Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Orleans Evacuation

The right is trying mightily to argue that the human tragedy that is New Orleans is entirely due to the local failure to evacuate the city. There has been general agreement that this is an area where city planning failed. However, there are now a few folks arguing the point that the logistics and planning for a mass evacuation of 100,000 people is far more complex and difficult than the arm chair planners on the right are trying now to claim. See, for example this post by ArchPundit over at daily Kos. I agree that the difficulty of a more complete evacuation is being unreasonably minimized by the right wing in order to try and deflect criticism of the President.

In the discussions that I've read, however, there is another difficulty to a complete evacuation that I have not seen raised. Consider the kind of treatment described in this post I found at Making Light. Here we have a group of people trying to self evacuate and being turned back, with gunfire, by Gretna sheriffs. I think that it clear that there was another political difficulty in coming up with a plan to remove 100,000 of the poorest, black residents of New Orleans into the suburbs. A problem that might well dwarf the difficulties of finding bus drivers and organizing routes. And those problems are big enough.

In light of this I conclude that while Nagin and Blanco failed to protect their constituents, the problem they faced was nearly insurmountable. Also, it seems to me that the backup plan, evacuate to the superdome was inadequate but became disastrous only due to the incompetence of FEMA (see here).

Now I have a tough attitude toward public officials when judging if they've been successful or not. In my mind if a public official is supposed to accomplish some task, even if it is damn near impossible, failure is still failure. Given this standard, failure will occur, but it is still failure. That is my attitude toward George Bush and 9/11, that is my attitude toward Nagin and Katrina. How harsh the judgment is does depend upon the difficulty of the task, but failure is still failure. So, given the above Nagin should have accomplished more, but evacuating much more of the city was a nearly impossible task. And the disaster that resulted is much more due to failures at FEMA and the rest of the federal level than the locals. Had FEMA never shown up, it would have been better for New Orleans.

[Update Fri. Sep 9, 2005 13:13 Eastern]
See also here for further details on the story of folks trying to evacuate New Orleans. Follow the links for confirmation of the story.

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