Sunday, August 27, 2006

Review of Surviving Katrina

This is a review of the documentary Surviving Katrina which was shown on the Discovery Channel Sunday night 08/27/06. At first I thought this was going to be another Bush bashing or perhaps another American way of life-bashing documentary like the recent global warming docs. For the most part,it wasn't.

The documentary starts with an explanation of how Katrina formed over the Atlantic, moved across Florida then turned north towards New Orleans (N.O.). A sizeable portion of the documentary is devoted to the warnings given by Dr. Ivor van Heeron, Louisiana State Climatologist. to evacuate N.O. and how these warnings were not heeded at first.

Mixed in with the warnings of impending doom is a human interest story as the documentary shows scenes of Katrina getting stronger and closer to N.O. mixed with scenes showing interviews with citizens who were refusing to evacuate. One lady said "I've been living here 34 years and it never flooded." One man said past huricanes have always veered away from N.O. and this one will too and because of that he saw no reason to leave. Here, the documentary makes no judgements or statements. It just shows that some of the future victims refused to move out of harms way. Period. Of course also shown were the disabled and old and infirm who were not mobile and because of that were stuck.

Narrator Mike Rowe tells us that "Through out Saturday, Mayor Ray Nagin urges people to evacuate New Orleans, but he does not issue a mandatory evacuation order. The city has no plan in place to order and enforce an evacuation and it is taking time for officials to create one."

The documentary also spends time interviewing FEMA director Michael Brown. He tries to explain away why things weren't working out. Evidently, Mayor Nagin asked for 500 busses to be delivered to N.O.. Mr. Brown said he gave the order to staff to arrange it. But the busses never arrived and no one knows why. Michael Brown is quoted as saying the order for the busses "...fell into a black hole."

There was one part I thought was a little disingenuous. It was when the narrator mentioned that 'Governor Kathleen Blanco speaks with president Bush and told him "We need your help. We need everything you've got." But their conversation is vague. The Governor makes no specific requests and the President makes no specific offers.' If this is designed to indicate that both people were irresponsible, I disagree. An offerer of help cannot know in advance what kind of help is needed unless those in need tell him. This tells me that Gov. Blanco didn't know what was needed and was hoping Bush somehow would.

Katrina makes landfall and the damage is extensive. Hospitals lose power. Their back up generators were under water and useless. It's total chaos everywhere. Some levees are topped and others break under the force of the storm surge. The city floods. I think drama director Jonathon Dent did a good job of dramatizing the utter chaos that resulted in the storm's wake as looters tried to cash in on the confusion and destruction.

All in all, the documentary shows that all three levels of government failed at the task of disaster prepardness, and relief. I was a little disappointed though, that the question "Should the government be in the business of disaster prepardness and relief?" was never asked. It is just assumed that such is the government's natural role. But Charity Hospital had lost power and for several days staff were hand ventilating some of the critical patients. When it became clear that the government-at any level- wasn't going to transfer them to another hospital, they appealed to CNN who did a report. Seeing the report a private air-lift ambulance company volunteered its services and quickly transported the patients to other hospitals. To me, the the utter incompetence of government compared to the efficiency of private enterprise was glaringly obvious. Yet it is the government we are told to depend on. It makes no sense.

Yes there were heros. The rescue workers, the National Guard soldiers called in to restore order, the doctors and staff at the hospitals and nursing homes and the people whose own stories of survival were told. For some, the human aspect of the documentary might be tear jerking.

But there were also villians and victims. The obvious villians were the looters and thieves. But these were just the parasites cashing in on the disaster. If the victims who lost everything in N.O. are angry, they should be, but not at those who were unable to save them from the consequences of past bad ideas. Let them be angry at the Senators and Congressmen of many years ago who saw that private insurance companies would not underwrite the building of homes and businesses on nothing more than delta silt, who stood on the floors of congress and used altruism to justify interfering in the market place by deciding to give federal insurance to builders and by building levees so millions of people could live in a paradise. 1800 people died so those politicians could go to bed feeling good about themselves.

They should also be mad at the intellectuals and editorial writers who told them it was ok to let government take care of their needs and some of them should be mad at themselves for believing it.

The documentary does a splendid job of demonstrating the inefficiency of all levels of government. But it doesn't ask or address the question "Why is this so?" It's leaving that up to the viewers to discern.

In a laissez-faire economy, Katrina would still have happened. The human disaster that was New Orleans would not.

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