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Repeating systemic faults of Katrina in Rita


Part 1

Katrina as an "incident of national significance" puts the lie to DHS scenario planning for terrorist event preparation was harsh in its assessment and I do not see sufficient improvement in the preparation for Rita.

In an attempt to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of Katrina (here, here and here) that left local authorities and police with little choice but to break the law in order to do their job, FEMA calls for mass evacuations from threatened coastal areas. With an estimated 1.8 million or more Texas and Louisiana residents under evacuation orders, hundreds of thousands of Houston residents attempted to move inland, primarily north and west, in what quickly became mass gridlock crawling at 'hours per mile' instead of miles per hour. Apparently no one thought of the secondary and tertiary effects of setting such mass flight in progress. The obvious outcome was seemingly overlooked:

Traffic is now moving at a crawl when it moves at all and some people have run out of gas after having been on the road for 12 to 24 hours. There is now almost no gas left anywhere in the city… Emergency workers are doing what they can to reach those stranded people and move them to emergency shelter or at least give them a little gas to get them a few more miles down the highway...

Drivers ran out of gas or looked in vain for a place to stay as hotels hundreds of miles away filled up.

Authorities including FEMA called for a form of 'aerial refueling' to move petrol out to the thousands of stalled vehicles which block traffic but there are no assets available or preparations capable of delivering fuel. The solution is left to buses carrying water for the motorists and evacuating those who wish to leave their vehicles, but they are also blocked by traffic and must attempt transit along the medians and an as-to-be-defined fueling system:

"There is refueling on the way. We do not know when that refueling capacity will arrive," Houston Mayor Bill White said. "We have deployed, through combined law enforcement, HPD, METRO, sheriff and the resources of METRO, a plan to provide buses with water and possible evacuation. They will be going along some of the major evacuation corridors to assist citizens. We know you're out there. We know you're concerned."

Of course, local authorities have been in contact with "state emergency management" and have been told that "fuel for the stations along the way is in route." There is no timetable for those fuel trucks. Take it from one who has weathered his share of hurricanes, a roadside vehicle exposed to storm winds and local flooding is not a good place to be.

The traffic is so great and the support structure for people and vehicles so stressed that residents not now in evacuation zones are being told not to evacuate:

"Given the conditions of the roads, and the changes in the storm, if you have not left (by 7 p.m. Thursday), the time for leaving your home, if you're not in the A or the B zone, the time for leaving your home has passed."

Texas city, county and state officials implemented contraflow lanes in an attempt to help "ease the massive congestion for motorists heading out of town." I take note that "this is the first time the state has ever taken such a step [and that] the plan is an improvisation and has never been part of the state's emergency plan."

So much for scenario planning.

It should be increasingly clear to readers that the unspoken rule of disaster planning is constant, that the poorest are dismissed from disaster evacuation. It is simply too expensive and exhaustive to evacuate those that have fallen off the social grid. Just as with the poor in New Orleans, so it is with Galveston, Texas, that despite added preparations at the state and FEMA levels, the poor and impoverished are being left behind.

There will be those that lay all the blame to race; it is after all a major contributor and it is so visually easy to identify and then generalize. The problem is that is all the poor regardless of color. Too many forget that there are more Caucasian poor in the US than Negro poor, although the percentage of poor among Blacks is greater than among Whites.

Years ago, in the 1960s, I had some Venezuelan guests who asked me what for them was a trick question for US nationals: "Do you have any peasants in America?" I answered, "Yes, of course." Taken aback, they said that I was the first US national that had said yes, much less said yes without hesitation. If one spends any time in the south or in Appalachia, and is honest about what he or she sees, it is easy to answer yes to the peasant question. The impoverished Whites were called White Trash and the only differentiator to their equally poor black peers was skin color.

The poor will always be left behind. They will attempt to survive and problems will stem from that attempt.

The situation was little better on the high end as Gulf Coast residents fleeing Rita overran Houston's major airports, Hobby and Bush Intercontinental, seeking to get out on a flight without reservations and, failing that, use the airport as a storm shelter, a purpose for which the facilities were not designed.

The throng created traffic bottlenecks exacerbated by greatly reduced numbers of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees and screeners who did not or could not get to their stations. (Passenger flights from both airports were expected to stop by noon on Friday but both airports will remain open to civilian and military recovery efforts.)

While it adds yet another burden to our serving military, I am of the opinion that the armed services are one of the few, if not the only, entity capable of dealing with these catastrophes and that many civilians and their appalling planning should stand aside. That we have come to designate 3-star serving military as the Principal Federal Officer (PFO), the senior official responsible for all Federal recovery efforts, FEMA included, as Vice Admiral Allen, the Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard, is doing in New Orleans, is such a tacit admission.

It is useful to read the 15 September report of Capt. Walley, the Executive Officer (XO) of the Iwo Jima now berthed at New Orleans, as well as the three notes of her commander, Capt. Rich Callas, for 6, 7, 8 September. (Callas' note of 6 Sept is circulating widely but I think that Walley's note and Callas' two other notes are more valuable.)

Our civilian disaster defense planners do not come off well in comparison.

Part 3

Rita Forces Mass Exodus From Texas, La.
By Sylvia Moreno, Blaine Harden and William Branigin
Washington Post
September 22, 2005; 5:42 PM

Water, Buses Headed To Thousands Stranded In Traffic
KPRC/Click2Houston and Associated Press
POSTED: 7:17 am CDT September 22, 2005
UPDATED: 8:35 pm CDT September 22, 2005

No Way Out: Tears, Anger As Some Try To Flee, Others Stuck
Associated Press
POSTED: 5:26 pm CDT September 22, 2005

Evacuees Jam Houston Airports
Associated Press
POSTED: 5:09 pm CDT September 22, 2005
UPDATED: 6:05 pm CDT September 22, 2005

By Hook or by Crook, Surviving Storm
Miss. Officials Used Ingenuity -- and the Occasional Misdeed -- to Get Job Done
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post
September 19, 2005

Lack of Cohesion Bedevils Recovery
Red Tape, Lapses in Planning Stall Relief
By Shankar Vedantam and Dean Starkman
Washington Post
September 18, 2005

FEMA, Slow to the Rescue, Now Stumbles in Aid Effort
New York Times
September 17, 2005

After Failures, Government Officials Play Blame Game
New York Times
September 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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