Feds not sole cause for slow disaster response

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2005

The water has yet to drain out of the city of New Orleans and already lots of people are slinging mud at the White House. Those critics are upset because they believe the Bush Administration did not act quickly enough to offer assistance in the wake the hurricane and flood devastation that has crippled the Louisiana city.

Pointing a finger at the feds may seem deserving, but we're not so sure some of those fingers do not need to be pointed a little closer to ground zero of the damage.

Federal assistance was on the ground only hours after the storm passed. The problem is that no one had a plan of action and no one stepped up to coordinate the rescue and recovery effort.

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At least some of that blame must fall squarely on the leadership in Louisiana. From what we can tell, federal workers showed up and essentially asked, "OK, we're here, what do you need?"

The exact answer never seemed to materialize. This lack of plan which resulted in what appears to be at least a couple of day of inaction led to deplorable conditions for the residents trapped by the floodwater and damaged escape routes.

It appears almost everyone in a position of power was waiting for someone else to take charge.

A few bright spots of people taking action appeared in the sea of inhumanity and chaos that resulted after a few thugs in the crowd took to the streets and began terrorizing both the trapped residents and their would-be rescuers. In one such sign of action in the face of tremendous odds, a young man commandeered a school bus, filled it up with neighbors and drove them to safety in Houston. He saw a problem and took action. He didn't sit on his; he did something. If more people had done the same, perhaps a few lives would have been saved.

Eventually, the federal government finally stepped up and assumed almost total control of the situation, which seemed more than a little strange, to us. In the minutes and hours following the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., the feds didn't climb into the twin towers to rescue people, the local folks did.

And that's what should have happened here. Instead, the system of government in New Orleans seemed incapable of handling the catastrophe and then got angry that the federal government didn't immediately come in and take over.

Thank God the military was finally ordered to help or we shudder to think of just how bad society may have dissolved in the flooded streets of New Orleans.