Dr Ivor van Heerden
Some at least have been honest in their failings
Sat Sep 3, 2005 22:14

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Some at least have been honest in their failings. Lieutenant General Russel L Honore, in charge of the taskforce set up to respond to Katrina, admitted yesterday the extent of the devastation damage had caught him and other military planners off guard.

'All last week, we were collaborating on developing options,' he said in a briefing to Pentagon reporters. 'None of us - nobody - was clairvoyant enough to perceive the damage that was going to be brought by this storm.'

But if one person has become a focus for the growing anger in the last 24 hours, it is President Bush himself for his apparent inability to recognise the seriousness of the situation. Worryingly for the White House, it is not just the usual suspects who have turned on him but Republicans too, while news anchors dropped any pretence of impartiality to blast the government. Political analysts now argue that a week of Katrina may have tarnished Bush's legacy in the way it took Iraq three years to do.

John Zogby of Zogby International, the respected pollster, told The Observer: 'This came at a time when the President was already wounded by Iraq. I am sure that you will see his approval numbers plummet because you are seeing criticism coming from Republicans. I think he is going to lose his bedrock support. In terms of his legacy, he was not able to reach the benchmark that he established for crisis leadership after 9/11.'

Even before Katrina, Bush's approval ratings had slipped to 43 percent, unusually low for a president at this stage of his tenure. And although Bush attempted on Friday to regain his poise by visiting the disaster zone and comforting victims, Zogby says this may prove inadequate.

'There were these images of him [earlier in the week] doing a 30-minute flyover then going home. By virtually all accounts he then gave the worst speech of his presidency. First impressions may very well be the lasting ones,' he said.

News coverage became steadily harder over the week, moving from praise for emergency workers and vague talk of compassion to outright hostility. On CNN, newsman Jack Cafferty said: 'I'm 62. I remember the riots in Watts, I remember the earthquake in San Francisco. I have never, ever seen anything as bungled and as poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to the Superdome? What is going on? This is a disgrace.'

Bush, who tends not to admit failure and famously couldn't remember a single mistake he had made when asked by a reporter, agreed on Friday that the relief efforts are 'not acceptable'.

And for a wider American public, the disaster in New Orleans coming a week ahead of the fourth anniversary of 9/11, has a far wider national meaning than simply the Katrina catastrophe itself. Crucially it calls into doubt Bush's electoral promise that he was the best candidate to protect the nation from a terrorist attack.

Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, is among those who have asked whether Bush's Department of Homeland Security is up to the job. 'If we can't respond faster than this, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?' he pointedly asked.

The depth of anger has permeated even some of Bush's most loyal supporters, including Rich Lowry, a rightwing commentator, who admitted to being 'embarrassed and ashamed' by the government's failure to keep order.

It has been as much about Bush's style as the reality on the ground that has rebounded on him. As he prepared to make his visit to New Orleans, he told reporters that he was 'looking forward to his trip' before changing his mind and decided that he wasn't looking forward to it after all. The president tried to use the fact that Trent Lott, a senior Republican, had his own house destroyed to display his celebrated folksy charm.

'Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house, there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch,' he said. Commentators were quick to note that Lott has at least one other house, unlike the poor who are stranded in New Orleans.

And to many, the talk of rebuilding and the concern about looting seemed to miss the point: that people are dying in massive numbers. The obvious reality that those suffering worst are poor and black put the deep inequalities in US society on centre stage in an unusual way, throwing a harsh spotlight on Bush's social policies.

Dr Jeff Johnson at the University of Maryland said: 'These people had been abandoned by our society and by our government long before Katrina. The differences between classes and races in the US are getting worse, because the entire social welfare system is being intentionally dismantled. We have an enormous concentration of poverty and poor housing in the inner cities. Poor black people are not visible in this country until they start rioting.'

And the violence has raised other issues that go far beyond the war on terror, to the fragile nature of America's unequal society. As the looting and rioting escalated, New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, was forced to order 1,500 police on to the streets to quell the looting.

But still the chaos ensued. Carjackers forced the driver of a bus owned by a nursing home to surrender his vehicle. Guns were stolen from stores. Entire shops were stripped clean. One looter used a forklift to rip the metal security doors off a drugstore. At the Sports Authority in Riverside Marketplace, police had removed guns and ammunition and boarded up the place. But looters broke through and stole all the knives.

Few parts of New Orleans remained untouched by the looters. On Webster Street, in the 'uptown' part of the city, a sign has been scrawled: 'Do Not Enter. Trespassers will be shot.' By Thursday Nagin, a popular mayor in a city not keen on its politicians, was desperate, issuing an urgent SOS, an admission the city was effectively dying and a clear reproach to the president and the federal government.

The chaos begat chaos. The 6,000 power line workers assembled in the south-eastern corner of Louisiana to help restore power to the 990,000 utility customers still without electricity in central New Orleans, were unable to enter the city. 'We can't send workers out and put their lives in jeopardy,' said Arthur Wiese Junior, vice president of corporate communications for Entergy, the state's largest power supplier said. 'Once we have facilities back operating, we have to know that our workers can get to work safely.'

Twisted stories circulated: a Swat team had been sent in to restrain prisoners from the local jail who had overpowered their guards and had gone on the rampage; private boat owners were charging $700 to ferry people out of the city up the Mississippi; God was angry with New Orleans.

The latter is an observation repeated regularly by those fleeing the city. In the southern states, where people wear their religion on bumper stickers and T-shirts, and Pro Life is the only voice in the abortion debate, God is everywhere. 'God is tired of New Orleans,' said Barbara Windsor, who fled the city on Sunday with her family, shortly before Katrina hit. 'He sees the murders every day and he's talking to us; he's tired of looking at us and he's destroyed everything.'

How long Hurricane Katrina's impact will linger in New Orleans' psyche is incalculable.

Harry Goldgar is 84 years old and has lived in the city for 30 years. He likes literature and the humanities. On Sunday his New Orleans home was stuffed full of books, representing a lifetime searching for knowledge. Last week, lying on the floor of the First Pentecostal church in Zachary, 80 miles away, where pizza, ribs and sympathy were never far away, Goldgar's remaining worldly possessions were contained in one plastic bag.

'It's the books I'll miss. I hope to go back to see if anything can be saved,' Goldgar said. He is aware, however, that it will be months before anyone is allowed back in the city.

By then his stage his library - like much of New Orleans - will be little more than pulp.

What they said

'I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami, our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering. Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the US, we can easily see where the civilised part of the world's population is.'
Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, watching a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka

'Who are we if we can't take care of our own?'
Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist

'Katrina hit five days ago ... Yet the response you'd expect from an advanced country never happened. Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help wasn't provided ... There will, and should be, many questions about the response of state and local governments; in particular, couldn't they have done more to help the poor and sick escape? But the evidence points, above all, to a stunning lack of both preparation and urgency in the federal government's response.'
Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist

'Every day that we delay, people are dying, and they're dying by the hundreds.'
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

'It seems like there was no coherent plan, which I don't understand because this precise scenario has been predicted for 20 years.'
Louisiana's Republican senator, David Vitter

'Worse things have happened to America. We're going to overcome this too.'
General Russell Honore, the cigar-chomping Louisianan in charge of National Guard units in New Orleans

'One lesson of Hurricane Katrina is that preparedness and response go hand in hand, whether the disaster is natural or man-made. Washington's response to Katrina is likely to gear up notably in the days to come, but the question of why it took so long will linger longer than the floodwaters.'
LA Times editorial

'Outrage? It has its place. For that there are targets galore stretching from the New Orleans region to Washington. There will be plenty of time for fault-finding - a task that we in Washington do oh so well. But not now. This is a time for action. Katrina is a test for the nation, a critical examination for us all, public and private. That is unless you're inclined to sit this one out in the armchair and second-guess.'
Colbert King, Washington Post columnist

'The Battle of New Orleans may yet be a cataclysmic event that scuttles Bush's political agenda ... But Bush's career is all about people underestimating him, and it would be a mistake to do so this time.'
Mattew Cooper, Time

'We are like little birds with our mouths open and you don't have to be very smart to know where to drop the worm. It's criminal within the confines of the US that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us.'
Colonel Terry Ebbert, New Orleans head of homeland security

'The National Guard's scramble to bring aid and order to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is hamstrung by the fact that units across the country have, on average, half their usual amount of equipment - helicopters, Humvees, trucks, and weapons - on hand because much of it has been siphoned off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.'
Bryan Bender, columnist, Boston Globe

The scenario was dubbed Hurricane Pam:

What's more, it appears that the federal government did not follow up on an exercise last year that mostly predicted what happened in New Orleans — devastating flooding and hundreds of thousands stranded.

The scenario was dubbed Hurricane Pam: 120 mph winds, a massive storm surge, 20 feet of water in the city, 80 percent of buildings damaged, refugees on rooftops, possibly gun violence that would slow the rescue.

"What bothers me the most is all the people who've died unnecessarily," says Ivor Van Heerden, a hurricane researcher from Louisiana State University who ran the exercise.

Van Heerden says the federal government didn't take it seriously.

"Those FEMA officials wouldn't listen to me," he says. "Those Corps of Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to present information."

One recommendation from the exercise: Tent cities should be prepared for the homeless.

"Their response to me was: 'Americans don't live in tents,' and that was about it," recalls Van Heerden.

However, others say it's unfair to blame the federal government, that no amount of planning could have prepared for this.

"We have trained against similar scenarios, but it's not the same as a crisis unfolding before your eyes," says Frank Cilluffo, a former Bush administration aide for homeland security.

Homeland security officials also argue that no one predicted that flooding and devastation would encompass not just New Orleans but the entire Gulf Coast.
© 2005 MSNBC Interactive
America's ordeal
Guardian Unlimited, UK - 9 minutes ago
... One of those quoted was Dr Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University's Hurricane Centre. In a worst-case ...

... SOURCES: Ivor van Heerden, Ph.D., director,
Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, Baton Rouge; wire service ...


Health Risk From Katrina May Last for Weeks
Anyone returning to New Orleans for the next 7 days would be 'entering a wilderness,' expert says.

Intestinal disease, West Nile and rabies are all potential threats

The meeting was held on Wednesday, August 21, 2002, at the Pennington Biomedical Conference Center in Baton Rouge. Principal Investigators and subcontractors from LSU, the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans, and Notre Dame University, as well as members of a newly formed advisory panel of state governmental officials, convened for the first time as Project Director Dr. Ivor van Heerden formally launched the five-year project.

The over five-million dollar research project was funded through a grant award by the Louisiana Board of Regents under the Millenium Trust Health Excellence Fund. LSU is providing matching funds.

The project involves the development of a new "Center for the Study of the Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes." This public health center, much like the LSU Hurricane Center formed in July 1999, will be a virtual Center - comprised of researchers and experts from various disciplines operating from as far away as Indiana. Advisory Board members from various Louisiana state agencies will also be adding their expertise to the Center and providing project guidance.

Mr. Hampton Peele of the Louisiana Geological Survey presents some of the Geographic Information System (GIS) technology available for detailing the greater New Orleans study area.

August 26, 2002
LSU Professors Team Up for Hurricane Center Public Health Project

NOVA | scienceNOW | January 25, 2005: Biographies | PBS
A native of South Africa, Ivor Van Heerden is currently Director of the Center
... In Louisiana, Dr. Penland has developed models to explain barrier island ...

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