As long as you haven't been hiding beneath a rock for the past week, you've heard of Hurricane Katrina and seen the devastation left in its wake, particularly in Louisiana. But what you might not have heard is the New Orleans Times Picayune predicted this entire nightmare in 2002. It has never been a question of if an event like this will occur, but when. Sadly, that question was answered last week.
The following is an excerpt from the 2002 prediction of the toll a category five hurricane would take once hitting land in Louisiana: "200,000 people or more would be unwilling or unable to heed evacuation orders and thousands would die, people would be housed in the Superdome, aid workers would find it difficult to gain access to the city as roads became impassable…" Sound familiar?
Now, you might be asking yourself the obvious question: If we knew what was going to happen after Katrina hit and we knew Katrina was going to hit, then why didn't we prepare and respond better? Good question. Even more, if we respond this inadequately to a natural disaster that we saw coming days in advance, it begs yet another, perhaps even more important question. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich put it best when he asked, "If we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?" Another good question.
So who is to blame for the response, or lack thereof? Many people are quick to point fingers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and this argument deserves some attention. However, there is a reason FEMA is far more inept today than it was in the 90s, and that reason is President Bush.
According to Clare Rubin, an emergency management consultant, President Bush's decision to make FEMA a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was a "major mistake." Instead of being its own independent agency, FEMA is now a small part of the DHS, which loses loads of money to terrorist related security issues. As a result, our country severely lacks the means to handle disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In fact, former FEMA director James Lee Witt, who served under President Clinton from 1993 to 2001, warned Congress in 2004, "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded." (Reuters).
President Bush's decision to make FEMA a small, insignificant subsidiary of the DHS has proven to be a mistake of catastrophic proportions (no pun intended). Getting rid of James Lee Witt in 2001, a man President Bush himself praised in the first presidential debate in 2000, has also turned out to be a mistake. Ignoring Witt's comments to Congress was yet another mistake. Then, when we saw Hurricane Katrina barreling through the Gulf as a category five hurricane with winds up to 160 mph, what did President Bush do to help prepare for the upcoming disaster? The same thing he did for four days after Katrina hit and chaos broke out: Nothing. Another mistake.
Massachusetts Governor Republican Mitt Romney called the government's response to Katrina, "an embarrassment." I could not agree more. The fact that we are allowing people to be raped in broad daylight in the streets is not only embarrassing but also repulsive. Dead bodies laying in and floating down the water filled streets and starvation forcing people to literally kill for food does not sound like America. But for the past week, this has been life in Louisiana.
As hard as it is to accept these things occurring in our own backyard, the most frustrating part of it all is that we did absolutely nothing to improve the situation for four full days! Think about it for a minute. Four days of starvation, rape, murder, filth and countless other indecencies that are nauseating to think about. Four days of hell. The government is supposed to help people in situations such as this, not neglect them and turn the other way.
We may not have the power to stop hurricanes, but we do have the power and capabilities to be prepared for them. Unfortunately, not only did we fail in our preparations before the hurricane hit, but we failed miserably once Katrina finally hit. One thing Katrina has shown, beside Mother Nature's awesome power, is that America is far more vulnerable than we realize, largely because of our government's incompetence and lackluster leadership.
Tim Waddingham is a senior speech communications major. His column runs every Wednesday in the Collegian