Stupid, Stupid Poor
I want an administration that won’t hire a jackass to run FEMA:
(CNN) — The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates.
Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands.
“Unfortunately, that’s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings,” Brown told CNN.
“I don’t make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans,” he said…
Michael Brown, meet Cherie Priest:
New Orleans and Biloxi are not rich cities. They are poor southern cities disproportionately filled with poor southern people — people who may not have reliable transportation, people who live hand-to-mouth, people who have nowhere else to go, even if they had the means to get there.
And the evacuation was little more than a vague order to get the hell out — under your own power and at your own expense. If you have, at your immediate disposal, reliable transportation, money for gas, and either distant family OR money for shelter, then this isn’t a big deal. Of course you leave. You pack up everything you can and you head for higher ground. But it is somewhat less easy to do if you are lacking any one of these things, AND you have been informed that what little earthly lot you may claim is about to be destroyed. Do you hang on and try to save what you can? Do you let it go and return to less than nothing?…
If every single person in New Orleans had a spare $300 and a car, most of them could have run. Now turn on the TV again and look at how many stayed.
This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend of mine in California who wondered why the hell so many people stayed in New Orleans after the evacuation order, and implicit in this was the idea that if you stay when you’re told to go, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up dead. I pointed out that a lot of the people who stayed were poor, a lot of them didn’t have cars or anywhere to go, and neither the city nor the state was lining up transportation to take them out of the city. Greyhound had rather notoriously closed shop on Saturday, so even if they wanted to get out and had the money for a bus ticket, surprise! Most people who stayed didn’t stay for the lark of being able to say they weathered the storm. They stayed because they really didn’t have much other choice.
Does the director of FEMA honestly think that most of the people who stayed whould have chosen to stay had they better options? If one is unable to leave, by whatever combination of poverty, age or infirmity applies, and the government isn’t there to help you leave, how much responsibility should that person bear for being in the path of a goddamned hurricane? And what the holy living crap is the director of FEMA doing, wagging his finger at these people? It’s not like FEMA was in a rush to move its ass anywhere, either. I knew two days before Katrina hit where that storm was going: a little government department called NOAA told me. Seems to me FEMA might have been able to get the memo too. And, you know, maybe packed some snacks and a couple cases of bottled water. Just in case someone needed them five days ago.
Oh, but, don’t think Director Brown is blaming anyone:
Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone.
“Now is not the time to be blaming,” Brown said. “Now is the time to recognize that whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them.”
We don’t blame them. It’s just that they need to share some responsibility. They should have figured that being poor and carless was a bad move from the start. But what the hell, we’ll help them anyway.
Here’s a passage for you from a New Orleans Times-Picayune story, about a woman from New Orleans’ 9th Ward, which I am led to understand is one of the poorest in the city:
Lucrece Phillips’ sleepless nights are filled with the images of dead babies and women, and young and old men with tattered T-shirts or graying temples, all of whom she saw floating along the streets of the Lower 9th Ward.
The deaths of many of her neighbors who chose to brave the hurricane from behind the walls of their Painter Street homes shook tears from Phillips’ bloodshot eyes Tuesday, as a harrowing tale of death and survival tumbled from her lips.
“The rescuers in the boats that picked us up had to push the bodies back with sticks,” Phillips said sobbing. “And there was this little baby. She looked so perfect and so beautiful. I just wanted to scoop her up and breathe life back into her little lungs. She wasn’t bloated or anything, just perfect.”
I don’t want to blame that baby. But she bears some responsibility.