Bush Administration / George W. Bush Legacy

Ten Things to Remember On the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

1. Katrina Was the Largest and 3rd Strongest Hurricane to Hit the U.S.

With a final death toll of 1836, it also was the third deadliest.

An estimated 80% of New Orleans was under water, up to 20 ft deep in places.

Hurricane Katrina caused $81 billion in property damages, but it is estimated that the total economic impact in Louisiana and Mississippi may exceed $150 billion, earning the title of costliest hurricane ever in US history.

2.  The Risk for Catastrophe Was Known

In New Orleans, the levees were designed for Category 3, but Katrina peaked at a Category 5 hurricane, with winds up to 175 mph.  In January 2005, PBS’ Nova ScienceNow did a segment on the potentially devastating impact a major hurricane would have on New Orleans.  They predicted the failure of the levies, the swamping of the city, the failure of the eroded wetlands to soften the blow.

I had heard a similar report on NPR, so as Katrina approached New Orleans I was checking its progress daily knowing the potential for disaster that existed.  Apparently the same was not happening on Pennsylvania Avenue.

3.  Katrina Was An International Embarrassment

More than 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane. Kuwait made the largest single pledge of $500 million, but Qatar, India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh made very large donations as well.

Canada and Mexico sent troops to help in the search and relief efforts.

4.  The Bush Administration Played Politics With Relief Efforts

From Politico:

FEMA Director Michael Brown, who resigned over his handling of the response, later told a group of students that the White House only wanted to federalize the response in Louisiana, where the governor was a Democrat, and not in Republican-led Mississippi in order to embarrass Louisiana officials. Brown said the White House believed they had a chance to “rub [Kathleen Blanco’s] nose in it.” The Bush administration denied political considerations played a role in the response.

The federal government didn’t waive the Stafford Act, which requires localities to contribute 10 percent of the cost of reconstruction and clean-up projects, until May. It was quickly waived after both Sept. 11 and Hurricane Andrew.

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff flew to Atlanta for a briefing on the avian flu, and President George W. Bush later said he thought New Orleans had dodged a bullet. In fact, the White House had been informed the night before that levees in New Orleans had broken and the city was flooding.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s office called a Mississippi electricity cooperative and ordered repair crews to restore power to a pipeline sending oil and gas to the northeast, delaying the restoration of power to two rural hospitals.

From Vox:

After the response to Katrina proved to be its own kind of unmitigated disaster, the Bush administration attempted to shift some of the blame to local and state officials — particularly Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Some media outlets, going by information from administration officials, claimed Blanco didn’t declare a state of emergency.

In fact, Horne noted in the Washington Post, Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26 — a day before Mississippi and the White House did, and three days before the storm made landfall. And while President George W. Bush vacationed in Texas as the storm hit, Blanco pleaded for the administration to send more aid. At one point, the Louisiana National Guard asked FEMA for 700 buses — but, days later, the agency sent only 100, and it took a week to evacuate flood survivors.

5.  Elections Matter – FEMA Under Clinton/Obama v Bush 41 and Bush 43

The biggest lie of the 2000 election was Ralph Nader’s statement that it makes no difference which party wins as there will be little difference in the results (a falsehood that has resurfaced once again).  It is the most ignorant thing Nader has said because anyone who has spent any time in Washington knows that Republicans and Democrats have fundamental different approaches and philosophies about government.  Add Katrina to Iraq, Justices Roberts and Alito and others on the long list we can thank Citizen Ralph for.

  • President Bush 41:  Loaded FEMA with political appointees (ten times more than other agencies) and response effort to Hurricane Andrew may have tipped Florida to Clinton in the 1992 election.From Washington Monthly:

Rarely had the failure of the federal government been so apparent and so acute. On August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew leveled a 50-mile swath across southern Florida, leaving nearly 200,000 residents homeless and 1.3 million without electricity. Food, clean water, shelter, and medical assistance were scarce. Yet, for the first three days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for coordinating federal disaster relief, was nowhere to be found.

  • President Bush 43:  Appoints Joe Allbaugh, his 2000 campaign manager, to head FEMA who seeks to downsize and privatize its functions. Allbaugh believed in downgrading FEMA to “restore the predominant role of State and local response to most disasters.  He is followed by the hapless Michael Brown, who claims President Bush turned a deaf ear to emergency preparedness.

  • President Clinton: Elevates FEMA to Cabinet level and appoints James Witt, former head of Arkansas Office of Emergency Services, as head of FEMA.  He is the first FEMA head with direct experience in emergency preparedness.From Washington Monthly:

[Witt is credited with transforming FEMA] from what many considered to be the worst federal agency (no small distinction) to among the best is the most dramatic success story of the federal government in recent years.

  • President Obama:  Appoints Craig Fugate, Florida’s state emergency management director, as head of FEMA.From Mother Jones:

Fugate immediately revives FEMA, receiving widespread praise for the agency’s handling of the devastating tornadoes that ripped across seven Southern states in 2011.

6  President Bush Never Recovered From Katrina

President Bush’s response to Katrina would damage his administration for the remainder of his term.  His approval rating fell to 41% and would never rise above 42% after.

From CBS News

After Katrina, only 32% expressed a lot of confidence in George W. Bush’s ability to handle a crisis – down from 64% just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. . . .

And Katrina deeply cut into public perception of his leadership. 81% said he had strong qualities of leadership after 9/11, 64% of registered voters said so in the fall of 2004. But that fell to just 48% after Katrina and has stayed under 50% ever since.

7.  Katrina Paved The Way for Pets to be Included in Emergency Relief

The Katrina catastrophe led to passage of the PETS Act which gave FEMA authority to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for people with household pets and service animals as well as the animals themselves in the case of a major disaster or emergency.

From Fusion:

Tom Lantos, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California at the time of Katrina and co-sponsor of the PETS Act said that “the scene from New Orleans of a 9-year-old little boy crying because he was not allowed to take his little white dog Snowball was too much to bear.” Watching the hearbreaking choices that Gulf residents had to make when it came to their pets moved him “to find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.”

According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, approximately 600,000 pets were either killed or abandoned as a result of Hurrican Katrina or its aftereffects.

8.  New Orleans and Other Cities Remain at Risk to Levee Failure

Even with substantial improvements, as a city that has substantial portions below sea level New Orleans remains at risk to a serious hurricane.  New Orleans is not alone, as with levees being part of the nation’s overall decaying infrastructure, more and more are at risk.  Experts fear that the next Katrina could be inland in Sacramento which would have a devastating impact on all of Northern California.

From Think Progress

While the levee infrastructure is in grim shape in many parts of the country, multiple experts point to Sacramento and the unique geographic, seismologic, and economic factors that put it at even greater risk than the Gulf Coast.

“The levee situation was worse than New Orleans in Sacramento before Katrina. Now it’s of course worse,” said Robert Verchick, Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans and a former EPA deputy associate administrator, who calls the aging flood-control system “a monstrous accident waiting to happen.”

“Ruptures of the levees would swamp Sacramento and places like San Francisco wouldn’t have water for weeks. That’s what keeps me up at night, thinking about those kinds of problems,” he said. . . .

While the levee infrastructure is in grim shape in many parts of the country, multiple experts point to Sacramento and the unique geographic, seismologic, and economic factors that put it at even greater risk than the Gulf Coast.

9.  If You Haven’t Seen Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts“, You Should

The documentary was screened at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 31 and September 1, 2006. It won the Orizzonti Documentary Prize and one of two FIPRESCIawards. In addition, it was shown at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival on September 15 and September 16, 2006. It won three awards at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards and received a Peabody Award.

10.  New Orleans Is Still Recovering

From Vox:

A decade after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans metro area still hasn’t recovered from the storm. Although the area has grown since 2006, it holds 134,000 fewer residents, more than 39,000 fewer housing units, and nearly 2,000 fewer business establishments since Katrina hit. Again, much of this damage was likely unavoidable in the face of a storm as strong as Katrina — but the harms could have been at least mitigated by better government preparation and a stronger response, based on the many reports that have reviewed the situation since Katrina.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which on Aug. 29 made landfall on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, La. Levee failures and an enormous storm surge resulted in the flooding of much of the city. LiveScience takes a look at wha