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Written by Vicki Hinze

On September 5, 2005

Warning, this is a no-edit zone…

I’m seeing and hearing finger-pointing on the Hill about slow responses and botched jobs. Some are using the worst disaster in the U.S. as a political opportunity to bad mouth the other guys. Let me just say that we in Hurricane country do not care upon which side of the House you sit, we do NOT appreciate it.

This conduct is not constructive and it does nothing to unite the people devastated, much less the rest of the country. So I appeal to those on the Hill–both sides of it–to knock it off and get your compasionate act together because you’re failing the people you took an oath to serve.

Let’s get a little perspective. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the U.S. and destroyed an area the size of England. Yes, a lot of people suffered and continue to suffer. Yes, many have lost everything, and many of us still have missing family and extended family. Do you realize how vulgar your fingerpointing sounds under these circumstances?

Everyone in the States involved and in professional circles knew this storm was bearing down on New Orleans five days before it hit. Everyone in the States impacted and in professional circles knows that the northeast quadrant takes the hardest hit.

But States have rights. And the federal goverment cannot ignore them. It can advise, it can suggest, it can recommend, but the State must make the calls. So it was with the State of Louisiana, who had an exercise in 2004, Hurricane Pam, in which the city was hit with a Category 5 storm. It was advised on what to do, how to do it, when to do it. It knew what to expect. But the State didn’t make the call five days before the storm. It was asked to make the call 5 days before the storm, but it actually made the call to the federal government 2 days before the storm hit.

Without that call, the federal government was limited in what it could do and it did do. Last Friday, the President declared what was being done unacceptable and took control. Within 24 hours, there were enormous changes on the ground. The Superdome, the Convention Center, the overpass on I-10–all sites of enormous suffering–were empty. Over 3,000 rescues from rooftops had been had. A lot happened in 24 hours. That’s the point.

The federal government has always been extremely reluctant to step on the toes of States. Sometimes it has no choice.

Are there lessons to be learned here? Oh, yes. And they will be. No human being in their right mind wouldn’t want to improve on events that occurred here. In retrospect, I’m sure the governor would have demanded she and her people make the call for help five days from impact, not two. In retrospect, I’m sure the mayor would have sent buses into areas where the poor had no means to evacuate earlier–and he’d have used school buses as well rather than leave them parked. I’m sure both would have taken the lessons learned in the exercise on Hurricane Pam that all communication grids would be out of commission early on and prepositioned satellite communications and eyes on the ground. I’m sure thousands would have made different decisions. And we’ll learn from that.

But right now there are over a million refugees from New Orleans alone and roughly 20% of the city’s population is still in the city. Right now, people are still being rescued–and that’s in Mississippi and rural Alabama, too. Put your focus on that and save your blame. It won’t do a damn thing to save a life or put food in a soul’s stomach.

Remember 9/11. Three sites. Tragic and horrible, yes, and limited in size and scope to three sites. It took time and effort and energy and a lot of money.

Here we have a catastrophe the size of England. It’s going to take time and effort and energy and money, too. A remarkable amount has been accomplished since Friday. If you seriously want what is in the best interests of the people–and if you don’t, why are you in public service–please, focus on solving the problems and not laying blame.

We the people just don’t need the added complications of anyone playing politics. There’s too much work to do on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves. Kindly roll up your sleeves and get to it. There’s a time and place for review and this ain’t it. Handle that after the crisis is over.



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