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Hurricane Katrina was a devastating category 4 hurricane, that hit the Gulf of Mexico and various Southern regions of the United States at the end of August, 2005, causing some of the worst damage in that country’s history, estimated at $100 billion1.
The famous New Orleans city and surrounding areas were worst hit as much of it sits some 6 feet below sea level. City defenses, such as levees, only designed for category 3 type hurricanes, gave way, leading to enormous flooding and associated damage, death and displacement of around 100,000 people who either chose to say the course, or could not afford to flee.
The BBC details some of the numbers2:
- 90,000 square mile disaster zone — equivalent to area of Great Britain
- 10,000 originally feared dead — revised down by government
- 60 nations have offered aid as well as UN, NATO and WHO
- 13 states now have a state of emergency in force
On this page:
Criticisms of Response
Amidst personally moving stories of loss and suffering, of heroic individuals and communities, this tragedy revealed a number of other issues, also reported a lot in the mainstream media (so this page is not going to go through all those details again), including the following:
A lot of criticism at President George Bush and other leading officials for things like:
- Poor crisis management
- Slow response of federal authorities such as FEMA
- George Bush Not setting foot in New Orleans and other worst hit areas for many, many days
Bush’s apparently poor handling of the situation has seen his approval ratings dip substantially to its lowest level, around 38%. (See Eight Big Lies About Katrina3 for how the US government has responded, and been accused of trying to pass the blame to others.)
A lot of criticism for the federal authorities for ignoring solid warnings many months and years earlier that New Orleans and surrounding areas need to be protected from category 4 hurricanes, not just category 3. This warning seemed to be ignored, and funding for such disaster management reduced, redirected to other things. For example, see the following:
- Hurricane Risk for New Orleans4, American RadioWorks, September 2002
- The furious storm: one wild hurricane could drown a major American City. Can scientist prevent the disaster in time?5 by Larry O'Hanlon, Earth Science, October 18, 2002
- Thinking Big About Hurricanes6 by Chris Mooney, The American Prospect Online, May 23, 2005. (This report was mentioned on the BBC and other outlets for eerily being so accurate a prediction of what might happen.)
- Is Bush to Blame for New Orleans Flooding?7, FactCheck.org, September 2, 2005. This report notest that funding does seem to have been diverted or cut, but it is not clear if the levees would have withstood Katrina. Nor is it clear if the damage would have been as bad or not.
Note was also made how it took a number of days for the National Guard to arrive, and that many of the National Guard from this area were actually in Iraq.
There was extensive highlight of how the rich were able to flee, but the poor (typically black) were unable to, and so suffered the worst of the hurricane's destructive power. However, accompanying this appeared to be a bit of racist undertones and exaggeration8. For example:
- There was looting of shops, because people had no food or water for many days, some scenes turned violent. The media jumped on this showing pictures of black people running riot, giving the impression that this is how black people are when there are no laws and when the system breaks down.
- There were even claims of rape of babies, though this was never verified.
- Media and political commentators also commented that perhaps if there were so many white people in such a situation, maybe the social situation would never have deteriorated so much. Such views were commonly aired, though of course hard to ever know for sure.
- Police and military at one point were told to even prioritize on shoot to kill policies if people were caught looting. Thankfully, as media reporters showed, many sort of disobeyed this order: where "looting" was clearly for survival (food, water, shelter), people were allowed to continue. Where it was looting of items such as televisions, etc, then police attempted to stop this.
A lot of people have pointed out that this is a disaster on such a large scale that it would be hard for authorities to deal with this, yet, the point is that there were solid and accurate warnings about the impacts such a hurricane could have, a long time ago. Yet, authorities did little, and even reduced funding for such initiatives.
What seems to have stunned a lot of international media is that this is the world's richest and most powerful country (in history), seemingly unable to deal with this emergency, though able to wage a terribly destructive war in foreign lands. Whether this is a fair or unfair observation depends on your perspective, but many, many foreign outlets and people seemed to hold this view.
A number of conservative American blogs and commentators asked why other countries had not come to the aid of the US in such a time. Yet, many countries including very poor ones offered aid in various ways. For example:
- War-torn Afghanistan offered $100,000 in aid9.
- Aid from Venezuela’s Huge Chavez was rejected10 because the US conservative leadership dislikes him (see this site’s section on Venezuela11, where there is detail of apparent US involvement in a recent coup to oust Chavez). This aid included 120 rescue and aid experts, 2 mobile hospital units, 50 tonnes of food, 10 water purification plants, 18 power generation plants and 20 tonnes of bottled water. Jesse Jackson claimed that it was a bad political decision not to accept this offer of help.
- Other nations included, though not limited to: Greece, Sweden, El Salvador, Russia, Switzerland, France, Latvia, Norway, Britain, Germany, Italy, Cuba, China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, even Iran.
- A total of some 60 nations have offered help, as noted further above
- And yet, as reported by the Associated Press, since Hurricane Katrina struck the United States, many international donors have complained of frustration that bureaucratic entanglements have hindered shipments to the United States 12. The same report also notes a German plane with Katrina Aid was turned back, for example.
Health related problems, such as water-born diseases, environmental pollution as chemicals and sewage mix in the cities and spill into the oceans are going to add to the problems.
Major oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico were damaged, leading to further a world rise in oil prices.
As massive reconstruction begins, there is also criticism of how that is happening. The British paper, the Guardian reports that
firms known for their close links with the White House are winning work13.
And of course there are environmental issues to consider. For a long time, scientists have worried that climate changes may spawn more fierce hurricanes. This has of course entered discourse again in the wake of Katrine, but skeptics are quick to note that the number of hurricanes in a given season seems to be cyclical. Yet, a BBC weather reporter noted that the intensity of hurricanes seem to be increasing, even if the frequency may show cyclical patterns. The US position on climate change has of course been to oppose international efforts for fear of losing economic advantages. You can find out more about climate change on this site's section on that topic.
President Bush, amidst severe criticisms says he will personally head an investigation into what went wrong, why the response was so slow, etc. Yet, for one who is receiving so much criticism and blame for this, most media outlets have commented that this investigation will hardly be independent.
As a welcome surprise, the long-criticized mainstream media14 has
woken up and reported critically on this issue, for it has been hard to avoid the issues of mismanagement, slow response, and even what some call down right incompetence. US media critic, William Powers, raises a few points quite well:
But given the mainstream media’s poor record in the past, and its often tolerance and subservience to power, media organization, Media Channel16 is now trying to campaign to keep the press fighting and looking at hard issues into the future as it has done around the issue for Katrina.
Another media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting is equally guarded in its optimism about the press. It notes a number of high profile reporters defending the Bush Administration, and in a conclusion to an article from them:
Given the detailed mainstream media reporting, only a few links to more information is provided, as most readers of this page will already have seen many sources: