George, my boyfriend, is such a goof! He loves to listen to Meet the Press (our Sunday morning ritual), and critique whom ever Tim Russert is interviewing. This week, Sec’y Chertoff (head of Homeland Security) was the victim. Tim was interviewing him regarding the crisis in New Orleans. George likes to catch people when they get tripped up in their own words, trying to put the blame on someone else:
MR. RUSSERT: People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, “New Orleans Dodged The Bullet,” because if you recall the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by SURPRISE. In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons people didn’t continue to leave after the hurricane had passed initially. So this was clearly an unprecedented catastrophe.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to stay on this because this is very important. You said you were SURPRISED by the levee being broken.
[Describes previous warnings that the levies would break in a category 4-5 hurricane]. There’s a CD which is in your department and the White House has it and the president, and you are saying, “We were surprised that the levees may not hold.” How could this be?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: No, Tim, I have to tell you, that’s not what I said. You have to listen to what I said. What I said was not that WE DIDN’T ANTICIPATE that there’s a possibility the levees will break. What I said is in this storm, what happened is the storm passed and passed without the levees breaking on Monday. Tuesday morning, I opened newspapers and saw headlines that said “New Orleans Dodged The Bullet,” which surprised people. What SURPRISED them was that the levee broke overnight and the next day and, in fact, collapsed. That was a SURPRISE. The only way to avoid a catastrophic problem in that soup bowl is to have people leave before the hurricane hits. Those who got out are fine. Those who stayed in faced one of the most horrible experiences in their life.
MR. RUSSERT: But that’s the point. Those who got out were people with SUVs and automobiles and air fares who could get out. Those who could not get out were the poor who rely on public buses to get out. Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?
SEC’Y CHERTOFF: Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials. That’s why Mike Brown got on TV on Saturday and he told people to start to get out of there.
As a student of Public Administration, I cannot understand the delay in helping these people. Granted, there are those who got out ahead of the storm, but they had the means. The people who were left behind either 1) did not want to leave – were going to ride it out (like my dad does whenever there is a storm); or 2) wanted to leave but couldn’t, due to having no car, money, or a physical or mental disability.
These are the people who the nation saw on television, begging for help…and waiting…and waiting for someone to arrive. If you get a chance, go to Meet the Press online :http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032608/ and click on Meet the Press Podcast. Jefferson Parish President Broussard gave Tim a first hand account of what is still happening in places hit hard by the storm. It was a very emotional, and hart wrenching interview. Please, if you get a chance, check it out…
As of today, many people are out of New Orleans, but they will still have a daunting task ahead of them, along with the rest of the nation. They will need housing, substanance, work, and a feeling of community. I would never have wished what these people have gone through on my worst enemy (not that I have any), but I do hope that we, as a nation, will be able to get together to help them out. I know there is not one section of the country that has a surplus of jobs, or affordable housing, but the communities that these people end of moving into should be more than willing to help them out…their fellow human beings. Because, if a catastrophy was to ever happen to them, I am sure they would more than appreciate the help the people of New Orleans would have provided.
I have some more reading to do…Ciao…