Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina--some answers.

Hurricane Katrina conspiracy.

I'll start this post with a couple of questions; it tends to lead me back to my salient points and keep me honest.

  1. Why would anybody want to live in New Orleans?
  2. Does anybody remember when a tidal wave (tsunami) hit Indonesia?
  3. When was it declared a disaster area, thereby freeing up funds (and authority) for FEMA to begin action?
  4. Why didn't the government respond sooner?
  5. Why did they put LTG Honoré in charge of the military relief effort?
  6. And please Chuck, pretty please tell us how this is all FDR’s fault?

Why would anybody want to live in New Orleans? I own a house (that is, I pay a mortgage on a house that I rent out) in coastal Georgia. It's approximately 40 to 50 miles inland. The name of the subdivision is called Waterfield. I thought that was funny because all the topo maps I could find at the time showed a big lake where our house sits; evidently it was a shallow lake or marsh and they pumped it out. Maybe they drained it. It’s really kind of irrelevant how they got rid of the water, the fact is, they got rid of it.

Anyway, during one of the hurricanes that went screaming up the East Coast while I was there, some of our friends had their houses damaged by the various floods and rising water the hurricane brought with it. Of course, they had flood insurance. Funny thing about living near place called Savannah is that it usually refers to a big flat area near water and common sense dictates that if the water rises, It’s going to flood. So I'm 20 miles farther inland than my friends who are affected by the flood waters, and living in a place that used to be a lake and my wife asked me “Honey, do we need flood insurance?” Naturally, my answer was “No, of course not. Look how far inland we live.”

Anyone who's been reading my blog for more than a day knows this: Carren is smarter than me. She went ahead and purchased flood insurance. Guess what; if you own a home, you probably have homeowners insurance. Guess what else; it probably does not include flood insurance. Get it. Depending on where you live, it's probably pretty affordable, and it beats the hell out of losing all of your stuff and your homeowner's insurance company saying "hey sorry about that, but you weren't covered."

Now, New Orleans is basically built on a great big sandy wash that is a result of the Mississippi River carving out land and vomiting silt in the Gulf of Mexico. Have you ever stood on the beach and let the waves wash up on your feet? Notice how you think, wave after wave? Guess what, that happens with cities too. Last time anybody checked, it was about 10 feet (I believe, it might've been greater) below sea level. (You can’t even bury someone in a cemetery in New Orleans, if they dig, your plot fills up with water faster than they can stick the casket into it. That's why all the cemeteries in New Orleans are crypt type... the people are buried above ground. Now is it that surprising that there were bodies in caskets floating in the flood waters? (To get even more off-topic, when they bury you in the ground, they put that nice $5,000 mahogany box with satin trim that they stuffed your bones into in a (wet) concrete crypt, encasing it. Reports of caskets popping up out of the ground are ridiculous. It's the stuff you see in (bad) horror movies, but not actually in real life.) At the very least, this should make the casual observer want to purchase flood insurance. At the most, it might make people choose to live elsewhere. Now, I realize that some people are born into socioeconomic conditions which don't allow them to choose where they live. They can't just pack up and say "Nope, don't like it here. I'm going to move to where the grass is greener." And I empathize with those people who were born into poverty and don't get the hand up (or the hand out) that allows them to move to where they can live safely. And to be honest with you I'm not at all sure if renter's insurance covers damage by floods. So yes, I do believe that there are victims of hurricane Katrina... people that had nowhere else to go when they were told to evacuate. There were people that had no way to go elsewhere when they were told to evacuate. And most of those people were very poor.

Other than the people that were unable financially to move away from New Orleans before it became Lake New Orleans, I don't see a whole lot of victims here. Sure they're people that are tied to the land through family history or tradition. There are those that owned great stakes in what was a great city. A lot of good things came out of New Orleans, the two that come to mind most are jazz and Girls Gone Wild videos. It's a pity about the Girls Gone Wild videos. After all, jazz is really just a bunch of potheads playing scales. At least the girls gone wild videos offer entertainment to frat houses and the occasional soldier far away from home.

It sounds harsh, I know, but I was sitting in church this past Sunday, talking to one of our friends when she asked me my opinion of what was going on in New Orleans. A maybe it was because I was in church at the time, but I was reminded of a story I was told from the Bible as a young boy. It was the story about a man who built his house upon the rock, and another who built his house upon the sand. Of course, the story was more about where you place your faith, but it turns out just the same if there's no bedrock underneath your house, odds are you're going to end up swimming at some point and not in the backyard pool.

There are millions of reasons why people stayed in their individual spots in New Orleans and I'm not going to pick apart each of those reasons. I will say that people tend to do funny things in times of great stress. Sometimes those things turn into good decisions, sometimes not. I think I'm getting off topic, let me go back up and check my questions...

Louisiana, and New Orleans, they are unbearably hot, humid, muggy, sticky, filled with bugs, and there are Crockagators everywhere. That's year-round folks. Not to mention that being seated in the Mississippi Delta, everything the Mississippi River decides to dump into the Gulf of Mexico (also known as the toilet of the Atlantic) goes floating by New Orleans. It smells. I've been to Louisiana on several occasions, most notably to train at the Joint Readiness Training Center, which is sandwiched neatly between Shreveport and New Orleans. I've driven through most of the state, and I really doubt that has any redeeming values whatsoever. Hell, it's even named after the French King Louis (I don't remember which number Louis it was, I'm a historian, but I really don't care at this point.) So in two pages I’ve failed to answer the question of why anybody would want to live in Louisiana or New Orleans. Maybe there is no good reason to live there. Recognizing that; I'll just move on.

Does anybody remember when a tidal wave (tsunami) hit Indonesia? Why haven't I seen any foreign carrier battle groups dropping tons, no make that millions of tons of supplies in to our citizens? The Brits get to pass on this one, as there are currently engaged in war on terrorism. But, doesn't India have carriers? Russia? France? Germany... oops, nope. Not since the last big war. The point that I am getting at is this: I don't see a whole lot matériel support coming in from other countries. Sure, the president did come on TV and say that other countries had pledged their support. I believe him. Trust me. I'm not just saying that because he's my boss; I happen to be a pretty decent judge of character. Plus, I've met the guy.

My question is: did a lot of countries just call up and say “Hi Mr. Bush. Sorry to here about the big flood thing. You have my sympathy. We're all over here your pulling for you and hoping it gets better.” Or, did a lot of countries call up 1-800 Red Cross (or whatever the number is), and say “Here's my credit card. Please charge 30 or 40 or $50 billion to it.” After all, just how many hundreds of billions of dollars in support did we send to other countries in the last decade?

When was it declared a disaster area, thereby freeing up funds (and authority) for FEMA to begin action? Before the hurricane ever hit, the President declared entire state of Louisiana (and New Orleans especially) a federal disaster or area. This immediately freed up funds and authority for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin the process of moving very large chunks of relief and support around the nation, and putting the pieces together that would allow them to rush in as soon as it was safe. It also allowed FEMA to begin evacuating refugees, because that's what they are folks: refugees. They are seeking refuge from the flooding; the storms, the pollution etc. etc. Which of course begs the question: “why was this so ineffective?” And there are a lot of answers, primarily it was a combination of people not wanting or being unable to evacuate and the people that were evacuating were taking so much damn time; clogging up the roads heading north, east, and west and that pretty much made everybody unable to evacuate quickly, even if they wanted to.

Why didn't the government respond sooner? The government of the State of Louisiana asked the federal government to basically keep their nose out of it until they asked for help. Please remember that during the next election. People were there, ready and willing with the right tools in the right place at the right time to help both with the evacuation and controlling the flooding. The government of the State of Louisiana refused to ask for help or allow help in until it was too late. This of course begs the question of why did the government of Louisiana take so long to ask for help. I can’t answer that one. I mean, these people are Beaufort Pusser southern. The state government never thought that Gomer Pyle sounded funny when he talked or the way that Boss Hogg ran his county (that's parish 'round here, boy) was perfectly legit. For examples of Louisiana government in action, one needs to look no further than movies like The Big Easy.

Why did they put LTG Honoré in charge of the military relief effort? I have had the distinct pleasure of working as a lieutenant under LTG Honoré. Back then, he was a full colonel, and my brigade commander. Behind his back, we called him the Ragin’ Cajun; a name that he has probably had since he was a lieutenant. The thing that we respected and admired about him most was his ability to get down to the squad level and help leaders, even very junior leaders, figure out what was wrong; what they were doing wrong. And he would caveat a lot of his "counseling sessions" with words like “Son, if you don't get this straight, you’re gonna to end up dead... Grave. Yard. Dead.” He also had a penchant for firing stupid people. That, among other admirable traits, earned him a lot of respect among the junior leaders in the brigade. Just his personality, the way he runs the show, makes things happen. He was given a bunch of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, soldiers who until very recently were either in Iraq or Afghanistan. Soldiers who until very recently had a quite different definition of peacekeeping. It ain't easy to turn it on and off like a switch, folks. Certain skill sets that are required to survive in other countries that look amazingly similar to the devastated areas in Louisiana are not required. At least, not as often. I still find certain sights and smells elicit responses for me that I'd rather not have. Simply riding down the road in a car with my wife; something by the side of a road that wasn't there yesterday can make me slink down in my seat. It's hard to let go of the training that has become a reflex action. General Honoré has the strength of will and the strength of character to influence his men properly. To remind them this is America… that these are Americans. (I realize this makes it seem that I think everyone coming back from the Global War on Terror is bound to be some kind of head case post-traumatic stress disorder nut. I don't think that way. But there are certain conditioned responses which I will probably have for the rest of my life and those soldiers will as well.)

And please Chuck, pretty please tell us how this is all FDR’s fault? Alas, this will have to wait until next time. I'm tired and I want to go to bed. I have to get up early and let somebody bend and twist and pull my arm and hand until I'm ready to scream. Then I will let them do it again. And again. And after the kids stop doing it, I'll go to the hospital and let them do it. This is called therapy. But rest assured, although still baked out of my gourd on narcotics, I will be able to explain why exactly how Franklin Delano Roosevelt was responsible for the flooding in Louisiana.

Until next time, donate to a charity, spend some time with your family, thank God that your only experience with hurricane Katrina was a weekend of nasty weather, call your parents and tell him how much you miss them (they're not to be around forever, you know.).


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