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While we are still chattering about Hurricane Harvey and keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma, I saw a couple of comments that are worth a follow-up post of its own.
You all remember how we watched the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and how we all saw the fleet of schoolbuses that were inundated instead of serving to evacuate the City. Evidently, those pictures were very memorable, but not nearly as memorable as the actual narrative of events. There is plenty to fault the City of New Orleans for, and especially there fault to be laid at the feet of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco, but I do not fault them for the schoolbuses.
Evacuating a big city is a huge problem. Especially so for New Orleans, since there are not many highway evacuation routes available. The likelihood is that an evacuation would cause lots of traffic crash deaths and lead to a politician becoming a laughingstock if the hurricane does not turn out to be so damaging as the weather forecasters had made it out to be. Everyone over 50 on the coast remembers occasions when they were told to evacuate, decided not to, and then experienced a bad storm that had not warranted evacuation.
In the case of Katrina, the National Hurricane Center started the warnings about a week ahead, and the fear that New Orleans would get clobbered was talked about all week. By Friday, the path looked like the storm would pass New Orleans to the east. No evacuation order was issued. The National Hurricane Center then started sounding the extra-high alarm warnings on Saturday, because the storm intensified just before hitting the coast. Mayor Nagin ordered a voluntary evacuation. A couple of hours later he called it a mandatory evacuation. Well, that was too late to corral the schoolbus drivers and implement an evacuation; the drivers and their supervisors were off for the weekend, and some of them had evacuated already.
The storm did pass to the east of New Orleans on Sunday. It made a direct hit that scrubbed Waveland, MS off the map and wrecked the coast of Gulfport and Biloxi. On Monday morning the news was “New Orleans was spared, but the Mississippi Coast got hammered.” Many people expected New Orleans to spend a few days cleaning up and then get back to normal. It wasn’t until late on Monday that it became clear that the floodwalls could not be shored up and would not hold. It wasn’t until Tuesday at midday that New Orleans was flooded. There was no way that there could have been an orderly evacuation on Monday night.
So I don’t think the schoolbuses should be pointed to as evidence of malfeasance. Rather, the malfeasance was slowness to recognize the severity of the situation. The malfeasance was in years of failing to address known shortcomings of the floodwalls and levees. The malfeasance was in shortcuts taken in the initial floodwall construction. The malfeasance was in developing emergency plans that were set on the shelf and ignored instead of being used for training, which was their purpose.
To me, the key thing that came out of Katrina was the exposure of the mass media. They had become full partisans, approvingly providing airtime to celebrities who said “New Orleans flooded because Bush hates black people.” They hid the faults of the Democrat machine in Louisiana and accused FEMA under Bush of being too slow to do stuff that had never been part of FEMA’s purview. Mass media used Katrina to pivot to full anti-Bush campaign mode, and they have only become worse Leftist advocates over the years since then.