As I watch the documentary, Surviving Katrina on the Discovery Channel, I’m impressed that this program shows the flooded buses, that is, the school busses that Mayor Ray Nagin failed to use to evacuate the 100,000 citizens of his city who did not have cars. This is the first time I have seen a non-conservative news/information outlet show a picture of those vehicles, an image of the failure of the New Orlean city government to deal with the hurricane.
In their eagerness to use the Katrina disaster as fodder for their increasingly negative reporting of the Administration, all too many in the MSM neglected numerous facts, like the flooded busses which demonstrate the failure of state and local governments to respond to Katrina. So far, this documentary seems to be the exception to so much I’ve seen in the MSM on Katrina. It makes clear that government officials on all levels blundered in responding to the disaster.
Perhaps, that’s because of the size of the disaster. It was one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history. (I even heard one pundit call it the largest natural disaster in our history.) And given the size of the storm and its impact on one of America’s largest cities, it’s remarkable how well relief officials, at all levels, did. Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) has referenced (e.g., here) a Popular Mechanics report which found that “response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest–and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm’s landfall.“
Contrast the destruction Katrina wrought and that of the Hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in September 1900. A city which then at had 38,000 residents lost between 6,000 and 8,000 people. If New Orleans had lost the same percentage of its citizens, somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 people would have died in that city alone.
That said, there were problems with the evacuation and relief of the city. All too many are all too eager to point the blame at President Bush. During the coverage of the storm, people kept saying that if President Clinton’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, James Lee Witt had been in charge, he would have done a better job of providing relief to the city. Yet, they fail to point out that during his tenure, Mr. Witt never had to confront a natural disaster of the size of Katrina.
And while there is little doubt that Mr. Witt did a fine job, in most cases, his job was made easier by competent local officials. It’s not FEMA’s job to manage disaster relief, but to assist state and local governments who, rather than the federal government, have the “primary responsibilty” to respond to such catastrophes.