They order these things better in Cuba; there, evacuation means that everybody leaves, down to dogs and cats:
they have family doctors in cuba (!), who evacuate together with the neighborhood, and already know who, for example, needs insulin.
they also have veterinarians and they evacuate animals. they begin evacuating immediately, and also evacuate TV sets and refrigerators, so that people aren’t relucatant to leave because people might steal their stuff.
(The ‘(!)’ isn’t mine; I don’t know what’s funny about the idea of Cubans having family doctors.) Perhaps this isn’t a great source evidentially – the speaker is talking about how things work in general – but it is borne out by the Red Cross in this story from 2002:
Hurricanes Isidore and Lili battered the whole country, especially the tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Río and the nearby Isla de la Juventud, causing widespread devastation.Cristina Estrada, a regional spokeswoman for the Red Cross, told BBC News Online that only the country’s prompt and well-organised evacuation procedures ensured no-one was killed.
“In any other country in the region it would have been a disaster in terms of loss of life,” she said.
In any other country in the region, indeed.
Going back a bit further, in 1974 they ordered these things better in Australia. As Brian notes, Cyclone Tracy passed through Darwin on Christmas Day(!) 1974. The result was the effective destruction of 70% of the buildings in the town – and a death toll of 65, or slightly more than 0.1% of the pre-cyclone population. (‘Pre-cyclone’, because all but 10,000 of the population were evacuated, and many of them decided not to come back. Understandably, perhaps – apart from anything else, do you know where Darwin is?)
What happened in New Orleans wasn’t much like either the Cuban system or the Darwin experience. On Saturday 27th August the city authorities issued a mandatory [sic] evacuation order, which was followed by many (most?) of those able to do so. For those who remained behind, the city laid on buses – which transported them, by the thousand, to assembly points within the city and left them there. Once inside what were effectively internment camps, the people of New Orleans were treated like internees everywhere – which is to say, like cattle (and not very highly-valued cattle at that). Water, food, sanitation, shelter and medicine were supplied haphazardly or not at all. No one was allowed out of the camps: locals who had survived unscathed offered to take people away in their cars but were told to stay away; survivors who could have walked out of the city were told to stay put. When buses out of the city finally came, survivors were not told where they were going until they’d got on one – nor, almost incredibly, were they allowed to get off a bus before it reached its destination.
The city at large, meanwhile, was effectively written off – far more decisively than seemed to be justified by the outbreaks of gang violence, as alarming as those were. My immediate reaction to those pictures of stranded survivors, waving from balconies and roofs as TV crews passed overhead, was to imagine similar scenes in Britain. And there my imagination failed me: I couldn’t picture that scene without adding a boat of some sort, crewed by concerned neighbours or the RNLI or Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance or the WRVS or the local Rotary Club… If disaster struck a British city, I thought, surely there’d be half a dozen charities and voluntary organisations and ad hoc committees lining up to help, even before the flood waters began to subside. What had happened to civil society over there? I still don’t know if the St John’s Ambulance and the WRVS have any US equivalent, but as it turns out that’s not really the point. What had happened was that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been approached by several hundred locals who wanted to rescue survivors using their boats, and they had turned them away. FEMA had also refused to permit external agencies to enter the city – the American Red Cross included – on the grounds that their presence in the city would slow down the evacuation. They had also refused… but I won’t go through the list; you can see it here. The long and the short of it was, the city was locked down, and locked down it would stay – whatever the immediate cost to the inhabitants of the city. In the context of a disaster recovery operation, this order of priorities seems odd, to say the least.
If all this is hard to understand, the personal interventions of George W. Bush beggar belief. He visited New Orleans on the 3rd of September – by which time evacuations were, finally, proceeding; his presence promptly halted food distribution for several hours, by imposing a no-fly zone. More culpably, he had relief and rebuilding work started for his media appearances – and halted afterwards. The story of a Potemkin food stall in New Orleans which has been circulating seems to be unfounded (thanks to Chris (in comments) for the nudge). What has been reported on German TV – the video is here (from about 3:20) – is a sudden outbreak of ground-clearing and construction work when Bush and his media crew visited Biloxi. The workers downed tools after Bush left; it was all done for the cameras. But the Biloxi charade was no more than a missed opportunity to do something more constructive – the workers had been clearing an area where nobody had actually lived before the hurricane. More seriously, vital repair work in New Orleans was started for the President’s benefit – and stopped when he no longer needed it. Also via Kos, here’s Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, writing on 3rd September:
perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.
Paul Krugman, writing on September 1st, sums up:
Katrina hit five days ago – and it was already clear by last Friday [26th August] that Katrina could do immense damage along the Gulf Coast. Yet the response you’d expect from an advanced country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help – and help wasn’t provided.
Something’s going on. Or rather, something’s going wrong – really horribly wrong. Jamie nails the mood:
So the hurricane strikes and all of us foreigners watch the footage on the news with concern but without much anxiety. It’s just a matter of time before can-do America rolls up its sleeves and cleans up the mess, right? Time goes by and then the Mayor of New Orleans pops up on the BBC talking about bodies floating down the streets and suddenly the estimate of deaths goes up into the thousands. It’s like watching someone jump out of an aeroplane and slowly realising that that person does not, in fact, have a parachute.
There’s something weirdly soviet about all this. We’re seeing this immensely powerful country which has somehow stopped working. There’s sand in the joints and the parts don’t fit together properly. There’s a general air of sluggishness and fatalism. No-one in authority seems to know what to do about anything, or if they do, they don’t have the resources. The president looks on with vague stupefaction as bits drop off and float away.
As for what‘s going wrong, well, I’ve got a theory. Two theories, actually, and I’m not sure yet whether they fit together. I’ll let you know when I find out. Tune in tomorrow ect ect ect.