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Compounding the tragedy
Sunday, September 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM
Compounding the tragedy
The Bush administration came close to a failure of leadership, communication and organization in its response to Hurricane Katrina. The government was too slow in helping thousands of people left stranded, hungry and dying — the sick, elderly and poor.
A measure of any government is how it responds in a crisis. When the richest nation on Earth cannot get water and food to stricken citizens for three or four days — our citizens, our people — something is wrong. New Orleans' mayor grew so weary of waiting for federal help that he issued a "desperate SOS" for aid. President Bush conceded results have been unacceptable. One New Orleans emergency official called the federal response a national disgrace, and it is.
State and local officials bear equal responsibility for sluggish delivery of services, but the enormity of the tragedy quickly bumped Katrina to a national event.
The hurricane could be a political paradigm-changing event. Red and blue America have no quarrel over the moral failure of leaving people in hospitals lacking electricity and in fetid evacuation centers without food and water.
Even Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said ominously, ... "If we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?"
From the day Bush sent troops to Iraq, he exposed himself to a comparison between his spending and attention to foreign affairs and the care and protection of our own citizens. The country has spent more than $200 billion on a war a majority of Americans no longer support.
Then, when our own citizens clamor for assistance, the response is initially disorganized. Relief workers dispatched to numerous natural disasters said they had never seen an event where food and water were flown in so slowly to key locations.
It took three days to get National Guard troops into key positions, leaving marauding hordes in New Orleans to loot and shoot. Those engaging in lawlessness displayed the worst of human nature. Their crimes are without explanation or defense.
Bush and Congress consistently cut spending on levees in the Gulf. The New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper has been pressing for years for money to shore up levees protecting the city.
By week's end, food, water and troops were arriving. For many people who had suffered so much, it was too late.