The Ergosphere
Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane-force incompetence

In the aftermath of Katrina, the utter and deadly incompetence of our top emergency management officials has become undeniable.

The aftermath of the storm left a humanitarian crisis.  President Bush himself said that food and water were being mobilized to reach people in need.  How could it be that reporters on site at the New Orleans convention center could be describing a scene of no food, no water and no law enforcement... on Thursday?

Hotel officials rent buses to evacuate their stranded tourists at a cost of $25,000.  FEMA officials commandeer the buses... and make no arrangements for the stranded tourists who were thrown out on the street.  A 50-seat bus has a weight capacity of approximately ten tons.  Ten metric tons of cargo could be taken as 8000 half-liter bottles of water and two tons of MRE's or other food.  Ten buses a day could carry out a mere 500 people, but could meet the immediate needs of at least 20,000 10,000 people for food and water.

The first bus of refugees to reach the Houston Astrodome was.... a stolen school bus.  The areas around New Orleans and elsewhere must use hundreds or even thousands of school buses to transport students to school and back every day.  300 school buses carrying 40 people each could move 12,000 refugees in a single convoy.  Each bus could carry a week's worth of necessities for perhaps 400 people on the return trip.  That would have handled the needs of the city until further assessment could be done.  Yet nobody did it, despite news reports which should have caused light bulbs to go off in the heads of the people with the power to do something about it.

It's about 350 miles from New Orleans to Houston.  It should be feasible for a bus to make a round trip once a day, perhaps using two drivers.  Evacuating New Orleans over open roads should not be a difficult task, and neither should supplying the needs of those who must remain.

Why wasn't it done by Wednesday?

These events show a devastating lack of intelligence, imagination and basic responsibility.  If these are the best people our elected officials can find for those jobs, it's time for the whole top tier to resign.  State and federal.  Appointed and elected.  En masse.  Now. 
I noticed the initial reaction of the president was somehow similar to that of the late tsunami disaster. I used to travel deep South by car some twenty years ago, and I noticed there were three classes - very rich whose house is made in colonial column and middle class who has got a relatively fine house and the rest who live in similar to barn, along the big river was still covered by deep forest and I noticed it was dangerous enough to be victimised from flood, although the climate those days was never problematic as opposed to these days global warming stricken ones. Anyway I hope all those affected will be helped and evacuated soon.

Here's a picture of the buses, they are water logged and useless.
Those are the New Orleans city school buses.  Not the surrounding areas.  And the first bus of refugees to reach the Astrodome was one of those New Orleans buses, stolen by someone who picked up people in need who then split the fuel cost.

Someone elsewhere noted that those N.O. buses are only wet up to their wheel wells.  Worst case, change the oil and decant the fuel and you're back in business long enough for rescues.  You need a few heavy wreckers to get them to dry ground and some mechanics to do the honors.  Of course, none of that would have been necessary IF SOMEONE HAD MOVED THE BUSES WHEN IT WAS APPARENT THE LEVEE WAS GOING!

Heiko, I find it very ironic that you don't even read the post to which you refer me.  I quote the section about competence:

"But since no one mobilized these buses before the storm--ahem, Mr. Ebbert--since no one mobilized them before the storm, the poor in New Orleans had no way of getting out."

You read about as well as the New Orleans mayor coordinates.
Actually I was just too lazy to go into all that detail.

You know I don't always post a comment to try to disagree with you, this was meant to be supporting evidence to buttress your well reasoned argument.

I got the link from Brendan Loy's blog and he's been harping on about the mayor not taking things seriously enough since Saturday.
I wrote the original post with the idea that everything in New Orleans was a total loss.  N.O. is not the only school system in Louisiana with buses, and if the buses from [t]he areas around New Orleans were used, this would have been a piece of cake.

But the mayor and governor did not say the magic words.
First: We should note that this problem was anticipated by the people of New Orleans several years ago. Apparently, the city fathers did not make it a priority to plan for the eventuality.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune published a Five-Part Series titled Washing Away , June 23-27, 2002. Following are some quotes on that issue:

Once it’s certain a major storm is about to hit, evacuation offers the best chance for survival. But for those who wait, getting out will become nearly impossible as the few routes out of town grow hopelessly clogged. And 100,000 people without transportation will be especially threatened.

Hurricane evacuations rarely go as planned. Storm tracks are hard to predict, and roads are not designed to handle the traffic flow, so huge traffic jams are a common result. In 1998 it took six hours for people leaving the New Orleans area in advance of Hurricane Georges to reach Baton Rouge, 80 miles away. The following year, Hurricane Floyd’s constantly changing course spurred evacuations and bumper-to-bumper traffic on highways from Florida to North Carolina.

Moving entire populations out of harm’s way is a time-consuming and unpredictable operation complicated by geography, demographics, human psychology, the limits of weather forecasting, and transportation problems that tie many cities in knots even in perfect weather. ...

Because the entire region is susceptible to storm-surge flooding, hurricanes pose more danger to those left behind than in places where the coastal profile is higher.

"Evacuation is what’s necessary: evacuation, evacuation, evacuation," Jefferson Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Walter Maestri said. "We anticipate that (even) with refuges of last resort in place, some 5 (percent) to 10 percent of the individuals who remain in the face of catastrophic storms are going to lose their lives."

... South Louisiana presents some of the most daunting evacuation problems in the United States because: The region’s large population, including more than 1 million people in the New Orleans area, requires a 72- to 84-hour window for evacuation, well ahead of the time that forecasters can accurately predict a storm’s track and strength. ...

A large population of low-income residents do not own cars and would have to depend on an untested emergency public transportation system to evacuate them.

Much of the area is below sea level and vulnerable to catastrophic flooding. Based on the danger to refugees and workers, the Red Cross has decided not to operate shelters south of the Interstate 10-Interstate 12 corridor, leaving refuges of last resort that offer only minimal protection and no food or bedding. ...

More lives depend on efficient and complete hurricane evacuations in the New Orleans area than anywhere else in the United States. ...

Second, let us not rewrite history.

Louisiana braces for Hurricane Katrina
Residents evacuated as storm strengthens in warm Gulf waters
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Mary Foster

... Katrina was expected to strengthen to a Category 4 monster with winds of at least 131 mph before hitting the Gulf Coast on Monday. A hurricane watch extended from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, but forecasters are predicting that it will hit shore near New Orleans. At 11 p.m. yesterday, the eye of the hurricane was about 335 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center said. It had turned to the west-northwest and was moving at nearly 7 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph.

"At this juncture, all we can do is pray it doesn’t come this way and tear us up," said Jeannette Ruboyianes, owner of the Day Dream Inn at Grand Isle.

The storm formed in the Bahamas and ripped across southern Florida on Thursday, causing seven deaths, before moving into the Gulf of Mexico. It was expected to grow in strength over the gulf because surface water temperatures were as high as 90 degrees — high-octane fuel for hurricanes.

Katrina could be devastating to New Orleans because the city sits below sea level and is dependent on levees and pumps to keep the water out. A direct hit could submerge the city in several feet of water. Making matters worse, at least 100,000 people in the city lack the transportation to get out of town. Mayor Ray C. Nagin said the Superdome might be used as a shelter for people without cars, with city bus pickup points around New Orleans. ...

New Orleans’ worst hurricane disaster happened 40 years ago, when Hurricane Betsy blasted the Gulf Coast. Floodwaters approached 20 feet in some areas. Fishing villages were flattened, and the storm surge left almost half of New Orleans under water and 60,000 homeless. Seventy-four people died in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Katrina was a Category 1 storm with 80 mph wind when it hit south Florida on Thursday, and rainfall was estimated at up to 20 inches. Risk modeling companies have said early estimates of insured damage range from $600 million to $2 billion. ...
Big Easy gets off easier than predicted
Cool air, change in path help prevent worst-case scenario
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Lee Bowman

Waves of computer-model projections and dire warnings of Hurricane Katrina’s potential path and destruction preceded it for days, but a slight jog to the north and a shot of cool air kept the "worst-case scenario" from hitting New Orleans yesterday. Katrina goes down as the fourth-most-intense Atlantic hurricane in modern times upon reaching its top sustained winds of more than 160 mph. But the storm didn’t maintain its catastrophic strength before making landfall 60 miles south of New Orleans, thanks largely to cooler air from another weather system late Sunday. Katrina turned course just enough that the low-lying city did not get the storm surge that everyone feared would wash over levees and submerge it in 20 to 30 feet of water.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Brett Martel, David J. Phillip

NEW ORLEANS — Rescuers along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast pushed aside the dead to reach the living yesterday in a race against time and rising waters, while New Orleans sank deeper into crisis and Louisiana’s governor ordered storm refugees out of this drowning city.

Two levees broke and sent water coursing into the streets of the Big Easy a full day after New Orleans appeared to have escaped widespread destruction from Hurricane Katrina. An estimated 80 percent of the below-sea-level city was under water, up to 20 feet deep in places, with miles and miles of homes swamped.


The important thing here is that this was a two stage disaster, and the second stage occurred on Monday morning, just when most of us thought N.O. had dodged the bullet.

I don't think that it is time to do lessons learned yet. But, Clearly, N.O. should have had an evacuation plan in place and should have executed it on Friday. But even if they had they might not have been able to evacuate everybody if we credit the 84 hr number above.

Second the N.O. police were clearly out of their league and unable to respond. N.O. is not a well run city. It never was. Its police dept. was under-maned and undisciplined, which may explain why N.O. is a high crime city.

I think we can safely save the blame-storming for a few weeks and then work on that.
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