Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Fate Of New Orleans - And What It Means For Los Angeles.

One of the great cities of the world is about be hit by the single most devastating natural disaster in our country's history... in less than 24 hours.

And yet, even though this day has been long talked about and long anticipated, there still had not been sufficient planning to even evacuate the citizens of New Orleans from the soon to be submerged city (or sufficient planning to mitigate the physical damage to the city) - even with the many days of advance warning.

But now that Hurricane Katrina is officially a Category 5 storm (and only three - yes, just 3 - hurricanes of this size have hit this country since the 1930's) with winds up to 175 miles an hour - and with the storm still increasing in size and strength - time has run out for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. They can now only deal with the affects of the lack of adequate planning.

So when I consider the damage that will occur to Los Angeles when we are some day hit by our 'big one' - with no warning or notice - I wonder how well equipped we are to deal with our equally long talked about and long anticipated earthquake.

Fortunately, we still have time to reflect - and hopefully act - upon that. Right now, though, all we can do is to be there to assist the people of New Orleans and the many other areas that are about to be hit by one of this country's worst disasters.


Only hours before the storm is about to strike, the Mayor of New Orleans - at the demand of federal officials - finally - announces a mandatory evacuation of the city!

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency Sunday morning and ordered a mandatory evacuation as Hurricane Katrina drew closer as a deadly Category 5 storm that threatens to swamp the city with 15 to 20 feet of water.

With an equally grim Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco beside him, Nagin ordered his below-sea-level city evacuated. More than 1.5 million people live in the metropolitan New Orleans area.

"I am this morning declaring that we will be doing a mandatory evacuation," Nagin said. "Every person is hereby ordered to evacuate the city of New Orleans."

People must try to leave the city, Nagin said, but if they cannot, they will have 10 shelters available throughout the city. The Super Dome will also be available as a last resort emergency shelter.

If the Super Dome fills with refugees, the city of New Orleans also will have the power to commandeer private buildings for emergency shelters, as well as the ability to commandeer vehicles to help people move out quickly. Nagin sent out faxes to churches to ask them to help people leave.

'"I wish I had better news for you but we are facing a storm that most of us have feared,'' Nagin said. "It's my hope that most people will get out. The city of New Orleans has never seen a hurricane of this strength hit it directly."

Blanco said she received a call from President Bush offering the support of the federal government and urging emergency officials to get people out of the city as soon as possible.

And from a Austin TV website version of the Bloomberg wire ....

Nagin said he hopes tourists have a hotel room and that "“it's a hotel room that's at least on the third floor and up."

He 'hopes' these things will happen, but as for his having taken any precautions to have made certain that these things will happen or as for his now ordering any present actions to ensure that they will...

And some more from Austin....

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said President Bush personally appealed for the mandatory evacuation.

And now back to the Miami Herald newspaper article...

Last night, Nagin was under considerable pressure by state officials and weather experts to evacuate the city, but he worried about the legality of ordering people out when New Orleans had few safe hurricane shelters for them to evacuate to.

The questions I would now be asking if I lived in New Orleans are... why are there not enough hurricane shelters? And how can there only be TEN shelters in the entire city? And why did the Mayor wait until just hours before the storm to fax, yes, fax and not call - churches to get involved in the evacuation? And why is it that - only now - hours before the storm hits... are privately owned buildings finally being considered as shelters?

And why was there no plan to evacuate the city - even with many days notice - if there are too few shelters?

And - lastly - and in some ways - most importantly - why is my Mayor worried about... his legal liability... when thousands of people's lives are at stake?

Also, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield called Nagin at home last night and told him: get people out of New Orleans. Later, in an interview with television station WDSL, Mayfield said he wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing he didn't do all he could to warn people that this storm was the one everyone in New Orleans had feared for a generation.

Can you imagine? Even after President Bush personally urged that the City of New Orleans be evacuated and even after state officials and hurricane experts pressured the Mayor to evacuate the city - a federal official still had to call the Mayor of New Orleans at his home... the night before the storm hits... to essentially ORDER him to declare a mandatory evacuation of a city that could be buried under up to twenty feet of water?

Again, to repeat - he had to be TOLD to get people out of New Orleans!

Interestingly, only the Miami Herald seems to be covering this story with anything other than AP or Bloomberg wire re-writes - and only the Miami Herald - so far - seems to be covering what may turn out to be the biggest part of the story - how a Mayor fails his city when it needs his leadership most.

Hopefully, there is a recall provision in the New Orleans city charter.

But, the moral here is clear for Los Angeles. The time to prepare for disasters is... now... and not after it is too late.

1 comment:

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...


Thanks for your thought-provoking post. Many of us who labor daily to protect the City of Los Angeles are watching intently and communicating regularly with our public safety colleagues on the Gulf Coast. As you mention, there are indeed many lessons to be learned.

Speaking of learning...

Los Angeles Firefighters strongly encourage local residents to prepare themselves and their loved ones for emergency situations. A great place to start is:

Knowledge is Power!

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

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