NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 15, 2005

It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow, but Jack Kelley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette finds that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Kelly says journalists long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines and telecommunications are down, gasoline is unavailable, and bridges, roads and airports are damaged.

Apparently they don't have any interest in finding out, says Kelly, so they libel the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history as a "national disgrace." Consider:

  • It took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in Homestead, Fla., after Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, but only three days following Katrina.
  • In one week, more than 32,000 people were rescued, many plucked from rooftops by helicopters, while shelter, food and medical care have been provided to more than 180,000 evacuees.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers has all but repaired the levee breaches and begun pumping water out of New Orleans.

Journalists complain it took a whole week to do this, but as experts point out, you cannot just snap your fingers and make the military appear somewhere:

  • Guardsmen need to receive mobilization orders, report to their armories, draw equipment and convey to the disaster area.
  • Other than prepositioning supplies (which was done quite efficiently), relief efforts cannot happen until the hurricane has struck and a damage assessment can be made to determine if roads and bridges can bear the weight of heavily laden trucks.
  • Federal troops and Guardsmen from other states cannot be sent to a disaster area until their presence has been requested by the governors of the afflicted states.

Kelly says a better question -- which few journalists ask -- is why weren't the roughly 2,000 municipal and school busses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?

Source: Jack Kelly, "No Shame: The Federal Response to Katrina Was Not as Portrayed," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 11, 2005.

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