September 2nd, 2005

Evening typhoon update

Originally published at blog.jameslick.com. Please leave any comments there.

It is quiet now with just an occasional drizzle. The wind is all gone now.

Emily was getting bored at Maggie’s shop so I went to pick her up to take her to the toy store. On the way there on Zhongyuan Street I saw one shop whose metal awning had fallen off, and across from it was a coffee shop where the air conditioning unit had fallen off and damaged their awning. On the way back from the toy store I saw a lighted shop sign that was dangling like it was only supported by a thread.

Maggie’s shop had one of their water lines broken so they had to get emergency repairs done to open the shop today.

Sad And Angry

The Role Of The National Guard

A few days ago, someone was laughing at me for expressing concern that a large portion of the Louisiana National Guard was unable to respond to Katrina because they and their equipment were in Iraq. He scoffingly told me that the National Guard couldn't possibly do anything to secure the levees. Which is absolutely true, but completely misses the point.

The National Guard units are often used to respond to large scale disasters, and often provide a crucial role. They provide law enforcement, rescue services and logistical support for supplies such as food and water. They provide the glue that keeps social order intact. Without it, people without food, shelter, utilities, or a means of escape will eventually descend into chaos.

And guess what? That's exactly what's happened. The levees are the least of worries at this point.

Still Waiting, Three Days In

And even worse, over THREE DAYS LATER, there has been what can only be called a completely inadequate response.

Now I know there's been a great debate over exactly how many of those National Guard and their equipment are in Iraq. The fact remains that there has been an inadequate response. What should have happened is even while the storm was approaching, National Guard troops should have been assembling their personnel and equipment. As much as possible staging areas should have been established close to the affected areas. During the storm, there's not much that can safely be done, but afterwards the National Guard should be quickly deployed to affected areas and begin their efforts. With a quick response, there will be a minimum to breakdown in social order.

It's true that it's hard to make a really coordinated response in the first 24 hours or so. But this is now three days later, and there's still completely inadequate recovery support. Police are reporting that they are only able to provide protection for their own police stations. Tens of thousands are still in the Superdome even though evacuations have begun there. Some of the refugees bused to Texas were turned away from the Astrodome because it was full.

Tens of thousands are waiting at the convention center sitting among garbage, human waste and dead bodies with no food or water. The head of the rescue effort when asked about it says that he was unaware of that, three days later! Only after the New Orleans mayor complains about it on CNN does a helicopter drop in some supplies there, but only enough for a small fraction of the people there.

Things are continuing to spin out of control. The longer there continues to be an inadequate response, the worse things will get. If there is not an overwhelming response TODAY, what's happened over the last three days will look like a picnic. So while people argue about how many National Guard troops are stuck in Iraq, you're still left with the question: Where is the National Guard? If not in Iraq, where are they?

Most Of Those Stranded Couldn't Get Out

And then there's the armchair pundits who complain about the people that stayed behind for being reckless. While some of them might have been, most of them COULDN'T evacuate. All public transportation was cut off BEFORE evacuation orders were given. All roads were converted to one way OUT of New Orleans, so nobody could get in to pick up anyone who wanted to get out. Don't have a car? Sorry! Sucks to be you.

We're Fighting Them Over There So We Can't Fight Them At Home

If that still hasn't gotten your blood boiling, think about this. The response to a natural disaster is quite a lot like a terrorist attack. If Department of Homeland Security (which now oversees FEMA) can't make an adequately respond to a natural disaster after three days, where they had advanced warning, how can they possibly respond to a large terrorist attack on the US? It doesn't look good. And I don't think this point will be lost on those looking to attack the US. With many state National Guard troops having been pulled to fight in Iraq, has this left the country inadequately covered? There are serious questions that need to be answered.

Political Fallout

There've been a lot of cries on various blogs warning people not to politicize the tragedy. In this case, things have gotten so truly fucked up that it would be inappropriate NOT to have some very critical concerns about the political response to the disaster. If there cannot be a response after three days, our political leaders have to be asked: Why?

And I would warn the political right: don't politicize this disaster by trying to deflect criticisms of the response. This is not some complicated political scandal that most people can't quite understand. This is not some dispute in a country on the other side of the world we don't know much about. This is an American city where people are suffering and dying, and where social order has fallen apart with only halfhearted response on the ground. This is something real, tangible, and easily understandable by regular people. They see this continued disaster and will not easily accept any kind of political spin to distract them from the real issue.

And in the midst of this lack of response to the disaster itself, there's been a swift response to the issue of oil supplies being interrupted. The reserves have been opened and tankers have already been prepared for delivery to Exxon and Valero. I won't deny that ensuring oil supplies are very important, the rapid response there stands in sharp contrast to other responses to the disaster.

And in case nobody noticed, the affected areas are solidly "red states" that supported the Republicans in the last election. If they don't get good answers, will they continue to support them in the future? As a purely practical political matter, this can't be whitewashed without it biting you in the ass later on.

This Is The Greatest Nation In The World?

It is truly shocking to me to see people sitting in trash, excrement and dead bodies waiting for help three days later in what is supposed to be the greatest nation in the world. It is truly a sad day when things have broken down so much.

Relief Funds

A day after suffering from Super Typhoon Talim of similar size as Katrina, Taiwan has pledged US$2 million in disaster relief funds to the US according to a CNN report. While the impact of Talim was much less than Katrina, it was still a very serious storm, so it's an interesting reversal of roles.