New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Response

Statement from United for Peace and Justice
Sept. 2, 2005

The effects of Katrina are tragic, causing death, the disruption of lives, and the loss of property on an unimaginable scale. Although Katrina was a natural catastrophe, its effects were largely avoidable and parallel another tragedy unfolding daily near another Gulf, 7000 miles away. Both disasters flow from the criminal behavior of the Bush administration and are closely related. Much can be said about how long-term policies -- from denying the existence of global warming to permitting greedy developers to destroy protective offshore islands and wetlands -- may have contributed to the severity of Katrina. But now there are more immediate concerns.

FEMA and President Bush have failed to provide timely aid for the poorest people of New Orleans. They had no way to escape. They have been virtually abandoned for days in waist-deep polluted water, the Convention Center, or the Superdome, sharing space with the already dead, surrounded by stinking garbage and human waste, without potable water, food, or medical care.

This reminds us of Iraq, where the infrastructure has been destroyed by blockade and war causing people to endure sweltering heat, without electricity, medical care and jobs. Both disasters were predicted. Numerous studies anticipated that a major hurricane could flood New Orleans, while many predicted that the invasion of Iraq would punish millions of innocents, bringing resistance and possibly civil war. However, these studies were ignored by federal administrations, hell-bent on domination and profit.

In both the Persian and American gulfs, the poorest people suffer most. In both places, people of color are neglected and brutalized by racist policies. This ugliness is reflected in graphic images of neglect that come bursting daily from the TV screens. People desperate for necessities are now criminalized as looters. The New Orleans police were ordered to stop rescue efforts and instead protect property, and the National Guard has been given "shoot to kill" orders.

The war in the Persian Gulf impacts directly on the unfolding catastrophe in our Southern states. Budgets for flood control, strengthening the levees, evacuation, and relief have been inadequate and have actually been reduced. Last year $71 million was cut from the budget for flood control in New Orleans alone. Meanwhile more than $200 billion has been squandered in Iraq. Where are the giant helicopters that could rescue stranded people? Where are the giant air conditioned tents and the ready-to-eat meals that could house and feed refugees -- the same tents and meals that Halliburton provides so expensively in Iraq? Why are 35-40% of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards in Iraq, on missions of death, instead of back home where they are so desperately needed?

Disruption of Middle East oil production (by the Iraq War) and refining capabilities on the Gulf coast (by Katrina) are forcing gas prices to spiral upward. These shortages are already being used by the big oil, pipeline and refining companies as pretexts to extort ever greater profits from the working people of the U.S. Because of this exploitation, the economy will be globally affected, potentially bringing inflation together with joblessness, a re-enactment of the "stagflation" that punished us during the Vietnam War.

Now, more than ever, our voices must be heard. Call the White House to demand immediate and effective relief efforts in New Orleans, along the Gulf coast and wherever the refugees are being taken. The White House phone number is 202-456-1111. And make our own contribution through either of these two special hurricane relief funds:


Teenager snatches bus to save dozens

John Harlow

A NEW Orleans teenager saved dozens of people from the stricken city after commandeering a 70-seat school bus and driving it on a harrowing 300-mile journey to Houston.
Jabbar Gibson, who was reported by an American television channel to be just 15, was determined to leave New Orleans after two days wading alone through the filthy waters of the former red-light district of Storyville. Although he had never driven a bus in his life, he broke into a school and made off with the bright yellow vehicle.

What began as an act of sheer panic turned into what has been called a “magnificent journey” that placed Gibson among the heroes emerging from the horrors of Hurricane Katrina.

“I knew how to get over the fence, and where the keys were, so I felt it was worth the chance,” said Gibson, whose age was given by another channel as 18.

Although he had only eight passengers on board when he set off on Highway 10 towards Texas, Gibson picked up many more, young and old, stranded beside the road during the eight-hour journey.

“By the time we gotten here we had all kinds of folk on board, from mothers with young babies to people in their seventies and eighties,” said Gibson, speaking from Houston. “And when we ran out of gas we had a whip-round and everyone gave me enough cents to fill up and get here.”

The young driver, who was still looking for some of his friends and family, said he was not worried about the legal repercussions of driving without a licence.

“I don’t care if I get blame for it so long as I saved my people,” he said. “If we had stayed there, we would still have been waiting.”

There were other tales of heroics, equally colourful. Mark Perillat, 49, escorted his wife and children to nearby Lake Charles before returning to New Orleans to rescue the stranded by canoe. Among those he paddled to safety were a couple in their fifties who had stood in water for three days before he arrived.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans international airport, 10 miles west of the flooded areas, was turned into a huge medical centre with doctors and nurses working 24-hour shifts to save those suffering from thirst and heat exhaustion.

Don Smithberg, chief executive of a local group of hospitals, said some of his staff had stayed awake throughout much of the crisis. “Some did not eat or sleep for days, they have been so busy,” he said. “This is one definition of heroism.”

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