Thursday, September 08, 2005

FEMA perhaps not so incompetent after all?

I've not been kind to FEMA this past week in my many conversations with family and friends but it might turn out that I've been overly harsh. There have been comments made by FEMA director Mike Brown that have been inexcusable and I stand by my denunciation of him over that. However, the facts are coming to light that show FEMA isn't the agency that dropped the ball, here.

First, FEMA is a federal agency. They require, by law, authorization from the President to move forward in disaster relief. The President requires, by law, authorization from the given State's Governor to allow FEMA to move. The evidence is mounting that Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisianna failed to provide that authorization in a timely fashion. Even New Orleans Mayor Nagin is saying that she delayed 24 hours during a critical time period. Last night's Fox News report drops an even more staggering bombshell: the FEMA-coordinated American Red Cross had food, water, and other supplies desperately needed by the people in the Superdome literally sitting on the other side of a bridge that was easily passable and were explicitly denied permission to deliver those relief supplies by the LA government. From Radio Blogger, a transcript from the Hugh Hewitt radio show:

::::::::HH: You just broke a pretty big story. I was watching up on the corner television in my studio, and it's headlined that the Red Cross was blocked from delivering supplies to the Superdome, Major Garrett. Tell us what you found out.

MG: Well, the Red Cross, Hugh, had pre-positioned a literal vanguard of trucks with water, food, blankets and hygiene items. They're not really big into medical response items, but those are the three biggies that we saw people at the New Orleans Superdome, and the convention center, needing most accutely. And all of us in America, I think, reasonably asked ourselves, geez. You know, I watch hurricanes all the time. And I see correspondents standing among rubble and refugees and evacuaees. But I always either see that Red Cross or Salvation Army truck nearby. Why don't I see that?

HH: And the answer is?

MG: The answer is the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security, that is the state agency responsible for that state's homeland security, told the Red Cross explicitly, you cannot come.

HH: Now Major Garrett, on what day did they block the delivery? Do you know specifically?

MG: I am told by the Red Cross, immediately after the storm passed.

HH: Okay, so that would be on Monday afternoon.

MG: That would have been Monday or Tuesday. The exact time, the hour, I don't have. But clearly, they had an evacuee situation at the Superdome, and of course, people gravitated to the convention center on an ad hoc basis. They sort of invented that as another place to go, because they couldn't stand the conditions at the Superdome.

HH: Any doubt in the Red Cross' mind that they were ready to go, but they were blocked?

MG: No. Absolutely none. They are absolutely unequivocal on that point.

Governor Blanco had better have a damn good answer for this, especially after she and Mayor Nagin skewered FEMA and the federal DHS for the failure that, it now seems, was their fault all along. She also better have a good explanation for what the Red Cross was told was the reason they couldn't come in:

::::::::HH: Of course they are. Now Major Garrett, what about the Louisiana governor's office of Homeland Security. Have they responded to this charge by the Red Cross, which is a blockbuster charge?

MG: I have not been able to reach them yet. But, what they have said consistently is, and what they told the Red Cross, we don't want you to come in there, because we have evacuees that we want to get out. And if you come in, they're more likely to stay. So I want your listeners to follow me here. At the very moment that Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans was screaming where's the food, where's the water, it was over the overpass, and state officials were saying you can't come in.

And while we're on the subject of Mayor Nagin and his actions in handling the crisis, how about we discuss the evacuation of those people at the Superdome? Jeff Goldstein over at Protein Wisdom has a few links up, one of which is an area photo of New Orleans on 31 August - that's last Wednesday. Two days after Katrina blew past. I'm going to encourage anyone who comes here to go have a look at that photo and note the large number of buses available to be driven. Some of those buses were school buses sitting in 2 feet of water - well below the floorboards and engine compartment of your average bus. Several of them, however, are sitting on dry land with a clear, dry, accessible road available to them to egress the area. Two days, ladies and gents. Busses available. And who commands those school busses and city public transportation busses? New Orleans Mayor Nagin, that's who. Not FEMA, not the President, not Congress. The Mayor. The same mayor who's been busily screaming about the lack of relief and evacuation capacity.

There's plenty of blame to go around after we've saved the living and handled our dead respectfully and the federal government is going to have some of it. But it's starting to look at lot more like the feds had their act together than it did just a few days ago. I'll post more as it develops.