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by Brittany Yap, associate editor

 

With all the resources of the United States, Americans still sat night after night watching in horror and disbelief as their fellow Americans died from starvation and dehydration. As Americans, many of us are led to believe we are great and possibly invincible, but Hurricane Katrina reminds us, we are only as great as our leadership.

In the days that followed the hurricane, many victims and rescue workers looked dazed and confused. They were waiting desperately for someone to step up to the plate and say “follow me,” and no one in the federal government did that. From the local level all the way up to George W. Bush, no one could tell who was in charge. Was it FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), was it Mayor Ray Nagin, was it Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, or was it President Bush? For a week we followed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, until we got sick of watching people die, people whose lives could have been saved if only the government had had a plan and a leader to carry it out.

CNN.com, on Sept. 2, stated that more than 7,000 people stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center did not receive food or aid until four days later, when a convoy of military troops brought food. Why did it take so long for authorities to get the information that there were people at the convention center? Why did the media, and therefore the rest of the world, know before FEMA? Was anyone paying attention?

As I write this opinion piece, the local government is still in disagreement with the federal government on whether or not it’s safe for the people of New Orleans to be let back into the city. Can some one please step up. Give these people some leadership, for many have just lost everything and all they want is a straight answer.

The media is not blameless. It focused too much on the looting when the important thing it needed to cover was human lives being lost and where people were stranded and needed help. While some of the looters were opportunistic, many were only taking things they needed to survive: food, water, blankets, toilet paper, and diapers for their babies.

I would have done the same thing. I would have taken food, water, and things for a makeshift shelter from the store. My thought is that “it’s just going to rot or be ruined anyway.”
The lawlessness of the city can be blamed on lack of leadership as well. CBS News, on Sept. 11, reported that nearly a third of the New Orleans police force is unaccounted for, whether they had quit, perished, or are with loved ones. Would they have left if they had good leadership, or if they felt supported by the military and government officials? Even within the police department there was chaos and confusion about their mission. Was it to save those stranded in the flood? Or was it to stop the looting and secure the buildings? There were at least two policemen that committed suicide because they could not deal with the stress, loss of life, and the enormity of the whole situation.


Floods caused by Katrina destoyed homes and cars thoughout New Orleans.
Web Photo

Whenever a natural disaster occurs, one can almost count on the water and power being out. The government should have had troops ready to go in with food, water, and medical supplies, along with volunteers the day after the hurricane hit. What the military does, aside from bringing in medicine, food, and water, is provide a sense of law and order and make residents feel safe and minimize property damage.

As for the sick and elderly people, it is obvious that they can’t move as quickly as the rest of us. The government could have prepared better by making sure there were other hospitals with room nearby that they could have easily been evacuated to. Or maybe, a hospital ship could have followed the storm in, and been right on the Golf Coast to hospitalize and care for them.
The national, state, and local government knew the levees could not withstand more than a category 3 hurricane. All levels of government failed to prepare.

Despite the failures, Americans can take heart at the acts of kindness and selflessness that our country has shown, as well as the acts of courage and bravery the survivors (not refugees) of New Orleans have displayed.

 

 

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