It's A Quagmire
Today while watching CNN, I saw a guy who was sitting on the lawn in front of his house in New Orleans, complaining that his two neighbors' corpses were in the apartment next to him, nobody had come to get the bodies, and FEMA hadn't brought him any food yet. Equally astonishing, I've seen a number of complaints from liberals looking for an opportunity to condemn Bush along the same lines: "Why aren't they sending the military in, all of it
? Why aren't we airdropping food and water into the city? Why isn't the city filled with small boats trying to rescue trapped people? Why not send dozens of helicopters to try to plug the levee? Why aren't we doing more to save
New Orleans? Don't we have a giant watervac to clean it up in one big slurp? Didn't they plan
for this?" It goes on and on, and often there are bizarre conspiracy theories to explain it, so let me put it bluntly:
Years ago, when I was in school, I was invited to participate in a think-tank type of workshop at SIU on a similar scenario for Southern Illinois if the New Madrid were to blow and turn this joint into a sandbox. You know what we found? That we were screwed
. There was no way to plan ourselves out of the worst-case-scenario. That, as it turned out, was the point of the exercise: To impress upon us that there was no Batman, there was no Superman, and that if the earthquake hit, with hundreds of thousands of people spread out across dozens of devastated towns, it would take days, at a bare minimum, before anyone could reach us, and that we had to take this threat seriously and convey to others the importance of preparing for the disaster, having a bugout kit, being at least moderately prepared for a survival situation. (Instapundit
defines "moderately prepared" well: "If you've got a week's supplies, and a gun, you'll usually do okay after a disaster. If you don't, you're in much bigger trouble...") Same rule applies here.
New Orleans is not going to be "saved". It's not possible. It's Atlantis. This is a disaster on an unprecedented scale, the kind of comic-book catastrophe like a major shift in the New Madrid, the La Palma tsunami, the Yellowstone caldera, or a significant meteor shattering over a major city and creating a firestorm that no society has the resources to really "shield" a city from and that no society has the technology to magically "fix" in the aftermath. For all intents and purposes, this may as well have been a nuclear meltdown. Nature is history's greatest monster, and when it decides to go on a killing spree, even the most powerful superpower in human history is simply incapable of fighting back. Nothing within the scope of our imagination can make New Orleans a habitable place right now.
It's a city
. It's huge, and there aren't enough dig crews, dive teams, and SAR-capable helicopters in all of the Southland (especially after Katrina obliterated a significant portion of them), maybe in all the United States to attempt to excavate or search each of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of flooded, crushed structures across the city and, worse yet, across the wider devastated area along the Gulf Coast, much of which has been smashed into toothpicks.
There are 125,000 National Guardsmen activated and ready to go, 30,000 being mobilized, but they can't realistically secure the city, because there isn't much of a city to secure. What are they going to do? Guard abandoned grocery stores in a deadzone from the hungry? Shoot looters and create more dead? End up in a street battle with people desperate to take their supplies? For what? For that matter, what about the logistics of a major deployment into the city? Anybody who attempts to get into the worst parts of the city are just as likely to end up needing to be rescued themselves.
As for plugging the levee, they tried, and it didn't work. These things were only engineered, like the Superdome, for Category 3 storms, and are devastated. You can't NERF the world, and you can't engineer every city to be a concrete bunker. There are other ideas being worked on but with other breaks in the levee already opened up and the lake continuing to rise
from rainwater runoff, the water will almost certainly rise to the level of Lake Pontchartrain. In all likelyhood, nothing, to quote a dying Darth Vader, can stop that now. The dozens of helicopters diverted to try to bomb the levee with sand are better tasked trying to save lives. The city is water-logged, and a huge portion of the structures in it can't be saved. This job is too big for ServiceMaster: You can't set up a dehumidifier in the basement, come back in a week and start moving your furniture back in.
Which brings us to the other issue: People can't live there. There are, incredibly, still people insisting they won't leave, but they're as out of their minds as they surely had to be to stay in the city in the first place. As was mentioned earlier, the vast scale of the flooded area and the completely destroyed infrastructure means that effective relief is impossible. Even if the capability did
exist to somehow bypass the massive logistical challenges and try to feed and supply these people, they would die there
. The place is a deathtrap, filled with desperate predators, swarming pests, and rotting corpses. The floodwater is so laden with chemicals that it could actually burst into flames
, like the old Cuyahoga River. Plagues that we have not thought about for generations may rage down there. There's nothing we can bring these people that will make it safe for them to stay in there in the coming months, and a lot of people don't seem to understand that. Bush can't fly down, wave his hands and part Lake Pontchartrain like Moses through the Red Sea. The situation is simply too vast to be effectively relieved.
One of New Orleans' airports is partially open to accept relief flights, but that relief isn't meant to "save" the city, it's meant to help get people out. All that people who stayed in the city can do now is salvage their valuables as best they can and leave
. Whether they drive or climb or swim or walk, that's it. It means clawing out of the crater that was once their city as and facing the reality that it will probably take so long to make much of New Orleans habitable again that many people will simply have to begin new lives in new cities because even if the city is "open" again relatively soon, it's going to take a long, long time to restore housing and employment. Restoring the port is the first of many, many steps in that process. (Ships are currently backed up at St. Louis, with the Mississippi River effectively closed from Cape Girardeau south.)
Search-and-rescue crews are doing everything they can, but the situation is as stable as it's going to get: Most of the people who were in imminent danger are simply already dead, and nothing could've pulled them out in time once they decided to ride out the storm instead of seeking out a shelter. We could fill the sky with so many helicopters that they bump into each other, but in the end, the dead are dead. In reality, there are only so many SAR-capable helicopters available, and more are on the way, but the helicopter crews on site are covering the city as rapidly as they can and finding anyone who flags them down. Over 3,000 have been rescued so far. Rescue efforts have to focus on getting as many people out of the city alive as possible, and every other concern diverts resources from that.
Right now, the biggest thing that can be done is getting the tens of thousands of people in New Orleans shelters out, and that's exactly what they're trying to do. They have to go first to lift the burden of caring for them from people who need to be working to help people stranded outside the shelters. Meanwhile, plenty of people are finding their own ways out
, as makeshift convoys of people show up in their own cars (or abandoned cars that they "liberated" from New Orleans) at the Astrodome in Houston only to find out that the Astrodome is only accepting refugees from the Superdome. In fact, the first bus to show up showed up yesterday
, an Orleans Parish school bus
driven by a 20-year-old that had apparently been commandeered/stolen by people trapped in the city and driven out. New shelters are being set up for the people who can't get into the Astrodome.
Hindsight is 20/20, and we've never done this before. It's an absolutely unreasonable standard to see every obstacle as some kind of damning "failure". Everyone who gets out of that city alive is a victory. We can learn from this and try to plan better in the future, but it will happen again to another city somewhere in the world, someday and the situation will be just as helpless and desperate then, too. This, folks, is as good as it's going to get. It's an absolutely horrible situation, but that's why it's called a "disaster". It sucks
. Until there's supply lines and emergency infrastructure in place outside the city, the earlier establishment of which was prevented by the presence of a category five hurricane
, there's no way to support major work inside the city.Update:
LA Cowboy touches on something I hadn't really wanted to broach
During the last interview with the Mayor - I did not hear one word of ANY plan for the people who can not drive to get out of New Orleans. I assume there are some on the ground plans, but they certainly are not being adequately communicated to the press,
And just now a WDSU reporter is reporting seeing kids, as young as six and seven year old - on their own - with all their belongings in a plastic bag - begging drivers to take them out of the city. And when his news team left on the one bridge still open, there saw a line of the very old and the very young - people in wheel chairs - even more incredible - people being pushed on hospital gurneys - fleeing for their lives over the last bridge out of New Orleans.
We should all be asking - after all this time - why have buses and trucks not been commandeered to get the poor out of the city?
Why are the residents of New Orleans not being told HOW to get out of the city instead of just being told that they must get out of the city?
Unfortunately, that's because the answer is "walk", and if you can't, you have a huge problem. The buses and trucks are taking people out of the Superdome and other shelters, the people who didn't seek shelter will have to come later. That's the reality now.
I'm not ready to jump on Nagin just yet. (See? I can be bipartisan.) Certainly, it would've been impractical to launch a massive project like that in the days before the storm, when the threat might not have materialized at all, and unfortunately, a large part of the resources that might be used now have been wiped out. At this point, in the aftermath, I think Nagin is pretty helpless, and unfortunately, while they try to figure this problem out, downtown New Orleans, such as it is, is turning into Mogadishu, with armed gangs of looters in boats roaming the streets-turned-canals. This problem would be solved if they can remove everyone from the city, but to do that, they need a facility to remove the fools who have no intention of leaving. That takes us back to what I wrote above: Trying to get anyone in to do it
presents a whole array of new problems. Perhaps the Louisiana National Guard should consider some helicopter gunship patrols, which would also provide some of the searching in search-and-rescue and effectively, uh, deter certain types of activity, until that can be worked out.Update: Glenn Reynolds
is doing a carnival of hurricane charity, I'm going to suggest using the Wal-Mart website
to give to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. (Regular readers know not to give money to the International Red Cross). Wal-Mart has also set up an internet database to communicate with friends and family if you're either in an affected area or trying to find someone who is, you can search it or post to it here
. Soldier's Angels has also set up a special charity to help servicepeople returning home to the area
. Craigslist New Orleans has a list of housing available
if any of you are feeling like offering up space. Paul at Wizbangblog is in the middle of the action
, and is seeking donations so that he can help displaced people directly, and, frankly, try to help his own family, too. If you know Paul and are comfortable helping him help out, drop by.Update:
Remember how I said I wasn't ready to jump on Nagin yet
? Yeah, about that...
Actually, it's more of a jump on Blanco, but I doubt Nagin's backstory is going to blow me away when it comes to light on this one, either.