Here are some things to consider as we go through the day. But first, an excerpt from an exchange FEMA chief Michael Brown had yesterday with Wolf Blitzer …
BLITZER: Knowing what you know now, Michael Brown — and obviously all of us are a lot smarter with hindsight — what would FEMA — what should FEMA have done differently in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina to save people’s lives in New Orleans? Because as you know, we’re getting reports from the governor, from the mayor, that perhaps the death toll will go into the thousands.
BROWN: Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that’s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don’t make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.
But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. And so we’ve got to figure out some way to convince people that when evacuation warnings go out, it’s for their own good. Now, I don’t want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them.
One might note as an aside that the administration is putting a lot of weight on the claim that it simply wasn’t foreseeable how bad things were going to be, even though people knew there was going to be a major storm. And yet a similar lack of foresight apparently leaves many of the victims with primary responsibility for their own deaths.
I’ll let the logicians pick that one apart. But let’s note that, as we mentioned yesterday, a not-insubstantial number of people who did not evacuate did not do so because they didn’t have the cash on hand to do so. Several papers mention this this morning. Others were sick or invalids. And, yes, there were some who probably just figured they’d get lucky and paid a big price.
But anybody with any serious experience even watching disaster relief, let alone managing it, knows that public authorities are supposed to plan in advance to manage and alleviate the suffering, death and property destruction of anticipatable events. And all these events were anticipated. Not everybody can make it out in a 36 hour evacuation. Not everyone can; not everyone will. Brown might be bucking for a promotion to manager of human nature and/or wealth inequality; but for now, he’s just in charge of disaster relief. So it’s distressing to see his quick effort to blame the victims of this disaster for what were in many cases flawed actions on his watch.
But more specifically, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I’m pretty sure there was publicly available information on hand (from the Mayor, I think) before the storm even hit that a substantial minority of the population had not left the city. Whatever their moral culpability may be in Borwn’s eyes, he knew those people were there. And yet, as I think we’ll see over the course of the day, there’s a concerted effort to say these facts were not known or were perhaps unknowable.
Watch for the rewriting of the history and more efforts to blame the disaster on its victims.