesh. Katrina and then Hurricane Rita confirmed that marshes knock down surges as well. "Basically, we found that none of the levees that failed were protected by wetlands or trees," Mashriqui says.
Oil and gas canals have accelerated the land losses. But so have Corps navigation canals, especially the notorious Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a shipping shortcut to the Port of New Orleans that was a larger dirt-moving project than the Panama Canal when it opened in 1965. The canal never carried many ships, but it has carried plenty of saltwater into freshwater marshes and cypress forests, killing nearly 100 sq. mi. (259 sq km) of wetlands. Shortly before Katrina, Mashriqui called it a "critical and fundamental flaw" in New Orleans' defenses; after Katrina, his modeling found that the outlet boosted Katrina's surge 2 ft. (0.6 m) and increased its velocity 10-fold, overwhelming St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. "This was a disaster created by the Corps," Mashriqui says.
A Tragedy of Priorities
New Orleans still might have fended off Katrina if its levees hadn't played matador defense. After Hurricane Betsy pummeled New Orleans in 1965, Congress assigned the Corps to protect the city from a 100-year storm. The agency's first mistake was calculating that 100-year event as a modest Category 3 hurricane, even though Betsy had been a 4, and the National Weather Service later proposed a more severe 4. The Corps then made such egregious engineering errors that it wasn't even ready for a smaller storm. For example, its levees sagged as much as 5 ft. (1.5 m) lower than their design because the Corps miscalculated sea level and then failed to adjust for subsidence. Some were built in soils with the stability of oatmeal. "These were inexcusable, lethal mistakes," says University of California, Berkeley, engineering professor Robert Bea, who led a post-Katrina investigation for the National Science Foundation. The Corps also built most of its levees around swampland, a conscious effort to promote the development of low-lying subdivisions like New Orleans East. That no longer seemed like such a good idea after New Orleans East went underwater during Katrina. "That should be the first lesson: build levees around people, not around wetlands," says Paul Harrison of Environmental Defense.
The basic problem is that protecting New Orleans from deadly storms was never anyone's top priority. That's why the city's main hurricane project was 37 years behind schedule when Katrina hit. Louisiana's congressional delegation steered Corps funds toward boondoggles that had nothing to do with flood protection, like a $2 billion effort to channelize the Red River for barges that never materialized. Stingy local officials actually helped scuttle a Corps plan to build pumps and floodgates along Lake Pontchartrain, a plan that could have prevented much of Katrina's flooding. "We can beat ourselves up about the past—or we can use the past to do business differently in the future," says Corps Colonel Jeffrey Bedey, who is now overseeing construction of, yes, huge pumps and floodgates along Lake Pontchartrain. "I don't just mean we the Corps. I mean we the country."
Corps leaders often say their projects simply reflect the will of the nation; when the U.S. wanted them to ransack the landscape with dams and dredges, they saluted and obeyed. But it's also true that the Corps helps shape that will. In recent years the Government Accountability Office, the National Academies of Science and the Pentagon inspector general have documented the agency's bias toward approving projects that keep its 35,000 employees busy and its congressional paymasters happy. In 2000 its leaders were caught cooking an economic analysis to justify a $1 billion upper Mississippi River lock project and launching a secret Program Growth Initiative to lard their budget with make-work. In New Orleans, the Corps endorsed a $750 million lock on the Industrial Canal even though its economists considered it a waste of money; the agency justified it by citing increasing use, even though use was decreasing.
Pam Dashiell, a community activist in the Lower Ninth Ward, fought for years against the Gulf Outlet and the Industrial Canal lock, lobbying Corps officials and Louisiana politicians to focus on safety instead. But both projects were on the wish list of the port, the city's most powerful interest. Dashiell remembers the hostility of Congressmen like Democrat William Jefferson, now indicted on corruption charges, and Republican David Vitter, now embroiled in a prostitution scandal. "They said I was an obstructionist," she says. "I was like, �Where are your priorities?'" Her working-class Holy Cross neighborhood had one of the highest elevations in New Orleans, but it was nearly wiped out by the surge that blasted up the Gulf Outlet and tore through floodwalls along the Industrial Canal—just a stone's throw from the white-elephant lock project.
For the U.S.'s water-resources system, these haphazard priorities are a feature, not a bug. The Corps is funded almost exclusively by earmarks, individual slices of pork requested by individual Congressmen. Since F.D.R., Presidents have routinely tried to rein in the agency, with little success. After the Program Growth scandal, the Clinton Administration issued a gentle reminder that Corps generals are supposed to report to their superiors in the Pentagon chain of command but speedily retracted it following a venomous outcry from their real superiors on Capitol Hill. President Bush keeps proposing zero funding for most of the Corps projects that taxpayer and environmental groups hate, but Congress continues to fund them anyway.
So the U.S. has no water-resources policy, just a ready-to-build water-resources agency whose agenda is dictated by an annual funding free-for-all among its 535 bosses. It's a classic example of Washington's iron triangle: commercial interests lobby the Corps and their Congressmen for projects that supply the Corps with work and political cover and help the Congressmen steer jobs and money to constituents and contributors. "It's a sinister system," says American Water Resources Association president Gerry Galloway, a former Army brigadier general who is now a visiting scholar at the Corps. "Water is a national-security issue, but we treat it like the Wild West. The big guns get the money."
Katrina didn't change that system. Louisiana Senators Vitter and Mary Landrieu promptly proposed a bloated quarter-trillion-dollar Louisiana reconstruction bill, drafted by lobbyists for oil, shipping and other corporate interests. The request included $40 billion for the Corps—10 times the agency's budget for the rest of the nation—including nonreconstruction projects like the Industrial Canal lock and a New Iberia port deepening that had flunked the Corps' cost-benefit tests. It also included pre-Katrina coastal levee schemes, with names like Morganza-to-the-Gulf and Donaldsonville-to-the-Gulf to suggest their grandiose sweep. The bill stalled after it was widely mocked as legislative looting, but it sent the message that pre-Katrina priorities were still in effect. Vitter kept pushing a measure to help timber companies harvest cypress swamps. Landrieu tucked language into emergency bills ordering the Corps to redo its New Iberia analysis and fast-tracking the Industrial Canal lock. "Katrina was just a perfect excuse to pull the old pork off the shelf in the name of otherwise-we-drown," says Tulane law professor Oliver Houck, the sage of Louisiana environmentalism. "And away we go: another Louisiana hayride."
The Path Forward
The hayride has not yet left the barn. Since Katrina, the Corps has focused on repairing and improving its New Orleans defenses: rebuilding or strengthening 220 miles of the city's 350 miles of levees (about 350 km of New Orleans' 560-km levee system), installing gigantic pumps and gates along the lake and releasing block-by-block maps to publicize lingering flood risks. Some engineers believe the new levees are still too short and weak—"They're a frigging disgrace," U.C. Berkeley's Bea says—and the new pumps repeatedly malfunctioned during testing. But the Corps is about to unveil its plan for 100-year protection, with a rumored price tag of $15 billion, and the agency says that by 2011 the city will be safe from "severe storms," though not from storms as severe as Katrina. The Corps has even proposed to close the Gulf Outlet, a stunning turnaround after 40 years. "We're being much, much more conservative," says Thomas Podany, a Corps manager in New Orleans.
The real controversies involve a separate study of Category 5 protection and restoration for the entire Louisiana coast. The initial plans floated by the Corps and its state partners proposed a Maginot Line of towering new levees that evoke the "levees only" policy that failed on the Mississippi River, this time seeking to confine the Gulf. Water needs to go somewhere, and the agency's own modeling suggested that Donaldsonville-to-the-Gulf would not only cut off vast swaths of wetlands but also double storm surges in some areas by piling up water and concentrating its fury. "They're talking about chopping an estuary in half," says John Lopez, a former Corps geologist who is now the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's director of coastal sustainability. "Even for the Corps, that's extreme."
Morganza-to-the-Gulf is less extreme but imminent; it's part of a $20 billion national package of Corps projects nearing congressional approval. The Corps has proposed to use "leaky levees" to allow tidal exchange, but many scientists predict the structures will still wall off marshes, providing a false sense of security to vulnerable towns while increasing their vulnerability. lsu's Van Heerden calls it "absolutely screwy, the exact opposite of what we need." Many scientists argue that it's dangerous and unrealistic to commit billions of dollars to protect middle-of-nowhere fishing towns, when the Corps has a $58 billion backlog of unfinished projects, and cities like New York and Miami are largely exposed to the sea. They want the Corps to focus on fixing the coast and protecting denser communities while helping families in small coastal towns elevate homes or move to higher ground. "I'm afraid that once we say yes, we're giving clearance to levees all across the state," says lsu ecologist Robert Twilley, who's leading Louisiana's science-review team. "My great fear is that we're going to cut off the coast with barriers, just like we did to the river. I'd hate for that to be my legacy."
Even Morganza's most ardent defenders say coastal levees can have dire coastal consequences. But they don't want to do nothing for people in harm's way. "I sit up at night and ask myself, Why the hell do you want to spend $1 billion on another levee?" says Jerome Zeringue, a biologist who runs the local levee district. "But if we don't protect Dulac, there won't be a Dulac."
In Shrimpers Row in tiny Dulac, a sign says water on road ahead—not a flashing sign, a permanent sign. Ivy Pierre has fished these bayous since he was a kid. He says the biggest change over his 78 years is that he walks up a ladder instead of down a ladder to climb into his boat. "We're sinking!" he says. Katrina was the fifth time his house has flooded, but home is a powerful place. "They call it Dulac," he says with a grin, "because we Du what we Lac!
Dulac is ground zero in an age-old coastal debate: Defend or retreat? It's worth noting that the people of Dulac didn't move into harm's way. Harm moved into their way when the coast collapsed around them. But levees can create perverse incentives; Pierre wanted to elevate his house until he heard the Feds might protect it for him. Pierre also understands that Dulac might be doomed, or at least a bit remote for American taxpayers to protect for more than $10 million a mile, and he might be willing to move to higher ground for the right offer. "Retreat is not an American thing," Houck says. "We need a better word for it, because the concept is inexorable."
Corps managers say they're open to non-structural approaches to reducing flood risk. They also say they might adjust their levee paths to avoid damaging the coast. But expectations are hardening. "Morganza is considered egregious in the scientific community, but there's not a lot of enthusiasm down there for changing the alignment," says Randy Hanchey, who left the Corps after 37 years to oversee coastal projects for Louisiana. "The politics are very tricky."
Levees are still seen as instant local relief, even though Morganza is supposed to be a 16-year project and would probably take much longer. Restoration is often cast as a more general solution, even though scientists expect the Gulf to advance to the New Orleans suburbs within a decade. So political pressure and engineering instincts tend to favor a futile effort to wall ourselves off from nature. But Katrina and Rita wiped out 217 sq. mi. (562 sq km) of wetlands in a single month. And even Bush has acknowledged that without the coast, Louisiana is toast.
The good news is that scientists believe they know how to save it. They want the Corps to let go of the river in strategic areas so it can get back to work building land, even if that requires rearranging navigation at the mouth of the Mississippi. They want to fill in oil and gas canals, constrict the Gulf Outlet and start pumping sediment back into ridges and barrier islands. The Corps developed $14 billion worth of Louisiana restoration plans before Katrina, but Bush scaled them back to $2 billion. Now the scientists want to think even bigger about the entire ecosystem, even the sediments trapped behind dams 1,000 miles upstream (about 1,600 km). And they don't want to have to think about new to-the-Gulfs schemes that could further degrade the coast.
Can the system adapt? The Corps has announced "12 actions for change," but it's hard to find outsiders who believe that it has moved beyond its "teach Mother Nature a lesson" roots. It's still not a Corps of ecologists. And its projects are still a popular form of political swag for its enablers on Capitol Hill. The $20 billion Corps package also includes some modest reforms that would require more review of the agency's projects and mitigation of their environmental damage. But the Senate overwhelmingly rejected an effort to require the prioritization of Corps projects according to national need. And on Wednesday, the Bush Administration threatened to veto the "unaffordable" bill. Lieut. General Robert Van Antwerp, the new Corps commander, would like to see an independent commission recommending water projects outside the political process, like the one that advises military-base closures. But if New Orleans has to wait for an independent commission, it's probably time to invest in scuba gear. "We've got to break the cycle," Twilley says. "We've got to stop the political hacking. If we really want to go to the moon, we ought to go." The scientists make the task sound simple: build New Orleans 500-year protection and restore its natural protection. Have the courage to cause inconvenience and economic harm to some in the name of protecting all. After all, Katrina was harmful too. Moving 30 million tons of debris was pretty inconvenient. And the next Katrina is a question of when, not if.
Since Katrina, New Orleans has lost more than one-third of its population, and only two of St. Bernard Parish's 26 child-care centers have reopened. In the Lower Ninth Ward, floodwalls have been rebuilt and reinforced, but behind them stand blocks full of overgrown lots, where the remains of a gas meter or front step here or there provide the only evidence of the houses and lives washed away. "I look at this, and I think of the shortsighted people who crippled a great city," Dashiell says. She knows that city needs better hospitals and more jobs. But first, better levees and more wetlands. Otherwise, it's going to need an obituary.
Witness tells of 'killer cops' during Katrina seige
Former NOPD Chief Admits Post-Katrina Mistakes
Storm Roared Ashore On Compass' 47th Birthday
NEW ORLEANS -- Eddie Compass' birthday two years ago marked the beginning of the end of his career with the New Orleans Police Department.
As Hurricane Katrina roared into New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, then-Police Superintendent Compass was turning 47 years old.
"I was born Aug. 29, 1958," Compass said. "And when people ask me, 'Are you ever going to forget Katrina?' I say, 'It would be very difficult, because every time I blow out my candles, I remember this is the day of the hurricane.'"
Compass said the boat rescues he organized in Katrina's wake saved thousands of lives, but, he admits, he made a big mistake in exaggerating the crime and chaos after the storm.
"When things were reported to us, we reported it to the public. In hindsight, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have," he said. "I was just saying things I thought were fact and thought were true to keep the public informed, and I really made a mistake."
According to reports, Mayor Ray Nagin asked for -- and received -- Compass' resignation less than a month after Katrina. Now, two years later, Compass said he doesn't hold a grudge against the man he's known since the first grade.
"The mayor and I have spoken, and we are of one accord, and he and I have no problems -- the mayor and I have no problems," Compass said.
As he takes a new job overseeing security for the Recovery School District, Compass said he looks forward to helping children feel safe. Last year, the RSD was criticized by some for the number of security officers at some schools -- too many officers, critics said, made the schools into prisons.
"True success is not making a lot of arrests and being real aggressive," Compass said. "True success is stopping things before it happens."
Crime and Corruption in New Orleans
Police misconduct in the 'Big Easy' has reached a frightening fever pitch. In the last year, seven young black men have been killed by police, and none of the officers have been punished.
People from New Orleans were not surprised to see last week's horrifying video of police beating an innocent 64-year-old man in the French Quarter. The only surprise is the increased attention the incident received -- though many news reports took pains to mention the "high levels of stress" New Orleans police are under.
Despite the attempts to explain away the officer's behavior, said incident fits into a well-defined pattern of police conduct in New Orleans. In the last year, seven young black men have been killed by New Orleans police, and none of the officers involved have been punished.
This year has seen mounting evidence of a police department out of control. Less than a week before Hurricane Katrina, on Wednesday, Aug. 24, Keith Griffin, a New Orleans police officer, was booked with aggravated rape and kidnapping. According to a Times-Picayune report, Griffin is accused of pulling over a bicyclist under the guise of a police stop in the early morning hours of July 11. The two-year veteran officer allegedly detained the woman, drove her to a remote spot along the Industrial Canal near Deslonde Street, then sexually assaulted her.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Another recent Times-Picayune article reported that in April, seven-year veteran officer Corey Johnson was booked with aggravated rape for allegedly forcing a woman to perform oral sex, after he identified himself as an officer in order to enter the woman's Treme home.
Another article states that "eight officers were arrested during a six-month stretch last year on charges that ranged from shoplifting to theft to conspiracy to rob a bank ... In April 2004, 16-year veteran James Adams was booked with aggravated kidnapping, extortion and malfeasance after he was accused of threatening to arrest a woman unless she agreed to have sex with him."
Police misconduct in this notoriously corrupt city goes back decades, and occasionally it explodes in scandal. In a September 2000 report, the Progressive Policy Institute discovered that a 1994 crackdown on police corruption led to 200 officers' dismissals -- plus, upwards of 60 criminal charges (including two murder convictions) among police officers. Investigators discovered that for six months in 1994, as many as 29 New Orleans police officers protected a cocaine supply warehouse containing 286 pounds of the drug. The FBI indicted 10 officers who had been paid nearly $100,000 by undercover agents. The investigation ended abruptly, after one officer successfully orchestrated the execution of a witness.
According to one community activist I recently spoke with, who is familiar with those investigations, "That crackdown just scratched the surface. They didn't even really begin to address the problems in the New Orleans police."
According to a 1998 report from Human Rights Watch, former officer Len Davis -- reportedly known in the Desire housing project as "Robocop" -- ordered the Oct. 13, 1994 murder of Kim Groves after he learned she had filed a brutality complaint against him. Federal agents had Davis under surveillance for alleged drug-dealing, and recorded Davis ordering the killing, apparently without realizing what they had heard until it was too late.
Davis mumbled to himself about the "30" he would be taking care of (the police code for homicide) and, in communicating with the killer, described Groves' standing on the street and demanded he "get that whore!"
Afterward, he confirmed the slaying by saying "N.A.T." -- police jargon for "necessary action taken." Community activists reported a chilling effect on potential witnesses and victims considering coming forward after Groves' murder.
The white-flight suburbs around New Orleans are, in many ways, worse. During the 1980s, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee famously ordered special scrutiny for any black people traveling in white sections of the parish. "It's obvious," Lee said, "that two young blacks driving a rinky-dink car in a predominantly white neighborhood ... They'll be stopped."
The New Orleans Gambit newsweekly reported that 1994, "after two black men died in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center within one week, Lee faced protests from the black community and responded by withdrawing his officers from a predominantly black neighborhood. 'To hell with them,' he'd said. 'I haven't heard one word of support from one black person.'"
The Gambit also reported in April of this year that in Jefferson Parish, officers were found to be using as target practice what critics referred to as "a blatantly racist caricature" of a black male. Sheriff Lee laughed when presented with the charges. "I'm looking at this thing that people say is offensive," he says. "I've looked at it, I don't find it offensive, and I have no interest in correcting it."
These accusations of "target practice" gained force a few weeks later with the May 31 killing of 16-year-old Antoine Colbert, who was behind the wheel of a stolen pickup truck with two other teens. One hundred-ten shots were fired into the truck, killing Colbert and injuring his passengers. In response to criticism from black ministers over the incident, Lee responded "They can kiss my ass."
As has been widely reported, the town of Gretna, across the Mississippi from New Orleans and part of Jefferson Parish, stationed officers on the bridge leading out of New Orleans blocking the main escape route for the tens of thousands suffering in the Superdome, Convention Center, and throughout the city.
As the L.A. Times reported on September 16, a little over a week after this mostly white suburb became a symbol of callousness for using armed officers to seal one of the last escape routes from New Orleans, trapping thousands of mostly black evacuees in the flooded city, the Gretna City Council passed a resolution supporting the police chief's move. "This wasn't just one man's decision," Mayor Ronnie C. Harris said Thursday. "The whole community backs it."
Arguably, the actions of the Gretna police were one of the biggest dangers to public safety to arise from this tragedy, perhaps second only to the criminally-neglected levees. Anyone that wants to focus on relief for the victims needs to focus on what exactly people from New Orleans are victims of: racism, corruption, deindustrialization, disinvestment, and neglect. That is why agencies and organizations such as Red Cross, FEMA, Scientologists, their hundreds of well-meaning volunteers are not really providing relief -- they aren't addressing the nature of the problem.
We call hurricanes and earthquakes "natural disasters," but the contours of these disasters are manmade. As recent earthquake and hurricane-related mass deaths in South Asia and Central America demonstrate, who lives and who dies is intricately related to issues of poverty and access. Whether the homes are built in safe areas, the soundness of the structures, the length of time it takes for relief to arrive, all of these are intricately tied to poverty. And yet the media generally ignores these issues, and repeats the message that nature doesn't discriminate. Because of this message, relief is misdirected, and when those receiving the relief aren't sufficiently grateful, the givers become resentful.
An article in last Sunday's New York Times reports on a community of displaced New Orleans residents in rural Oklahoma, where local residents are "glad to see them go." With each passing day, the Times reported, they could feel the sympathy draining away. The problem is the perception that this is a problem that could be fixed by a place to stay in another state, some hand-me-down clothes and a few meals. For many of us from New Orleans, what hurts the most is the loss of our community, and charity doesn't help to heal those wounds at all. Mayaba Benu, a community activist currently in the city, told me "I miss everyone. There's a lot of reporters here, a lot of contractors and FEMA folks, but not many people from New Orleans."
While thousands of out-of-state contractors line up for work, including hundreds of trash hauling trucks from around the U.S. lined up near City Park, the people of New Orleans are still being excluded from opportunities to take part in the reconstruction of their city. In fact, it seems to many that out-of-state workers are more welcomed than the New Orleans diaspora.
Jenka Soderberg, an Indymedia reporter and volunteer at the Common Ground Collective, reports from her experience at a New Orleans FEMA compound, "I went to the FEMA base camp for the city of New Orleans. It made me feel sick to my stomach. We walked around this absolutely surreal scene of hundreds of enormous air-conditioned tents, each one with the potential of housing 250 people -- whole city blocks of trailers with hot showers, huge banks of laundry machines, portajohns lined up 50 at a time, a big recreation tent, air-conditioned with a big-screen tv -- all of it for contractors and FEMA workers, none of it for the people of New Orleans."
Soderberg comments, "Thousands of New Orleans citizens could live there while they rebuilt and cleaned their homes in the city. But instead, due to the arrogance of a government bureaucracy that insists they are separate from the 'evacuees' ... these people are left homeless, like [a] poor man I talked to earlier, living under a tarp with his mother buried under the mud of their house. Why can't he live in their tents? It makes me so sad and mad to see so much desperate need, and then just blocks away, this huge abundance of resources not being used."
And with poor people out of the city, developers and corporations are grabbing what they can -- but there are no shoot-to-kill orders on these well-dressed looters. NPR and other media have portrayed developer Pres Kabacoff as a liberal visionary out to create a Paris on the Mississippi. The truth is that Kabacoff represents the worst of New Orleans' local disaster profiteers. It is Kabacoff who, in 2001, famously demolished affordable housing in the St.Thomas projects in New Orleans' Lower Garden District, and replaced it with luxury condos and a WalMart.
The people of New Orleans need a voice in this reconstruction. But what would community-controlled reconstruction look like? Organizers are starting to grapple with these issues.
Dan Etheridge works with the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities. He is currently organizing to create collaborations and build partnerships between community organizations and planning professionals -- not because it's benevolent, but because we will have a better city if the community has a say in its reconstruction.
He has organized an upcoming conference at Tulane University (tentatively slated for November), to bring together planners, architects, structural mitigation experts, geographers and other experts, along with grassroots community leaders from New Orleans, people such as Mardi Gras Indian representatives, ACORN, building unions, artists, teachers, public housing resident councils and Peoples Hurricane Fund representatives.
In a recent press conference outside Orleans Parish prison, Critical Resistance New Orleans organizer Tamika Middleton said Katrina's aftermath reflects the way we as a nation increasingly deal with social ills: police and imprison primarily poor, black communities for crimes that are reflections of poverty and desperation. Locking people up in this crisis is cruel mismanagement of city resources, and it counters the outpouring of the world's support for all survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina killer cops turned themselves in
Indicted New Orleans police turn themselves in
Officers accused of murder, attempted murder in post-Katrina shootings
NEW ORLEANS - Seven policemen charged in a deadly bridge shooting in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina turned themselves in Tuesday at the city jail, where more than 200 emotional supporters met them in a show of solidarity.
Each of the indicted men faces at least one charge of murder or attempted murder in the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the hurricane hit New Orleans. Two people died, and four people were wounded.
Defense attorneys say the seven officers are innocent of the charges.
As the men arrived at the jail, supporters lined the street, stepping forward to embrace the seven men and shake their hands. One sign in the crowd read “Support the Danziger 7.” Another read “Thanks for protecting our city.”
One protester shouted “Police killings must stop” and “Racism must go” but was shouted down by the crowd yelling: “Heroes, Heroes.”
'A serious injustice,' police official says
“These men stayed here to protect our city and protect us, and this is the thanks that is given to them,” said Ryan Maher, 34, of New Orleans, who described himself as a civilian with friends in the police department.
“It’s a serious injustice,” said Sgt. Henry Kuhn of the Harahan Police Department, one of several uniformed officers from the suburbs who joined the crowd.
Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were charged with first-degree murder. Officers Robert Barrios and Mike Hunter were charged with attempted first-degree murder, and Ignatius Hills was charged with attempted second-degree murder.
A judge said there would be no bail for the four accused of first-degree murder. Bail will be $100,000 per count for the other three officers.
Hunter posted bail Tuesday; a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police said the others couldn’t in part because banks were closed for the national day of mourning for President Gerald Ford.
The officers are scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Defense lawyers said they were assured that the men would be kept separate from the general population of the jail.
Hills’ brother Darren Hills was among those outside the jail Tuesday morning.
“It took everybody by surprise. Totally blindsided by the decision,” he said of the charges.
A first-degree murder conviction carries a possible death sentence. A spokesman for District Attorney Eddie Jordan said Monday that prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Reverend: Racism a factor
The facts of what happened on the bridge, which crosses the Industrial Canal between the Gentilly neighborhood and eastern New Orleans, remain murky.
Police say the officers were responding to a report of other officers down, and that they thought one of the men, Ronald Madison, was reaching for a gun. Madison, a 40-year-old mentally retarded man, and James Brissette, 19, were killed on the bridge. The coroner said Madison was shot seven times, with five wounds in the back.
Madison’s brother Lance, who was also on the bridge and was cleared of attempted murder charges, denies he or his brother was armed. He said they were running from a group of teens who had opened fire on the bridge when seven men jumped out of a rental truck and also shot at them without warning.
The Rev. Raymond Brown, of the New Orleans chapter of the National Action Network, said racism was a factor in the shootings, even though four of the officers, like the two victims, are black.
“We see the black officers as just following their master,” Brown said.
Six of the officers were suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case. The seventh, Faulcon, has left the department and is now a truck driver in Houston, said his lawyer, Franz Zibilich.
Officer Cleared in Post Katrina Beating
Cop Charged In Katrina Beating Found Dead
Former New Orleans Officer Implicated In Videotaped Assault Apparently Shot Himself
A former New Orleans police officer charged in the videotaped beating of a man after Hurricane Katrina has apparently shot himself to death, about a month before his trial was to begin, authorities said Monday.
The body of Lance Schilling, 30, was found Sunday at a home in suburban Metairie. An autopsy showed he died of a gunshot to the roof of the mouth, Jefferson Parish coroner's office said.
Schilling and another former officer were accused of beating Robert Davis, 64, a retired schoolteacher who had returned to New Orleans to check on his property several weeks after the storm.
An Associated Press Television News team recorded Davis being kneed and struck at least four times on the head by two police officers the night of Oct. 8, 2005.
Davis was booked on municipal charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation. All charges were later dropped.
Schilling's attorney, Franz Zibilich, said he was saddened by his client's death. He believed the suspected suicide had no connection to the pending trial, which had been set for June 29. The former officer faced five years behind bars if convicted of a second-degree battery charge.
"The truth be known, he was looking forward to having this matter tried and heard," Zibilich said.
New Orleans police spokesman Marlon Defillo said Schilling had not been with the department since December 2005.
Joe Bruno, a lawyer for Davis, said that Davis is undergoing psychiatric treatment in Atlanta, where he has lived since the beating. Davis is emotionally scarred and apprehensive about returning to New Orleans, Bruno said.
In a related matter, charges against a third officer accused of a misdemeanor charge of simple battery against APTN producer Richard Matthews were dismissed on June 1, according to Eric Hessler, the officer's lawyer. Stuart Smith was suspended for 120 days and remains on the police force. He had been accused of roughing up Matthews at the Bourbon Street scene in October 2005 after Matthews identified himself as working for the AP.
State District Judge Frank Marullo threw out the charge against Smith because prosecutors improperly used a statement Smith made to the police department, Hessler said.
"The police department asks him to come in and compels him to give a statement and promises him that it will not be used in a criminal proceeding, and then turns around and gives it to the DA's office," Hessler said. "This Bourbon Street case was not handled properly from day one."
Hessler said the district attorney's office has filed notice it intends to appeal. A district attorney's spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.
Court Documents: Hospital Gave Lethal Injections to Patients During Hurricane Katrina
NEW ORLEANS, February 22, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Just after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans rumors circulated that at least one hospital had euthanized patients during the mayhem. LifeSiteNews.com reported in September 2005, that an unnamed doctor admitted to a UK newspaper that such activities had taken place at Memorial Medical Center (http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/sep/05091205.html ). In October another doctor at the hospital confirmed in a CNN interview that he suspected such activities and admitted he left the hospital saying he would rather abandon patients than actively kill them. (see coverage: http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/oct/05101303.html ) Later in October hospital workers were subpoenaed for an investigation (http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/oct/05102806.html ).
National Public Radio now reports on its access to court documents in the case. In a February 16 report, NPR says it has reviewed secret court documents related to the investigation and not yet released to the public. The documents, says NPR "reveal chilling details about events at Memorial hospital in the chaotic days following the storm, including hospital administrators who saw a doctor filling syringes with painkillers and heard plans to give patients lethal doses. The witnesses also heard staff discussing the agonizing decision to end patients' lives."
The allegations revolve around a group of patients left on the seventh floor at Memorial Medical Center. This floor was leased to a different entity, LifeCare Hospitals. According to NPR, the patients on the seventh floor were all DNR patients -- they had "do not resuscitate" orders.
The report describes the deplorable conditions in the hospital which was left without power, without sewage removal facilities, and in soaring temperatures with looters attempting to enter the hospital.
Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization that leads the disability community's opposition to legalized assisted suicide, euthanasia and other forms of medical killing, points to a section of the NPR report suggesting the staff wanted to eliminate the patients so they could themselves escape.
The NPR report states, "According to statements given to an investigator in the attorney general's office, LifeCare's pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator say they were told that the 'evacuation plan' for the seventh floor was to not leave any living patients behind, and that 'a lethal dose would be administered', according to their statements in court documents."
Commenting, Not Dead Yet, says, "In other words, the only way the staff could evacuate was if they could report there were no more living patients to take care of. This was not about compassion or mercy. It was about throwing someone else over the side of the lifeboat in order to save themselves."
Not Dead Yet compared the allegations to what transpired at a New Orleans nursing home where 34 residents who were abandoned by staff drowned. "Death by drowning is easy to prove and so the owners of the nursing home are charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide," said Not Dead Yet. "It's unclear what will happen in the case of LifeCare medical staff. It's hard to prove morphine medication overdoses in badly decomposed bodies."
The group admits the hospital staff "must have been exhausted and scared", but it says, "that doesn't make the alleged killings merciful" as some reports have suggested.
Listen to the full NPR report:
No Indictment in Katrina Hospital Deaths
NEW ORLEANS -- A grand jury refused on Tuesday to indict a doctor accused of murdering four seriously ill hospital patients with drug injections during the desperate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, closing the books on the only mercy-killing case to emerge from the storm.
Dr. Anna Pou acknowledged administering medication to the patients but insisted she did so only to relieve pain.
Pou (pronounced "Poe") and two nurses were arrested last summer after Attorney General Charles Foti concluded they gave "lethal cocktails" to four patients at the flooded-out, sweltering Memorial Medical Center after the August 2005 storm.
The decision was a defeat for Foti, who accused the doctor and the nurses, but it was the New Orleans district attorney who presented the case to the grand jury, asking it to bring murder and conspiracy charges.
At a news conference, Pou fought back tears as she read a prepared statement. She refused to answer questions about what happened at the hospital because of lawsuits filed by families of three patients.
"Today's events are not a triumph but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm, and a tribute to all those who stayed at their posts and served people most in need," Pou said.
If another hurricane threatened, Pou added, she would stay on hospital duty "in a heartbeat." But she is concerned her case will keep other medical professionals from remaining with patients during storms.
"All of us need to remember the magnitude of human suffering that occurred in the city of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina so we can be assured that this never happens again and that no health care professional should ever be falsely accused in a rush to judgment," she said.
Regarding her feelings toward the attorney general, Pou said she "puts his fate in God's hands."
"I figure he has to live with the decisions he's made, and I've been praying really hard every day that I can forgive him for all the pain and suffering he's caused so many people that are involved in this case," Pou said.
Foti said Tuesday that the grand jury had erred. He released reports from four medical experts who determined the deaths were homicides.
District Attorney Eddie Jordan had not called any family members of the people who died to testify before the grand jury, and Pou had received sympathetic press coverage, Foti said.
"It was well planned and well orchestrated," Foti said of the news media's coverage of the case.
All available information was given to the grand jury, Jordan said.
"I feel the grand jury did the right thing," he said.
Charges against the nurses, Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, were dropped after they were compelled to testify last month before the grand jury under legal guidelines that kept their testimony from being used against them.
Many people in New Orleans believed the three acted heroically under punishing conditions. Last week, a group of doctors and nurses held a rally on the anniversary of Pou's arrest, and hundreds of people turned out to show support.
"You look at a lady who's trying to help the community, and they try to indict her," said Clarence Singleton, who was selling seafood lunches Tuesday near the Louisiana Superdome.
Pou said she does not feel like a victim "because the people that know me know the type of person I am and the type of physician I am."
"I believe any patient I meet in the future and take care of will know in their heart that I always have their best interests in mind in everything I do and that I am committed to helping them."
Budo's attorney, Eddie Castaing, called the grand jury's decision proof that none of the three should ever have been arrested.
When the levees broke in New Orleans, 80 percent of the city flooded. The lower level of Memorial Medical Center was under 10 feet of water, and electricity was out across the city. Inside the hospital, the temperature topped 100 degrees.
At least 34 people died at the hospital, many from dehydration during the four-day wait for rescuers. In an interview last fall with CBS' "60 Minutes," Pou stressed: "Anytime you provide pain medicine to anybody, there is a risk. But as I said, my role is to help them through the pain."
Other doctors who were there described the situation as resembling a MASH unit during wartime rather than an urban American hospital.
"It was stifling. We were hoisting patients floor to floor on the backs of strong young men. It was as bad as you can imagine," Dr. Gregory Vorhoff, who stayed throughout the storm and eventually hitched a ride on a boat to seek help, told The Associated Press after Pou was arrested.
The four patients Pou was accused of killing ranged in age from 61 to 90. Foti said all four would have survived if they had not been given morphine and midazolam hydrochloride.
Autopsies were performed, but the results were not released because of the grand jury investigation.
Pou, whose specialty is eye, ear, nose and throat surgery, gave up her private practice after she was arrested and has been teaching at LSU medical school in Baton Rouge.
On Tuesday, she said she hoped to resume her practice as quickly as possible and urged officials to require that hospitals be evacuated for storms stronger than Category 2.
"It is my hope to return to work doing what I love to do best," she said.
Many hospitals in the region remain closed or are operating with reduced services nearly two years after Katrina. They also report difficulty in attracting and keeping medical staff.
We had to kill our patients
Doctors working in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans killed critically ill patients rather than leaving them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive.
In an extraordinary interview with The Mail on Sunday, one New Orleans doctor told how she 'prayed for God to have mercy on her soul' after she ignored every tenet of medical ethics and ended the lives of patients she had earlier fought to save.
Her heart-rending account has been corroborated by a hospital orderly and by local government officials. One emergency official, William 'Forest' McQueen, said: "Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."
Euthanasia is illegal in Louisiana, and The Mail on Sunday is protecting the identities of the medical staff concerned to prevent them being made scapegoats for the events of last week.
Their families believe their confessions are an indictment of the appalling failure of American authorities to help those in desperate need after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, claiming thousands of lives and making 500,000 homeless.
'These people were going to die anyway'
The doctor said: "I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. But I did not have time. I had to make snap decisions, under the most appalling circumstances, and I did what I thought was right.
"I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony. If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose. And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul."
The doctor, who finally fled her hospital late last week in fear of being murdered by the armed looters, said: "This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days. We did not put people down. What we did was give comfort to the end.
"I had cancer patients who were in agony. In some cases the drugs may have speeded up the death process.
"We divided patients into three categories: those who were traumatised but medically fit enough to survive, those who needed urgent care, and the dying.
"People would find it impossible to understand the situation. I had to make life-or-death decisions in a split second.
"It came down to giving people the basic human right to die with dignity.
"There were patients with Do Not Resuscitate signs. Under normal circumstances, some could have lasted several days. But when the power went out, we had nothing.
"Some of the very sick became distressed. We tried to make them as comfortable as possible.
"The pharmacy was under lockdown because gangs of armed looters were roaming around looking for their fix. You have to understand these people were going to die anyway."
Mr McQueen, a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs, half an hour north of New Orleans, told relatives that patients had been 'put down', saying: "They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."
Mr McQueen has been working closely with emergency teams and added: "They had to make unbearable decisions."
Katrina flooding 'unimaginable': official at nursing home deaths trial
A New Orleans flood-control officer testified Friday that two nursing home owners could not have imagined the amount of water that would flood their parish during Hurricane Katrina.
His comments came at the trial of Salvador and Mabel Mangano, owners of the St. Rita's nursing home, where 35 patients died on Aug. 29, 2005, when a rush of water burst through New Orleans's ruptured levees, filling the building nearly to the ceiling within 20 minutes.
Prosecutors say the owners' failure to evacuate amounted to a criminal act.
Of five nursing homes in St. Bernard Parish, St. Rita's was the only one that was not evacuated.
The defendants each face a sentence of up to 415 years in prison for 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm.
The trial, before a six-person jury, started earlier this week in St. Francisville, about 160 kilometres to the northwest of St. Bernard, a New Orleans suburb where the population has been slow to return since Katrina.
The defence has said Blanco and other public officials failed to organize an effective evacuation and to help transport "at-risk" people to high ground, as required by state law.
It also contends the Manganos could not have known about the potential for flash flooding because of government negligence that resulted in the faulty levees that gave way during the hurricane.
Robert Turner, executive director of a southeast Louisiana flood control district, touched the 5.4-metre-high courtroom ceiling with a thin yellow pole to illustrate the 4.5- to 6-metre storm surge that was expected as Katrina approached coastal St. Bernard Parish in 2005.
Extent of flooding unanticipated
The surge had been expected to top the extensive levee system protecting the parish, Turner told prosecutor Paul Knight. But under cross-examination, he agreed with defence attorneys that the extent of the flooding, which all but wiped out the parish, had not been anticipated.
"It was unimaginable, in my mind, as far as the entire parish flooding," Turner said.
Defence attorney James Cobb said the people of the parish counted on the levees for protection.
"And they did not protect them, did they?" Cobb asked.
"No sir, not in this incident," Turner said.
Cobb and co-counsel John Reed hit hard on deficiencies in the levees and erosion of wetlands around a controversial navigation waterway, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
Built in the 1960s, the outlet has been blamed by many for worsening flood dangers, in part because it has contributed to the deterioration of wetlands that serve as hurricane buffers in southeast Louisiana.
Turner was executive director of the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District, which was consolidated with other southeast Louisiana levee districts after Katrina.
He confirmed under questioning by Cobb that the operators of pumps designed to draw water out of the parish did not leave the parish when the storm neared, but took shelter at a school not far from St. Rita's that also flooded.
Cobb has argued that the Manganos believed keeping frail patients in their building would be safer than subjecting them to evacuation.
The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.
Michael DeWayne Brown (born November 8, 1954) was Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a position generally referred to as the director or administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was appointed in January, 2003 by President George W. Bush and resigned in September, 2005 following outcry over his handling of Hurricane Katrina.
He has subsequently become a vocal critic of the Bush administration, working as an adviser to a publicly traded company, InferX, that suggests it has the answer to the U.S.A's security concerns, and DHS and FEMA's credibility problems through its technology. Brown has been on the media circuit talking about technology that properly screens for terror suspects, almost assuredly tracks threats feared in shipping containers and cargo hauling, and properly gathers necessary data for law enforcement tracking while preserving the data integrity and protecting individuals from data mining and identity theft.
Ted Koppel interviews FEMAs Mike Brown
FEMA chief relieved of Katrina duties
Move follows controversy over Brown’s qualifications, agency’s response
BATON ROUGE, La. - Amid harsh criticism of federal relief efforts, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff announced Friday that Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is handing over Hurricane Katrina relief duties to a Coast Guard official and returning to Washington to oversee the national office.
“Other challenges and threats remain around the world,” and Brown is needed to prepare for those, Chertoff said at a news conference in Baton Rouge.
“Michael Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge,” Chertoff added. He sidestepped a question on whether the move was the first step toward Brown’s leaving FEMA.
But a source close to Brown, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FEMA director had been considering leaving after the hurricane season ended in November and that Friday’s action virtually assures his departure.
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen
Brown, 50, is handing over relief duties to Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who earlier this week was named Brown's deputy to oversee relief and rescue efforts.
Chertoff did not allow reporters to ask Brown questions directly and would not respond to the Time magazine report Friday that Brown’s official biography overstated his emergency-management experience.
President Bush said last week that the initial federal efforts were not acceptable. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that local and state officials shouldn’t have to share in the blame for the poor response because they “were in fact victims and not able to respond.”
Brown blames media
Asked ahead of the announcement if he was being made a scapegoat, Brown told The Associated Press after a long pause: "By the press, yes. By the president, no."
“I’m anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies that are being said,” Brown said.
Asked if the move was a demotion, Brown said: “No. No. I’m still the director of FEMA.”
He said Chertoff made the decision to move him out of Louisiana. It was not his decision, Brown said.
“I’m going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife and, maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night’s sleep. And then I’m going to go right back to FEMA and continue to do all I can to help these victims,” Brown said. “This story’s not about me. This story’s about the worst disaster of the history of our country that stretched every government to its limit and now we have to help these victims.”
“That’s all I’ve wanted to do,” Brown said in a telephone interview.
Republican Sen. Trent Lott, whose Pascagoula, Miss., home was destroyed in the storm, said after the announcement that he had concluded that FEMA “was overwhelmed, undermanned and not capable of doing its job” under Brown’s leadership.
“Michael Brown has been acting like a private, instead of a general,” Lott said.
Democratic lawmakers weren’t satisfied with the move, and demanded Brown’s ouster from FEMA.
“The events of the last ten days have shown that Mr. Brown has repeatedly exercised poor judgment and has failed in his basic responsibilities,” said a letter to Bush from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin, Debbie Stabenow and Charles Schumer. “His continued presence in this critical position endangers the success of the ongoing recovery efforts. ... It is not enough to remove Mr. Brown from the disaster scene.”
The Time magazine report centers on Brown's biography. The FEMA Web site says he had once served as an "assistant city manager with emergency services oversight," and a White House news release in 2001 said Brown had worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., in the 1970s "overseeing the emergency-services division."
However, a city spokeswoman told Time magazine that Brown had actually worked as "an assistant to the city manager."
"The assistant is more like an intern," Claudia Deakins told the magazine. "Department heads did not report to him." Time posted the article on its Web site late on Thursday.
On Friday, Deakins issued a clarification of her remarks to Time, saying that she did not actually work in Edmond at the same time as Brown, and therefore cannot speak with any authority about his assignments at the time.
"I regret any misunderstandings that may have occurred as a result of my comments," Deakins said.
A former mayor of Edmond, Randel Shadid, confirmed Friday that Brown was an assistant to the city manager. Shadid told The Associated Press that Brown had never been an assistant city manager, though.
FEMA, White House respond
“I think there’s a difference between the two positions,” said Shadid. “I would think that is a discrepancy.”
Nicol Andrews, deputy strategic director in FEMA’s office of public affairs, told Time that while Brown began as an intern, he became an “assistant city manager” with a distinguished record of service.
“According to Mike Brown,” Andrews told Time, a large portion of points raised by the magazine are “very inaccurate.”
White House press secretary Scott McClellan referred all questions about Brown’s resume to FEMA.
McClellan said the White House’s earlier statements that Brown retained the president’s confidence remain true — but he declined to state that confidence outright.
“I’d leave it where I left it,” McClellan said. “We appreciate the work of all those who have been working around the clock to respond to what has been on the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history.”
Last Friday, Bush praised Brown during a tour of Alabama, telling him, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown, a lawyer, was appointed as FEMA's general counsel in 2001 and became head of the agency in 2003. The work in Edmond is the only previous disaster-related experience cited in the biographies. Brown served as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association before taking the FEMA job.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, had cited Brown's Edmond experience as "particularly useful" for FEMA during a hearing in 2002.
Other FEMA officials
The Washington Post reported on Friday that five of eight top FEMA officials had come to their jobs with virtually no experience in handling disasters. The agency's top three leaders, including Brown, had ties to Bush's 2000 presidential campaign or the White House advance operation.
Former Edmond city manager Bill Dashner recalled for Time that Brown had worked for him as an administrative assistant while attending Central State University.
"Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I'd ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt," Dashner told Time.
Edmond's population is about 70,000.
State blamed over Katrina effort
The former head of the US emergency agency has defended his role in responding to Hurricane Katrina and criticised state and local officials.
Michael Brown, who was fired as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said Louisiana officials had been reluctant to order evacuations.
He made the statement before a congressional panel investigating shortcomings in the rescue effort.
Mr Brown, who has faced criticism over Katrina, also admitted "mistakes".
Hours later, New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass unexpectedly resigned, after four weeks in which his force has been criticised for its handling of the disaster.
He did not give a reason for his decision, but his announcement came after the New Orleans police department announced it would carry out an investigation into nearly 250 officers who failed to report for duty after the hurricane.
Hurricane Katrina - one of the worst to hit the US - devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi on 29 August, causing massive flooding in New Orleans and killing about 1,000 people.
Mr Brown told the congressional panel that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin were not co-ordinating their efforts and had been "reticent" in calling mandatory evacuations.
"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together," he said.
"I just couldn't pull that off."
The former Fema chief, a Republican, denied scoring partisan points - both Ms Blanco and Mr Nagin are Democrats.
He also admitted that he had made "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm.
He said one was not organising more media briefings.
He added that his "biggest mistake" had been not recognising that Louisiana was "dysfunctional".
Mr Brown also denied that Fema was to blame for the breakdown in law and order in New Orleans.
"Fema is a co-ordinating agency, we are not a law enforcement agency," he said.
Mr Brown was appearing before a panel of the House of Representatives chaired by Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.
Many Democrats have boycotted the investigation, calling for a independent inquiry.
But one Democrat invited by the panel expressed disbelief at the testimony.
"I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr Brown, laying the blame for Fema's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans," said William Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat.
Mr Davis cautioned against assigning blamed too narrowly.
"At the end of the day, I suspect that we'll find that government at all levels failed the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and the Gulf Coast," he said.
Following the hurricane, US media and Democratic politicians strongly criticised Mr Brown - saying he lacked disaster expertise.
Before joining Fema in 2001, he held several local government and private posts - including leading the Arabian Horse Association.
Mr Brown resigned on 12 September, saying it was "in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president".
Clarence Ray Nagin, Jr. (born June 11, 1956) is the mayor of New Orleans. He was first elected on March 2, 2002, to succeed his fellow Democrat, Marc Morial. Nagin gained international attention in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the New Orleans area.
Storms Payback From God, Nagin Says
Mayor Faults War, Blacks' Infighting
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 16 -- Mayor C. Ray Nagin suggested Monday that hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms were a sign that "God is mad at America" -- and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting.
"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin said as he and other city leaders marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."
Nagin, who is African American, also promised that New Orleans will be a "chocolate" city again. Many of the city's black neighborhoods were heavily damaged by Katrina.
"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans -- the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority-African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
Nagin described an imaginary conversation with King, the late civil rights leader.
"I said, 'What is it going to take for us to move on and live your dream and make it a reality?' He said, 'I don't think that we need to pay attention any more as much about other folks and racists on the other side.' He said, 'The thing we need to focus on as a community -- black folks I'm talking about -- is ourselves.' "
Nagin said he also asked: "Why is black-on-black crime such an issue? Why do our young men hate each other so much that they look their brother in the face and they will take a gun and kill him in cold blood?"
The reply, Nagin said, was "We as a people need to fix ourselves first."
Nagin also said King would have been dismayed with black leaders who are "most of the time tearing each other down publicly for the delight of many."
A day earlier, gunfire erupted at a parade to commemorate King's birthday. Three people were wounded in the daylight shooting amid a throng of mostly black spectators, but police said there were no immediate suspects or witnesses.
Nagin plans law to press owners to fix homes, or else
Tougher standards would join initiative to purge city of trailers
Laws governing the upkeep of New Orleans homes and businesses damaged by Hurricane Katrina could soon get a lot tougher, Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday.
With the approach of the storm's second anniversary next week, Nagin said he plans to propose a new law that would require the owners of vacant and unoccupied buildings to begin restoring their properties or face the consequences.
Nagin said he will push for the basic requirement that has been in place for the past two years -- to secure flood- or wind- damaged property, clear debris and keep lawns mowed -- to be replaced by an overhauled city building and housing code that demands considerably higher standards.
"Basically, the new law will say gutting and boarding up and cutting your grass is OK, but it's not where you need to be," Nagin said during an interview. "You need to have windows, you need to have a door, you need to have some level of paint on your home."
The tougher regulations remain a work in progress and should be ready for consideration by the council in about two months, the mayor said. Nagin aides were unable to provide examples Wednesday of the penalties that property owners would face for failing to comply with the new law.
Beyond stricter building and safety codes, Nagin said he intends to push for a timetable to "systematically" rid the city of FEMA trailers that continue to provide temporary housing for homeowners still waiting for insurance settlements or Road Home money from the state.
Surrounding communities, where the level of destruction paled in comparison to the number of homes lost in New Orleans, began to address the issue months ago.
Nagin said he would like to start phasing out trailers first in neighborhoods that sustained the least amount of flooding. The initiative is as much about safety as appearances, he said.
"Besides it being two years, I don't trust those things in a tropical storm," he said, noting that trailers are built to withstand winds of only 45 mph. "So we've got to get these things out of here.
Jefferson Parish officials in January began warning that the emergency suspension of parish codes against using travel trailers as semipermanent housing was soon to expire. In April, they started citing people who had failed to get extensions for trailers in residential zones in the unincorporated parts of the parish.
At the peak of Jefferson's trailer era, in July 2006, FEMA estimated the parish had more than 17,000 units. By Aug. 10, the number had declined to 3,839, said D.J. Mumphrey, executive assistant to Parish President Aaron Broussard.
As for vacant and untended properties, the St. Bernard Parish Council tackled the issue in February, approving a new law to force owners to keep their grass cut and secure their gutted homes' broken windows and doors. Failure to comply results in $100 daily fines that mount until the property is cleaned or until the fines exceed the property's assessed value and it is seized by the parish.
As he talks up the higher standards, Nagin's administration continues to struggle to enforce the basic gut-and-secure laws passed after the storm.
The City Council has lambasted Nagin's housing directors for letting thousands of ungutted properties languish without even a glance from city inspectors. And earlier this month, City Hall suspended demolitions of the worst-ravaged properties after coming under fire from residents who said their salvageable homes had been wrongly torn down or tagged for demolition.
To help improve its enforcement track record, Nagin said his proposed 2008 operating budget will include more money to increase staff in regulatory agencies like the Safety and Permits Department.
"Whatever it takes," he said. "We're going to look at the universe."
Improving rental conditions
A key component of the city's more rigid code enforcement will focus on rental property, he said.
"We're going to really put some emphasis on rental codes and making sure that when somebody rents you an apartment in this city, it's not a piece of crap," he said. "This is going to be a sea change for us. Don't you think?"
Nagin said he has been appalled by the poor condition of the housing he has seen on his periodic "crime walks" through neighborhoods with police officials.
"When people invite me into their places, I'm like, 'My God, this is not good.' And there's no excuse because the rents have gone up so substantially. So we're going to hold them accountable."
Nagin also said his staff is working on two other initiatives he hopes to unveil by year's end: a plan to repair all the sidewalks in the French Quarter and "a green ordinance" that will offer incentives for using solar power and composting.
Repairing the city's pothole-ridden streets will also be a major priority in the third year after Katrina, he said.
New Orleans Mayor Takes Swipe At NYC
Nagin Cites Failure To Rebuild Ground Zero While Defending Katrina Clean-Up
Confronted by accusations that he’s taking too long to clean up his city after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin defended himself by remarking on New York City’s failure to rebuild Ground Zero.
Nagin made the remarks in an interview conducted by CBS News National Correspondent Byron Pitts which will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m. EDT.
On a tour of the decimated Ninth Ward, Nagin tells Pitts the city has removed most of the debris from public property and it’s mainly private land that’s still affected – areas that can’t be cleaned without the owners' permission. But when Pitts points to flood-damaged cars in the street and a house washed partially into the street, the mayor shoots back. "That’s alright. You guys in New York can’t get a hole in the ground fixed and it’s five years later. So let’s be fair."
Nagin is confident New Orleans will be whole again and will even be able to withstand another hurricane of Katrina strength, pointing out that taller and stronger levees are being built. It will take time.
"We’re into a five-to-seven-year build cycle … . At the end of the day, I see the city being totally rebuilt. I see us eliminating blight, still being culturally unique," Nagin says.
One example of new development Nagin points to is a 68-story Trump Towers condominium complex, a project that makes some critics wary that New Orleans will lose the heritage that made it unique.
"I think you are looking at basically a town that will be a playground for the rich for the next 40 years," Leonard Moore, a professor of African-American history at Louisiana State University, tells Pitts. "I look at the post-Katrina piece as a game of musical chairs….Once the music gets turned off, the white folks have a place to sit down, a place to sleep, a place for their children to go to school. We’re going back to a trailer."
Nagin says he is looking out for the poor, mostly black, residents who are dispersed all over the country, some of whom are waiting to return to the city.
"What I do have a problem with is some entrenched interests that are looking and salivating over certain sections of the city," Nagin says.
The mayor says these interests want him to keep those poor people from coming back so they can get rich developing the land.
"I don’t think that’s right," Nagin says.
But before any rebuilding can take place, the clean-up and restoration of the city’s infrastructure must be complete and it will be Mayor Nagin, recently re-elected, who leads the efforts.
"Should things have happened quicker? Yes. But everyone has their own style of leadership, and right now our political leader, our political father is Ray Nagin," says Oliver Thomas, New Orleans City Council president.
"So for the next four years, we’re going to sink or swim with him," Thomas tells Pitts.
was race a factor in katrina?
Study Says 80% of New Orleans Blacks May Not Return
WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — New Orleans could lose as much as 80 percent of its black population if its most damaged neighborhoods are not rebuilt and if there is not significant government assistance to help poor people return, a detailed analysis by Brown University has concluded.
Combining data from the 2000 census with federal damage assessment maps, the study provides a new level of specificity about Hurricane Katrina's effect on the city's worst-flooded areas, which were heavily populated by low-income black people.
Of the 354,000 people who lived in New Orleans neighborhoods where the subsequent damage was moderate to severe, 75 percent were black, 29 percent lived below the poverty line, more than 10 percent were unemployed, and more than half were renters, the study found.
The report's author, John R. Logan, concluded that as much as 80 percent of the city's black population might not return for several reasons: their neighborhoods would not be rebuilt, they would be unable to afford the relocation costs, or they would put down roots in other cities.
For similar reasons, as much as half of the city's white population might not return, Dr. Logan concluded.
"The continuing question about the hurricane is this: Whose city will be rebuilt?" Dr. Logan, a professor of sociology, writes in the report.
If the projections are realized, the New Orleans population will shrink to about 140,000 from its prehurricane level of 484,000, and the city, nearly 70 percent black before the storm, will become majority white.
The study, financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was released Thursday, 10 days after the mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, who is black, told an audience that "this city will be a majority African-American city; it's the way God wants it to be."
Mr. Nagin's remark was widely viewed as an effort to address criticism of a proposal by his own rebuilding panel, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, that calls for a four-month building moratorium in heavily damaged areas. He said later that he had not meant to suggest that white people would not be encouraged to return.
"Certainly Mayor Nagin's comments reflected a concern on the ground about the future of the city," Dr. Logan said. "My report shows that there is a basis for that concern."
The study coincides with growing uncertainty about what government assistance will be available for property owners and renters. Louisiana will receive $6.2 billion in federal block grants under an aid package approved by Congress in December, part of which will be used to help homeowners. But that will not be enough money to help all property owners in storm-damaged areas, Louisiana officials say.
Those officials have urged Congress to enact legislation proposed by Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, creating a corporation that would use bond proceeds to reimburse property owners for part of their mortgages, then redevelop the property. But the Bush administration has said it opposes the bill, out of concerns that it would be too expensive and would create a new government bureaucracy.
Asked Thursday about his opposition to the measure, President Bush told reporters that the $85 billion already allocated for Gulf Coast restoration was "a good start." He added that he was concerned that Louisiana did not have a clear recovery plan in place.
But Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat who has clashed frequently with the White House, said Mr. Baker's bill provided a clear plan.
"Administration officials do not understand the suffering of the people of Louisiana," Ms. Blanco said in a statement.
Demographers are divided over the likelihood of a drastic shift in New Orleans's population. William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who has studied the hurricane's impact on the city, called Dr. Logan's projections "a worst-case scenario that will come about only if these evacuees see that they have no voice in what is going on."
But Dr. Frey also said low-income evacuees might indeed begin to put down roots in cities like Houston or Dallas if they did not see movement toward reconstruction in the next six months.
Elliott B. Stonecipher, a political consultant and demographer from Shreveport, La., said that unless New Orleans built housing in flood-protected areas for low-income residents, and also provided support for poor people to relocate, chances were good that many low-income blacks would not return.
"If they didn't have enough resources to get out before the storm," Mr. Stonecipher said, "how can we expect them to have the wherewithal to return?"
Kanye West Hurricane Katrina
Race An Issue In Katrina Response
Lawmakers Voice Opinions On Role Of Skin Color In Rescue Efforts
The human suffering from Hurricane Katrina and the images of mostly black hurricane victims and looters have provoked new debates about tough public policy decisions, the nation's troubled racial history and the racial and economic barriers that still separate Americans.
CBS Radio News reports that New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas said people are too afraid of black people to go in and save them. He added that rumors of shootings and riots are making people afraid to take in people who are being portrayed as thugs and thieves.
"If we were lucky, we would have died," Thomas was told by a woman still waiting to find shelter, reports CBS Radio News.
Black members of Congress expressed anger Friday at what they said was a slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
"It looks dysfunctional to me right now," said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif.
She and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with members of the Black Leadership Forum, National Urban League and the NAACP, held a news conference and charged that the response was slow because those most affected are poor.
Many also are black, but the lawmakers held off on charging racism.
"The issue is not about race right now," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio. "There will be another time to have issues about color."
Watson and others also took issue with the word "refugee" being used to describe hurricane victims.
"'Refugee' calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of. These are American citizens," Watson said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the most prominent black person in the Bush administration, downplayed the criticism.
"That Americans would somehow in a color-affected way decide who to help and who not to help, I, I just don't believe it," she said. "The African-American community has obviously been very heavily affected. But people are doing what they can for Americans. Nobody wants to see any American suffer."
In conversations at restaurants, homes, offices, on talk radio and online, it's clear that many blacks and whites view the effects of Katrina differently.
Although no group is monolithic in opinion or emotion, many blacks are outraged that so many of their own were left behind in New Orleans with no evacuation plan and no urgent effort to rescue them.
"Black people are mad because they feel the reason for the slow response is because those people are black and they didn't support George Bush," said Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. "And I don't expect that feeling to go away anytime soon."
No one questions that whites have been moved by the suffering of blacks, and vice versa. But amid images of black looters, some sympathy threatens to give way to anger and disdain.
The hurricane's racial conflict took on political overtones Friday, as black leaders blasted the Bush administration's slow response and asked whether race played a part.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson charged that race was "at least a factor" in the slow response.
"We have an amazing tolerance for black pain," he told CNN on Friday. He questioned why the U.S. military couldn't house many of the homeless on unused military airbases, adding that more people will die of starvation and dehydration than from drowning.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D- Md., stopped short of that, saying that it was the frail, the weak and the sick who were left in need. But in an interview on CNN, Cummings said, "I'm not sure" if racism was partly responsible for the problems.
"All I know is that a number of the faces that I saw were African-American," he said.
Post Hurricane Katrina
Welcome to New Orleans - Vigilantes
ABC Nightline Jan 24th (New Orleans Violence)
After Katrina, hope and despair coexist
NEW ORLEANS -- The middle-class homeowners who gathered here on a recent weeknight call themselves the Gentilly Civic Improvement Assn. It's an unexceptional name -- one that belies the epic challenges they face.
The members talked public high schools; they said it'd be nice if Gentilly had one again. They talked about the storm-blasted tree canopy, and playgrounds neglected by a challenged city government. They wondered whether grant money might help. Maybe bake sales.
They talked about forming a security patrol, with each household chipping in $26 a month: That day the police chief had announced that the citywide burglary rate had increased 73% since before Hurricane Katrina. Angele Givens, the association president, liked the patrol idea but raised an interesting issue: "If you own an empty lot in Gentilly right now, you don't have much impetus to pay it."
Givens should know. She tore down her house after it was ravaged by Katrina, and she is hoping to rebuild. She isn't even living in Gentilly these days.
Two years after their city was nearly annihilated by a levee failure, the residents of this middle-class New Orleans neighborhood acknowledged that their surroundings still looked pretty bad. But they also insisted that things were slowly getting better. Just 31% of Gentilly's 16,000 addresses were reoccupied or renovated as of March, according to a survey by a Dartmouth professor -- but an additional 57% were finally being fixed up.
Private citizens, not the government, deserved the credit, they said -- a source of grim humor among those laboring to mend the neighborhood.
"Of course, we should also thank George Bush, Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin," resident Robert Counce said sarcastically of the president, the governor and the mayor as the meeting wrapped up.
The renaissance in America's most beleaguered city, such as it is, is a complex, dynamic and messy affair. Progress lives alongside stagnation, hope alongside despair.
Locals seem confused as to how to measure it all. About 274,000 residents are back in New Orleans, which had a population of 455,000 before the storm. Is that reason to cheer, or a troubling sign of a great city halved?
When another elected official is indicted or pleads guilty -- a common occurrence -- is it a setback, or proof that the notoriously unclean milieu of Louisiana politics is finally getting the scrubbing it deserves?
Good times roll on in the famous Creole restaurants of the French Quarter and on the refined streets of Uptown. This unblemished high ground has become known after Katrina as the "Sliver by the River." But it's also been called the "Isle of Denial," because many other neighborhoods, especially ones where African Americans lived, remain urban graveyards pocked with empty lots and moldering shotgun shacks.
More than half the city remains in a state of shocking disrepair, with block after block of historic cottages still bearing the spray-paint scars that showed they had been searched for bodies after the Aug. 29 storm. Progress is evident, however: Freshly renovated houses are increasingly rising amid the decay.
On paper, at least, the Crescent City is plotting an ambitious rebirth, and has finally begun embracing new ideas to repair civic institutions that were broken long before the hurricane. Yet despite promises by countless politicians -- including President Bush, who declared after the storm that "we will do what it takes" to bring New Orleans back -- many feel that the country no longer cares.
"America should be ashamed," said the Rev. Bill Terry, whose church delivers roses to the mayor and police chief each week to mark the grim tally of homicide victims: more than 125 this year. "The nonprofit organizations have really responded. But all they can do is run the life-support systems to keep the city alive until the real help arrives."
New Orleans has benefited greatly from the kindness of volunteers, more than a million of whom have come to the Gulf Coast to aid in recovery efforts, according to a federal report.
The Road Home, the government grant program created to help Louisianians rebuild, has not been so giving. It has sent checks to about 43,000 of the 184,000 people who sought assistance, and is $5 billion short of what it needs to help the rest. That's progress: At the start of the year less than 1% had gotten a dime from the program, which pays up to $150,000.
"So far, the folks who have been most successful rebuilding are those who could borrow more money, who had large insurance settlements, or who had sufficient savings to get underway," not those who needed the grants, said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which oversees the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The Army Corps of Engineers has stepped up its efforts to protect this famously low-lying metropolis, set precariously between the Mississippi River and the nation's second-largest saltwater lake -- and less than 100 miles from the warm-water storm hatchery of the Gulf of Mexico.
The corps, which was heavily criticized after the hurricane for failing to provide the protection it promised, has spent more than $1.7 billion to raise sinking levees, rebuild vulnerable retention walls and install massive floodgates at the points where the city's three outfall canals join Lake Pontchartrain. That's made some parts of the city far less likely to take water. But neighborhoods such as Gentilly and the Lower 9th Ward remain extremely flood-prone.
By 2011, the corps hopes to complete a broader flood- protection program. But the plan has yet to secure full funding from Congress, and would not guarantee that New Orleans would be safe when the next Katrina hit. Instead of making more promises, the corps released maps last week to let residents -- and insurers and banks -- see how much each neighborhood could flood so they can decide where to rebuild.
Virginia Bouvier has already made her choice. The 42-year-old nutritionist got 8 feet of water in her Gentilly cottage, which backs up to the London Avenue Canal. She used her insurance settlement to pay off her mortgage. She could have walked away, started over somewhere else. But she didn't have the heart. The Bouviers came to New Orleans in the mid-19th century from the Bourgogne region of France. Fixing up the old yellow house started to make sense.
"It felt to me like the city was dying," she said, "and this was like a good friend that I couldn't turn my back on."
So this month, as the corps tested the flood wall behind her house, construction workers toiled in the throbbing summer heat, restoring Bouvier's newly jacked-up cottage. It is now 5 1/2 feet above ground, higher than the base elevations mandated by the government's flood insurance program. Yet corps maps show it's in danger of flooding more than 8 feet.
Other safety issues are just as pressing. City leaders are embracing community-oriented policing reforms, and are giving officers raises in hopes of professionalizing a force that's long been one of the laggards of the South. Still, New Orleans has the highest number of homicides per capita in the country, and rapes increased 44% in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year.
"This is America, and you'd expect better," Police Supt. Warren J. Riley said. "We're all struggling to not let our current conditions become the new norm."
A bold federal prosecutor has forced former presidents of the school board and City Council to admit they took bribes, and is digging deep to expose New Orleans' dirty politics. Though most cheer those efforts, some citizens are petitioning Bush to pardon former Democratic Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, a living symbol of Louisiana corruption who is serving a 10-year sentence for racketeering and extortion.
" 'Let the good times roll' might be a fun state of mind, but it's no way to run a government," said the U.S. attorney for New Orleans, Jim Letten. "Corruption contributed to the shrinking of the city, to the failures of the public school system, to the stagnant economy. In a post-Katrina world, that can't be tolerated."
One emerging bright spot is New Orleans' tourist economy. Visitor figures are approaching 70% of pre-storm levels, said Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau -- a good sign for a city that relies on its cultural economy for about a third of its revenue. Medical conventions are returning in full force this fall, he said, and next year will bring the Sugar Bowl, as well as college football's championship and the NBA All-Star Game.
Still, many other sectors of the economy continue to languish. Healthcare has been particularly crippled, and an exodus of high-paid medical professionals has had a ripple effect.
In Lakeview, a middle-class neighborhood just west of Gentilly, the clatter of construction crews is evidence that many houses are being rebuilt. But for-sale signs line many streets.
Real estate agent Sandra Green held an open house last weekend -- but attracted few visitors. The three-bedroom town house, priced to sell at $285,000, was renovated with granite kitchen countertops and hardwood floors.
"In 20 years I have never seen anything like this. We aren't getting any buyers!" Green said. "Unless we do something about this crime problem, we may get more of these do-gooders straight out of school, but we're not going to get the families or the businesses."
Marshall Williams, 51, walked in and looked around. He said he had been living in Boston and Santa Clarita. Asked whether he was coming back, he replied, "I'm making that decision right now."
"I'd tell you we're motivated, but everyone says that now," Green joked. Williams and his agent moved on.
The pitiful pace of progress in many neighborhoods has caused even optimists to rethink the city's fortunes. Fred D. Smith, a Los Angeles banker, serves as managing director of Hope Coalition America, a group that is providing financial advice to New Orleanians struggling to decide whether to rebuild.
"Unfortunately, and I did not think this a year ago, most of the homes here will never be rebuilt," Smith said during a march through the Lower 9th Ward to commemorate children who died in the hurricane. "People are weary. They thought that within six to eight months they would be back. Now they're finding that if they come back, they'll still be the only person on the block."
Robert Green, 52, had more reasons than most to not return. Raging floodwaters carried away his family's Lower 9th Ward home. His granddaughter Shanai and mother, Joyce, died in the storm. Yet he's back, living in a small trailer surrounded by fields of foot-tall weeds, and he's sure that someday, his block will teem with life again.
"Every day, I walked this neighborhood with my granddaughters. When I was little, I played football in these streets," he said as he held a picture of Shanai that he had wrapped around a wooden cross.
"You have to have faith that it will happen."
A few miles away in Gentilly, there are more tangible pockets of hope. It took a while for Karran Royal to get to hers: After the civic improvement meeting, she drove on quiet blocks lined with houses abandoned or akimbo.
But then she pulled up to her handsome brick house on Soldiers Street, close to the lake. Royal had been back on the property since February 2006, when she moved into a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Now her flooded house was fixed, and her family was back inside. There was an abandoned house on one side of her house, and an unkempt lot on the other.
Still, there were signs all might be well soon. The trailers parked in the yards across the street meant that those folks hadn't given up either. The same went for the neighbor a few doors up who'd plopped the big, blocky modular home on his lot.
Gentilly might seem like a work in progress at best -- and an ongoing disaster at worst. But Royal said it was all a matter of perspective: It certainly looked better than a year ago, and that was cause for pride.
Two years after Katrina, New Orleans recovers slowly
Stroll through the French Quarter and it's easy to forget the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina two years ago.
The streets of the Big Easy are teeming with life, music and revelers still spill out of the bars, there are carriage rides to be had in Jackson Square and "beignet" donuts at Cafe du Monde.
But stray outside New Orleans' old city, which was saved from the flooding by its higher elevation, and it feels like you're walking into a time warp.
Much of the debris has been cleared but nearly half the homes remain abandoned to rot. Roads remain pock-marked with tire-destroying pot holes.
Blue tarps still cover damaged roofs and some 42,250 families in Louisiana are still living in cramped government-supplied trailers.
While new businesses are regularly opening up, the school system is still in a state of flux and hospitals remain understaffed.
People are still spending hours each day weaving through the bureaucracies of government and insurance companies in order to get the funds to rebuild and frustration levels remain high.
With violent crime up 30 percent over pre-storm levels, New Orleans is on track to become the country's deadliest city.
"It's very depressing to be down here," said Fred Valdez, 38 who moved to the city for work five months ago and is planning to leave well before his contract ends in December.
"It's what I expected after a major hurricane. It's not what I expected two years after a major hurricane."
And the populace, Valdez believes, is just as damaged as the infrastructure. "I think Katrina really took a toll on them, and they're really emotionally distressed, and a lot of these people don't even know it."
A recent government study found that mental illness has doubled among Gulf Coast residents, there is a surge in the number of people considering suicide and there are more people suffering from post-traumatic stress now than there were a year ago.
The stress of living in cramped quarters and among constant reminders of the horrors of the storm -- which killed about 1,500 people and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans when the levees burst -- has also led to an upsurge in domestic violence.
"What we saw right after the storm hasn't stopped," said Dale Standifer, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children.
The number of calls to the center stayed the same even as the population decreased by half. More women reported becoming first-time victims of physical abuse.
"We also saw a new kind of brutal rage," she told AFP. "Women showed us bite marks. What's happening when one adult is biting another adult?"
Standifer says that the support networks that help protect women from abuse have been scattered with the storm.
"If you're living in a trailer, you can't go to another room or to the neighbor you used to have. Family and friends may be far away."
The city is organizing concerts, prayer services, candlelight vigils and discussion groups this week to mark the second anniversary of the storm on Wednesday.
It is also opening a recovery center to help still struggling residents with legal assistance and tips on getting insurance money out of the government and private companies.
The American Federation of Musicians is organizing a second-line parade where a brass band will march with silent instruments in a traditional jazz funeral procession to highlight how hard it has been for many musicians to return to the city and make a living.
"Before Katrina, there were at least 3,000 professional musicians," says John "Deacon John" Moore, president of the local musicians' union chapter.
"As of spring 2007, we have 1,800, and a quarter of those live outside the city and commute from as far away as Houston and Atlanta for gigs."
While conventions are back up to about 70 percent of their pre-storm levels, general tourism remains low and there are few jobs for musicians.
The competition is driving wages down and musicians who had managed to live day to day with the cash they were paid at the end of every gig are finding it impossible to pay the skyrocketing rents in a city which has lost much of its housing stock.
But New Orleanians are determined to rebuild a city with a soul and culture unlike any other in the United States.
Robert Green, 52, watched his mother die on his roof as they waited for help and was unable to rescue his three-year-old granddaughter when she fell into the murky waters.
But after a few months recovering from the trauma in Nashville, he came back.
"It's really important to me to have what was," said Green, sitting in the tiny FEMA trailer parked where his home once stood.
"I'm not afraid to be down here. I'm home."
Two Years Later, New Orleans Inches Back
Katrina Still Casts Shadow Over City, Its Population and National Politics
On Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said President Bush has failed to live up to the promises he made to rebuild the city.
Nagin told ABC News he plans to bring that up with the president when Bush arrives in the city on Wednesday.
The major Democratic candidates running for the White House also will be in New Orleans this week, including Barack Obama, who arrived Sunday. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards arrive on Monday.
The major Republican candidates are staying away.
"World News" will be anchored live from New Orleans on Sunday, and ABC News continues its coverage on all broadcasts through the anniversary of Katrina on Wednesday.
Two years after Katrina, New Orleans has come a long way, but it has a long way still to go.
New Orleans shrank to less than half its original population after the storm. Today two thirds of the population is back, but some neighborhoods are still ghost towns.
Fewer than 1,000 people have returned to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, where 19,000 people lived before the storm, although the city says it has now removed 100 percent of the debris left by the storm.
"World News" Sunday reports on the challenges faced by the few families who have moved back to the Lower Ninth Ward. Check your local listings for air time.
Tourist dollars are once again flowing into the city. Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest this year brought in an estimated 75 percent of what they did before the storm.
And the city has made steady progress rebuilding its infrastructure. Eighty-three of the city's 128 public schools are open again, as are 11 of the area's 16 acute care hospitals. All eight of the city's police stations are, although two are still operating out of FEMA trailers. City officials say trash is now being collected twice daily throughout the city and buses are running on most routes.
New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the nation even before Katrina, and has not gotten safer. There have been 154 murders so far this year, a murder rate 15 times that of New York City. Of the 161 murders last year, there was only one conviction.
Then there is the ever-present risk of another major hurricane. The Army Corps of Engineers has been shoring up the city's levees, but the job is massive and some neighborhoods are better protected than others. The work will not be finished until 2011, and even then the Corps says parts of the city will still flood in a storm the size of Katrina.
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Hurricane Katrina: The Beginning and The Aftermath