Friday, September 9, 2005

The city of New Orleans followed virtually no aspect of its own emergency management plan in the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans officials also failed to implement most federal guidelines, which stated that the Superdome was not a safe shelter for thousands of residents.

The official “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan” states that the mayor can call for a mandatory citywide evacuation, but the Louisiana governor alone is given the power to carry out the evacuation, which Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has yet to do. She “begged” people to leave before the storm and is still asking the few thousand holdouts to evacuate the flooded city.

Small-scale evacuations, according to the plan, are to be handled under the standard operation plans of city firefighters and police officers.

“However, due to the sheer size and number of persons to be evacuated, should a major tropical weather system or other catastrophic event threaten or impact the area, specifically directed long-range planning and coordination of resources and responsibilities must be undertaken,” the New Orleans plan says.

The plan does not say how such an evacuation should be executed, but states that a full evacuation of the city would take 72 hours, and that the city knows that there are “approximately 100,000 citizens of New Orleans [who] do not have means of personal transportation.”

The guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has little jurisdiction to act on its own but is designed to work with local authorities, suggests that local evacuation plans “coordinate the use of school buses and drivers to support evacuation efforts.”

Neither New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin nor Mrs. Blanco ordered buses to take people out of the city before the storm. Two days after the storm hit, the governor issued an order for buses to roll, but by then hundreds of buses in New Orleans were underwater and useless.

Both the mayor and the governor asked residents who couldn’t evacuate themselves to go to the Superdome, which in the days after the storm was a scene of chaos and violence as it became an island in a submerged city.

Former FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh told Fox News last week that when he headed the agency, he refused to allow the Superdome to be used as a shelter during hurricanes. The city, however, ignored FEMA guidelines that designated “supershelters” should be located outside of floodplains and outside of Category 4 storm-surge zones.

FEMA has been harshly criticized by Democrats in Congress, who have demanded that Director Michael D. Brown resign. But FEMA was in place as the storm approached and the Louisiana National Guard delivered seven trailers with food and water Aug. 29 and another seven truckloads on Aug. 30 to the Superdome to help feed the 25,000 people inside.

Confusion reigned in Katrina’s aftermath. A state-of-the-art mobile hospital developed with Homeland Security grants to respond to disasters and staffed by 100 doctors and paramedics was left stranded in Mississippi because Louisiana officials would not let it deploy to New Orleans.

Red Cross officials say the organization was well positioned to provide food, water and hygiene products to the thousands stranded in New Orleans. But the state refused to let them deliver the aid.

“Access to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities, and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders,” the Red Cross said last week on its Web site.

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