POLICY/POLITICS: A harrowing story from Katrina

SignalHealth pointed the way to this story, which I’ve since found at another source by a couple of hotel guests who were basically imprisoned in New Orleans and not allowed to leave by the law enforcement and FEMA people who were supposed to be there to help them. Now before you take this entirely at face value, I’ve Googled a little bit, and found that the two authors of this account are San Francisco Paramedics who are very active in their SEIU chapter and were extremely anti-Bush, the military and police to start off with, and are posting this on an extreme left-wing (by my standards not by Fox News standards) web site.

But the problem with thinking that they’ve just made all this up is that it correlates with so much else that we know about what happened. Late on Thursday night on FOX NEWS (really!) Geraldo was in the Convention Center saying "just let these people walk out of there". They weren’t allowed to go. They were just left there. Even worse was reported by another Fox correspondent, Shepard Smith, about people just abandoned on the freeway. It seems very likely that the two SF Paramedics were among those out there. See this for the link to that piece of video.

I saw someone on CNN or MSNBC — a white man – telling his story about how the buses that they’d paid for had been commandeered (UPDATE: I’ve found the link the story about the buses for the hotel guests)– that matches the Paramedics story. This guy was taken out by a black man standing next to him, who’s name he didn’t know but whom he credited with saving his life. (UPDATE: And here’s another story from a St Louis lawyer that confirms the bus story AND the trapped on the freeway story)

Over at HIStalk, there’s a link to this incredible story about how three college kids took a whole SUV load of water and supplies into the Convention center TWICE before any real help got in there. And they had to smuggle their way in as "press".

When you start putting these pieces together, it’s clear that something went badly, badly wrong in our emergency preparedness, and how we responded to desperate people in our own country. The only people who emerge with any real credit seem to be the health care workers in the hospitals who kept their patients alive against the odds, and the people who went around the official channels to do what they could.

I would not have said anything other than on Saturday night at a dinner party, in so-called liberal San Francisco no less, one woman started explaining to us all that these were stupid people who should have a) left before the hurricane, and b) should have taken adequate supplies with them to the convention center and SuperDome, and c) were dumb and not like us because….well you can get the gist if I tell you that she was white, and in fact Irish. I lost it and pointed out that the English said exactly the same thing about the dumb starving ungrateful Irish in the potato famine. If you have time, read the whole history of that very sorry episode and weep.

I can think of no better riposte than to link to the greatest essay ever written on the topic. Go read it and marvel at how little distance we’ve come.

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