12 September 2005

The Mayor: Now let's begin analyzing the Blame gain, fact vs. spin.

The Mayor:
  • Issued a mandatory evacuation despite the fact that many businesses and hotels would be closed.
  • NOLA did have a plan. But according to experts it is almost impossible to evacuate a city of this size.
  • More than 80% of the city was evacuated to higher ground. An amazing feat. And those that did get out had to travel a minimum of 80+ miles to get out of harm's way.
  • He immediately asked for National Guard assistance, which was not delivered. Resposibility for evacuation of Nursing homes, the infirmed, and hospitals lie with the NG.
  • The paper trail shows that the mayor did indeed follow the agreed-upon course of action.
  • "This is not a test. This is the real deal," Nagin announced, urging people to evacuate at an afternoon press conference with the Governor 48 hours before the storm hit.
    According to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story written that day, the mayor said he was had his staff research whether he could issue a mandatory evacuation, which he said was unprecedented. Nagin hesitated initially because the city might be held liable for unnecessarily closing hotels and other businesses, according to the article.

    That was a practical, if coldhearted, calculus in a city like New Orleans. "Any place that has a lot of tourists, it's very expensive to evacuate," says Kate Hale, who was director of emergency management for Dade County, Fla., when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992. "It costs $1 million a coastal mile to evacuate. You're shutting down businesses. It's not something you do casually."
  • Over 100,000 people (at the minimum) had no means of transport or a place to go.
  • At the press conference, Nagin said the Superdome would be a shelter of last resort for people with special needs. But even then, they were expected to come with enough food and drinks to last three or four days, Nagin said.

    The city's website advised people who needed a ride out of town to "try to go with a neighbor, friend or relative." Those who had to go to the shelters were advised to "eat a full meal before arriving."
  • Nagin and state officials pulled off a complex traffic-evacuation plan that weekend, which involved reversing the traffic flow on three interstates.
  • The Saturday before the storm, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, called the mayor personally to emphasize just how serious the threat was. "This was only the second time I called a politician in my life," Mayfield tells TIME. "I wanted to be able to go to sleep knowing I had done everything I could do."
  • NOLA did not have the funding to exercise a massive forced evacuation that included relocation, housing, food, and supplies prior to the storm.
  • Because of all the chaos that descended on New Orleans, the acts of heroism often took the form of mini-rebellions against the bureaucracy.

    Richard Zucschlag, head of Acadian Ambulance, the largest ambulance transport company in southern Louisiana, moved his dispatch center to the outskirts of New Orleans, where it became the only communications network in the early hours of the disaster.

    Then, although Zucschlag's staff is not trained to do triage, he sent 10 ambulance medics to the Superdome while his 40 ambulances and seven helicopters served as the initial rescue force in the city. For 40 hours, his medics were the only treatment unit there. Zucschlag tells TIME he ran into plenty of roadblocks, but he barreled through them.

    "lower down, people in the field (from FEMA) want paperwork," he says. "I am gambling a bit, but I am saving lives. If I get sued, fine."
  • Nagin constantly ran into a bureaucratic nightmare. He could not get through to the men in charge. Was in the field holed up with other officials in a hotel but could not convince anyone of the enormity of the problem. So days passed, people starved, got sick, or worse, died.

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