Wednesday, May 31, 2006

National Guard: Heroes of Katrina

I remember hearing some very dire reports during hurricane Katrina. People shooting at helicopters, mass rapings and murders in the Superdome, and rescues delayed for days after the disaster. All, I now learn, totally and completely wrong. Lou Dolinar has written an amazingly informative piece for Real Clear Politics, "Katrina: What the Media Missed."

The upshot is this: The National Guard performed like champs and saved tens of thousands of lives. In most places in the world, Katrina would have killed the tens of thousands that everyone was predicting. Instead, the whole state of LA incurred about 1500 deaths. That is on par with the deaths that have been caused by recent heat waves.

Dolinar awknowledges that FEMA and others were ineffective but that National Guard units from Louisiana and surrounding states, in conjunction with the Coast Guard, were able to handle the rescue. Their command center was in the Superdome. That bit of information alone should have been enough to cast a huge shadow of doubt on the horror stories that were being "reported" about the conditions in the Superdome.

If you're like me, you probably won't go read the article, but it is information packed and very readable and I highly recommend it. Here are a couple of other tidbits that I found interesting outside the summary I've provided above.
Besides rescuers and local first responders, another big story at the
Dome was the medical center. Like a Chinook helicopter landing on your
roof, that sure was hard to miss. Fifteen doctors and a total of 65
medical personnel set up at the New Orleans Arena, within spitting
distance of the Dome. It was primarily for survivors brought in by air
and boat, but also for people in the Superdome with medical problems.
There was never any shortage of medical care, Dressler and Bush both
said.

The success of the makeshift medical center was such that there were just six deaths at the entire Superdome complex: four of natural causes, one drug overdose, and one suicide during the week of supposedly rampant anarchy and death.

They weren't happy campers. Besides the smelly but safe Superdome, which was not a pleasant place, many had been dropped off on the nearest high ground, primarily Interstate overpasses, in the rush to clear rooftops and attics. There were genuine shortages of food and water at these locations, especially at the Convention Center, another drop-off point. They were stuck, as search and rescue and lifesaving continued.

Governor Kathleen Blanco, meanwhile, had a direct pipeline to the command center and clearly knew what was going on, which might explain why she maintained her authority over the Guard and resisted calls from the President to federalize it. It also explains her apparent callousness to those stuck in the Dome - she knew the real situation was not as bad as the media was reporting. At the very least, she deserves credit for standing up to the national media and following the advice of the junior officers on the scene.

1 comment:

Travis said...

Interesting. I remember watching the coverage of Katrina, and the "madness" that was going on there. I remember thinking to myself and saying to my wife, "this isn't the America I know." I just figured it was just a different culture there. But maybe it was just the terrible media coverage.