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Point/counterpoint: Politicizing Hurricane Katrina


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Illustration by Taejun Lim
By Mike Morefield / Michael Huston
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 14, 2005
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A federal failure

The United States has suffered the greatest natural disaster in its history, and the federal government failed the one group of people they have been instituted to protect by the social contract - Americans. After watching people clinging to their roofs for days and sitting in a conference center without being delivered water, "give me your poor, your tired, your hungry" just doesn't ring as true.

The horrifically late and ill-planned federal government response to the hurricane is to blame for the catastrophic loss of life after Katrina and the deficiency of supplies for the hard times ahead.

Hurricane Katrina showed America, and terrorists, that America has changed very little in its response to a catastrophic event. We have created a Department of Homeland Security to help streamline first responders and provide support for catastrophic events, which failed miserably when faced with an actual problem, not a simulation run with coffee breaks.

The federal government failed on many levels, some very big and some very simple. One simple but horribly overlooked problem in the aftermath was that the military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were using different maps to search the city, which left huge sections of New Orleans unchecked.

A failure on a grand scale was the deployment of search and rescue teams. There was a Canadian team on site before an American team was deployed.

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Mike Morefield
Columnist

Days after the disaster a news team asked the now former director of FEMA, Michael Brown, why no supplies had been given to the people dying in the convention center. His response was that he did not know people were in the convention center. The scary aspect of his ignorance is that the federal government, specifically FEMA, told people to seek refuge there only days before the hurricane.

This laggard response is disturbing, considering federal experts predicted the levees would break in the event of a hurricane. If a hurricane has been predicted to kill as many people the population of a small city, Washington should have trucks standing by, biting at the bit to save their citizens.

The argument can be made that the fault lies with the local government, but that is too heavy a responsibility to place on the shoulders of such a small group. Protection from floods, food after disasters, responders ready to winch people from raging waters, this is why taxes are paid; the care of its countrymen is the single greatest responsibility of a federal government, not a fireman from Baton Rouge, La.

After the hurricane, 500 policemen did not come to their posts, which is understandable. You cannot hold a man accountable to come to the aid of others when he has seen his house destroyed, his life washed away into the murky depths of the flood, his family seeking a haven in the attic to stay alive. Agents unaffected by the disaster, federal agents, are who should be relied upon - that is why FEMA and other agencies were created.

The blame can be shuffled from party to party and can be politicized by liberals and conservatives alike, but the true fault of the deplorable effort after Katrina falls on the party that vowed to service those in need and trained accordingly - the federal government.

Mike Morefield is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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Michael Huston
Columnist

Dems wrong to blame Bush

In the wake of the terrible national tragedy that is Hurricane Katrina, the American people have been left with questions about what went wrong and what we must do in the future to be prepared for a large scale disaster, whether from terrorists or from Mother Nature.

After any major crisis, it is important to ask the right questions and evaluate successes and failures. Unfortunately, it seems that Democrats all over America have opted to forgo asking these questions and have instead taken a different approach - blame Bush.

I am sad to see that congressional Democrats have used a terrible national disaster as an opportunity to make political gains and attack the character of the president.

Two days after the hurricane hit, while people were still being pulled from the floodwaters in Mississippi and were still crowded into the convention center in New Orleans, was not an appropriate time for anyone to be issuing blame.

Democrats, however, wasted no time in blaming the president for the worst national tragedy since Sept. 11, and the Arizona Daily Wildcat immediately received letters to the editor arguing that the president failed in his response to the hurricane.

U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even called for the president's resignation and said in a press conference that he was "oblivious" to the situation, this as more resources were being deployed to the area.

While the response of the federal government, and vis--vis the administration, was by no means perfect, many of the allegations against the president are without merit.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a press conference this week that the primary reason military resources were not used to aid those gathered at the convention center in New Orleans immediately following the hurricane was because those resources were still being used to save people from the flood waters all over the Gulf Coast.

The idea that the administration simply ignored the people in need is ridiculous.

It would be more appropriate instead to attribute the failures involved in the response to the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, and the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin.

Louisiana has a state emergency hurricane plan, which provides detailed descriptions of what courses of action should be taken prior to, during and after a hurricane. For reasons the governor has yet to explain, this emergency plan was ignored almost in its entirety, a move that undoubtedly cost lives.

The public should be outraged to see the pictures of more than 100 flooded school buses in New Orleans, valuable tools that could have easily been used to evacuate people from the city before Katrina hit, but Mr. Nagin has yet to explain why these buses were allowed to be destroyed instead of used to save lives.

Once we have control of the situation in the Gulf Coast, it will of course be necessary to evaluate what went wrong at every level of the response, but those who used this disaster to take cheap shots at the president are both incorrect and irresponsible.

Michael Huston is a political science sophomore. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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