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CULPABILITY OF LOCAL OFFICIALS

Leftists in the media and the political world were quick to blame the federal government for its allegedly slow response to Hurricane Katrina, and for its purportedly delayed effort to rescue the storm's victims. By contrast, little attention was paid to the failings of Louisiana's state and local government officials, even though they – and not federal officials – were the people legally entrusted with the task of providing leadership for the public in the event of a natural disaster like Katrina. For example, the “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan” – a blueprint drawn up to deal with all manner of emergencies – does not mention any specific role for the federal government in disaster relief; instead it carves out roles for state and municipal governments:

  • “The authority to order the evacuation of residents threatened by an approaching hurricane is conferred to the Governor by Louisiana Statute. The Governor is granted the power to direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from a stricken or threatened area within the State, if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery. The same power to order an evacuation conferred upon the Governor is also delegated to each political subdivision of the State by Executive Order. This authority empowers the chief elected official of New Orleans, the Mayor of New Orleans, to order the evacuation of the parish residents threatened by an approaching hurricane.”

  • “As established by the City of New Orleans Charter, the [city] government has jurisdiction and responsibility in disaster response. City government shall coordinate its efforts through the Office of Emergency Preparedness.”

  • “Authority to issue evacuations of elements of the population is vested in the Mayor.”

  • “The person responsible for recognition of hurricane related preparation needs and for the issuance of an evacuation order is the Mayor of the City of New Orleans.”

Perhaps most notably, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin failed to take timely or decisive action in preparing his city for Katrina's arrival. The National Hurricane Center called the mayor on Saturday, August 27 – two days before Katrina made landfall – asking him to evacuate New Orleans. President Bush also begged Nagin to get his city's people to safety. As mayor, the final decision was Nagin's. He was expected to issue an order outlining a plan of action at least 48 hours before the storm reached population centers; he did not.

In addition, it was Nagin's duty to ensure that “special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance.” Yet some 205 buses, and perhaps an even greater number of large transit vehicles, were left stranded in a flooded parking lot. University of New Orleans professor Shirley Laksa calculated that some 125,000 city residents did not have any means of private transportation; those people were disproprtionately affected by Nagin's inaction.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco also failed to take timely or decisive action as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast. Blanco waited until Sunday, August 29 -- a mere 20 hours before Katrina came ashore, to order a mandatory evacuation. She subsequently called for assistnce from 40,000 National Guard troops, but not until Thursday, September 1 -- three days after Katrina had struck.

 

RESOURCES:

The Mayor Who Failed His City
By Ben Johnson
September 6, 2005 
 
Louisiana Officials Could Lose the Katrina Blame Game
By Jeff Johnson
September 7, 2005

Assigning Blame
By Charles Krauthammer
September 9, 2005

 

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