Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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New Orleans Struggles to Recover and Rebuild

by Mordecai Plaut

Progress in New Orleans these days means that the authorities have evacuated just about everyone. Good news means that the final death toll will be way below the 10,000 once feared, and may not even reach 1,000.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has plugged the holes in the levees and begun the long process of pumping the water back into Lake Pontchartrain. It said a new computer model showed that all areas of the city would be pumped dry by Oct. 18, about 40 days from when the estimate was made.

Col. Terry J. Ebbert, the city's director of homeland security, said the holdouts remaining in the city now numbered fewer than 5,000. About 484,000 people lived in the city before the hurricane struck. Colonel Ebbert said it would take two weeks before the search for the dead could yield a reliable assessment of the final numbers.

And for the first time since the hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast, government and utility officials offered a time frame for restoring electricity to the New Orleans downtown business district. They said they hoped to have power turned on and much of the debris cleaned up by the end of next week.

About 350,000 to 400,000 homes remained without power in New Orleans and the surrounding area, compared with one million just after the hurricane. In adjacent St. Bernard Parish, which was particularly hard hit, 99 percent of homes and businesses remained without power.

The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that 49,700 rescues had been performed and that 208,000 people were being housed in shelters. It said 20,000 active duty military members, 50,800 National Guard members, 4,000 Coast Guard members and 8,900 Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel had responded to the storm.

As floodwaters recede north toward Lake Pontchartrain, water levels across the city have fallen as much as four feet. The city's downtown core is mostly dry. On Canal Street, some hotels prepared to reopen. Businesses sent employees to inspect their properties.

One of the "casualties" of the disaster was "Brownie," Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He was removed from his Gulf Coast duties on Friday and recalled to Washington, but on Monday he resigned from his post as FEMA's chief.

Mr. Bush, characteristically, did not officially dismiss Mr. Brown, but he called him back to Washington to run FEMA while a crisis-tested Coast Guard commander, Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, was given oversight of the relief effort in the South. After Mr. Brown resigned, the White House quickly named a veteran disaster relief official to head the agency.

President Bush was under a lot of criticism for the response of FEMA. News reports appeared about Mr. Brown's "qualifications" for his job: he was a former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association and for 30 years was a friend of Joe M. Allbaugh, who managed Mr. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and was the previous FEMA director. Mr. Bush faced angry accusations that the director's hiring was nothing more than cronyism.

Many questions were raised about FEMA, once independent but later incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security. Critics complained that it focused on terrorism, hurting preparations for natural disasters, and that it had become politicized. Mr. Brown is a lawyer who had political connections but no emergency management experience. That's also true of Patrick J. Rhode, the chief of staff at FEMA, who was deputy director of advance operations for the Bush campaign and the Bush White House.

Scott R. Morris, the deputy chief of staff at FEMA and is now director of its recovery office on Florida, had worked for Maverick Media in Austin, Texas, as a media strategist for the Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. And David I. Maurstad was the Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska before he became director of FEMA's regional office in Denver and then a senior official at the agency's headquarters.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents FEMA employees, wrote to Congress in June 2004, complaining, "Seasoned staff members are being pushed aside to make room for inexperienced novices and contractors."

With the new emphasis on terrorism, three quarters of the $3.35 billion in federal grants for fire and police departments and other first responders were intended to address terror threats, instead of an "all-hazards" approach that could help in any catastrophe.

The New York Times wrote that it did not appear that the federal government fulfilled the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.

State and federal officials had spent two years working on a disaster plan to prepare for a massive storm, but it was incomplete and had failed to deal with two issues that proved most critical: transporting evacuees and imposing law and order. Everyone knew that a hurricane was a threat to New Orleans, but plans were not yet finished.

The Louisiana National Guard, already stretched by the deployment of more than 3,000 of its troops to Iraq, was hampered when its New Orleans barracks flooded. It lost 20 vehicles and had to abandon much of its most advanced communications equipment.

Violence raged inside the New Orleans convention center where thousands were housed after the storm. Police SWAT team members found themselves plunging into the darkness, guided by the muzzle flashes of thugs' handguns. State officials said that 24 people died either inside or just outside the convention center.

The relief effort continued to have complications. The American Red Cross, nearing exhaustion from the largest domestic disaster relief operation in its history, issued an urgent appeal for 40,000 new volunteers to relieve those who have been serving since Hurricane Katrina hit.

Foreign governments and overseas private organizations have pledged more than $700 million in cash and material assistance to storm victims. 115 countries and 12 international organizations have pledged aid to the United States. He said an elderly woman in Lithuania, grateful for past American assistance to her country, sent her life savings of 1,000 Euros.

In stark contrast with the lawlessness that took over the city in the immediate aftermath of the storm, police officials said Saturday that they had fully restored order in this sodden city.

"We have complete control over the city at this time," said Edwin P. Compass III, superintendent of the New Orleans police. "I think we have had three crimes in the last four days. This is the safest city in America."

Federal officials announced a massive campaign to erect temporary homes. They hope to open 30,000 homes every two weeks, reaching 300,000 within months. This would be a much larger effort than anything else so far. Last year after four hurricanes in Florida, 15,000 trailer homes were set up.

The building is intended to bring as many people as possible back to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama from their shelters in surrounding states. The use of the homes will be free, at least initially. FEMA is mapping out new towns that in some cases will have as many as 25,000 mobile homes, spread across hundreds of acres. Classrooms, sewage treatment plants, stores, restaurants and medical centers will be built as well.


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