I wonder if this open letter writer reads Times-Picayune paper. Or they would know that it was their own city that let them down. Their own goverment that opened the flood gates.
In December of 1995, the Orleans Levee Board, the local government entity that oversees the levees and floodgates designed to protect New Orleans and the surrounding areas from rising waters, bragged in a supplement to the Times-Picayune newspaper about federal money received to protect the region from hurricanes.
"In the past four years, the Orleans Levee Board has built up its arsenal. The additional defenses are so critical that Levee Commissioners marched into Congress and brought back almost $60 million to help pay for protection," the pamphlet declared. "The most ambitious flood-fighting plan in generations was drafted. An unprecedented $140 million building campaign launched 41 projects."
The levee board promised Times-Picayune readers that the "few manageable gaps" in the walls protecting the city from Mother Nature's waters "will be sealed within four years (1999) completing our circle of protection."
But less than a year later, that same levee board was denied the authority to refinance its debts. Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle "repeatedly faulted the Levee Board for the way it awards contracts, spends money and ignores public bid laws," according to the Times-Picayune. The newspaper quoted Kyle as saying that the board was near bankruptcy and should not be allowed to refinance any bonds, or issue new ones, until it submitted an acceptable plan to achieve solvency.
Blocked from financing the local portion of the flood fighting efforts, the levee board was unable to spend the federal matching funds that had been designated for the project.
By 1998, Louisiana's state government had a $2 billion construction budget, but less than one tenth of one percent of that -- $1.98 million -- was dedicated to levee improvements in the New Orleans area. State appropriators were able to find $22 million that year to renovate a new home for the Louisiana Supreme Court and $35 million for one phase of an expansion to the New Orleans convention center.
The following year, the state legislature did appropriate $49.5 million for levee improvements, but the proposed spending had to be allocated by the State Bond Commission before the projects could receive financing. The commission placed the levee improvements in the "Priority 5" category, among the projects least likely to receive full or immediate funding.
The Orleans Levee Board was also forced to defer $3.7 million in capital improvement projects in its 2001 budget after residents of the area rejected a proposed tax increase to fund its expanding operations. Long term deferments to nearly 60 projects, based on the revenue shortfall, totaled $47 million worth of work, including projects to shore up the floodwalls
No new state money had been allocated to the area's hurricane protection projects as of October of 2002, leaving the available 65 percent federal matching funds for such construction untouched.
"The problem is money is real tight in Baton Rouge right now," state Sen. Francis Heitmeier (D-Algiers) told the Times-Picayune. "We have to do with what we can get."
Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen told local officials that, if they reduced their requests for state funding in other, less critical areas, they would have a better chance of getting the requested funds for levee improvements. The newspaper reported that in 2000 and 2001, "the Bond Commission has approved or pledged millions of dollars for projects in Jefferson Parish, including construction of the Tournament Players Club golf course near Westwego, the relocation of Hickory Avenue in Jefferson (Parish) and historic district development in Westwego."
There is no record of such discretionary funding requests being reduced or withdrawn, but in October of 2003, nearby St. Charles Parish did receive a federal grant for $475,000 to build bike paths on top of its levees.
This open letter writer should know this, before writing some dumb ass letter to the paper.
FEMA is not a first responder
Don't be so quick to pillory the federal response in New Orleans. Immediate emergency management is primarily a local and state responsibility
The key to emergency management starts at the local level and expands to the state level. Emergency planning generally does not include any federal guarantees, as there can only be limited ones from the federal level for any local plan. FEMA provides free training, education, assistance and respond in case of an emergency, but the local and state officials run their own emergency management program.
Prior development of an emergency plan, addressing all foreseeable contingencies, is the absolute requirement of the local government --and then they share that plan with the state emergency managers to ensure that the state authorities can provide necessary assets not available at the local level. Additionally, good planning will include applicable elements of the federal government (those located in the local area). These processes are well established, but are contingent upon the personal drive of both hired and elected officials at the local level.
I've reviewed the New Orleans emergency management plan.
Here is an important section in the first paragraph.
"We coordinate all city departments and allied state and federal agencies which respond to citywide disasters and emergencies through the development and constant updating of an integrated multi-hazard plan. All requests for federal disaster assistance and federal funding subsequent to disaster declarations are also made through this office. Our authority is defined by the Louisiana Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act of 1993, Chapter 6 Section 709, Paragraph B, 'Each parish shall maintain a Disaster Agency which, except as otherwise provided under this act, has jurisdiction over and serves the entire parish.' "
Check the plan -- the "we" in this case is the office of the mayor, Ray Nagin who was very quick and vocal about blaming everyone but his own office. A telling picture, at left, taken by The Associated Press on Sept. 1 and widely circulated on the Internet shows a school bus park, apparently filled to capacity with buses, under about four feet of water. If a mandatory evacuation was ordered, why weren't all the taxpayer-purchased buses used in the effort?
It seems that the mayor of New Orleans is leading the effort in not taking responsibility for his actions. The emergency managers for the state of Louisiana do not have much to say either. The failure in the first 48 hours to provide direction for survivors is theirs to live with. When FEMA was able to take over, it started out behind and had to develop its plan on the fly. Now the federal government has established priorities -- rescue the stranded, evacuate the city, flow in resources and fix the levee. It appears that now there is a plan and it is being systematically executed.
Oh letter writer, perhaps you should know what your own Governor has done to your city by thinking for 24 hours.
AMERICAN MORNING 9-5-05
S. O'BRIEN: There are people who say your evacuation plan, obviously in hindsight, was disastrous.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Which one?
S. O'BRIEN: Your evacuation plan before -- when you put people into the Superdome. It wasn't thought out. You got 20,000 people in there. And that you bear the brunt of the blame for some of this, a large chunk of it.
NAGIN: Look, I'll take whatever responsibility that I have to take. But let me ask you this question: When you have a city of 500,000 people, and you have a category 5 storm bearing down on you, and you have the best you've ever done is evacuate 60 percent of the people out of the city, and you have never issued a mandatory evacuation in the city's history, a city that is a couple of hundred years old, I did that. I elevated the level of distress to the citizens.
And I don't know what else I could do, other than to tell them that it's a mandatory evacuation. And if they stayed, make sure you have a frigging ax in your home, where you can bust out the roof just in case the water starts flowing.
And as a last resort, once this thing is above a category 3, there are no buildings in this city to withstand a category 3, a category 4 or a category 5 storm, other than the Superdome. That's where we sent people as a shelter of last resort. When that filled up, we sent them to the Convention Center. Now, you tell me what else we could have done.
S. O'BRIEN: What has Secretary Chertoff promised you? What has Donald Rumsfeld given you and promised you?
NAGIN: Look, I've gotten promises to -- I can't stand anymore promises. I don't want to hear anymore promises. I want to see stuff done. And that's why I'm so happy that the president came down here, because I think they were feeding him a line of bull also. And they were telling him things weren't as bad as it was.
He came down and saw it, and he put a general on the field. His name is General Honore. And when he hit the field, we started to see action.
And what the state was doing, I don't frigging know. But I tell you, I am pissed. It wasn't adequate.
And then, the president and the governor sat down. We were in Air Force One. I said, 'Mr. President, Madam Governor, you two have to get in sync. If you don't get in sync, more people are going to die.'
S. O'BRIEN: What date was this? When did you say that? When did you say...
NAGIN: Whenever air Force One was here.
S. O'BRIEN: OK.
NAGIN: And this was after I called him on the telephone two days earlier. And I said, 'Mr. President, Madam Governor, you two need to get together on the same page, because of the lack of coordination, people are dying in my city.'
S. O'BRIEN: That's two days ago.
NAGIN: They both shook -- I don't know the exact date. They both shook their head and said yes. I said, 'Great.' I said, 'Everybody in this room is getting ready to leave.' There was senators and his cabinet people, you name it, they were there. Generals. I said, 'Everybody right now, we're leaving. These two people need to sit in a room together and make a doggone decision right now.'
S. O'BRIEN: And was that done?
NAGIN: The president looked at me. I think he was a little surprised. He said, "No, you guys stay here. We're going to another section of the plane, and we're going to make a decision."
He called me in that office after that. And he said, "Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor." I said -- and I don't remember exactly what. There were two options. I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.
S. O'BRIEN: You're telling me the president told you the governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision?
S. O'BRIEN: Regarding what? Bringing troops in?
NAGIN: Whatever they had discussed. As far as what the -- I was abdicating a clear chain of command, so that we could get resources flowing in the right places.
S. O'BRIEN: And the governor said no.
NAGIN: She said that she needed 24 hours to make a decision. It would have been great if we could of left Air Force One, walked outside, and told the world that we had this all worked out. It didn't happen, and more people died.
S. O'BRIEN: The mayor making it clear that much politicking was going on, even as people here were continuing to suffer. The mayor clearly thinking that the governor did way too little, way too late for her part.
Later Soledad O'Brien From CNN AMERICAN MORNING
interviewed the governor, Kathleen Blanco.
S. O'BRIEN: There's been much written about kind of a power tussle between you and President Bush and the mayor. Specifically the mayor was telling us about a flight on Air Force One, and he said that you and he and the president were all in a room and finally you and the president went separately to have a meeting. Twenty-four hours, is that right? Is that what came of our that meeting on the tarmac with the president?
BLANCO: They gave me a very complicated proposition to look at. It didn't help our effort in that instant moment. I needed a little time to understand exactly what it meant. We went forward, all of us, all the resources were there. Nothing stopped. We ended up, um, coming to terms and agreements, and I think that the effort is going great.
Blanco needed 24 hours to think, while the folks in her state were dying. Sheeez.....Do Nagin and Blanco even know what mandatory evacuation means? They did nothing to get the folks out of the soup bowl. All those buses just sitting there. Not getting the National Guard in the areas BEFORE the levees broke. Putting all those folks in the Superdome without food, water and the National Guard for security. What the hell were these 2 dummys thinking?
All emergencies practices are the obligation
of the LOCAL, COUNTY, and STATE goverments. The Federal government cannot send troops without a request from the Governor of a state or in cases of insurrection. While FEMA can provide management, money, food, etc., at request of the local & state governments, they can't just walk in and take over on their own.