Hurricane Katrina Feed

Dubya's Heck of a Job: NYT reports White House knew of a levy break the night of the storm

From the New York Times, February 10, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

Investigators have found evidence that federal officials at the White House and elsewhere learned of the levee break in New Orleans earlier than was first suggested. But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

The full NYT story is HERE.

Cruise Ship Adventures

Sometimes you read a line in a news story, and you just don't believe what you just read, it just seems so off-the-wall. I had that experience today.  The news story was Congressman plans cruise disappearance hearings on MSNBC, apparently picked up from The Business Journal of Jacksonville. The context was the emerging problem of people disappearing from cruise ships.

At least 16 people have gone overboard or missing from cruise ships since 2000, according to research by The Business Journal. Three were rescued, two were confirmed dead and 11 remain missing.

OK. That's sort of odd. But then we come to the next line of the article:

Officials with Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have said their companies do not track such incidents.

Cruise companies don't track reports of physical disappearance of passengers on cruise ships?  Weird. Really weird. It would seem like something their insurers would require, even if no one else was interested.

But there have been several weird news reports about cruise lines lately. However did Carnival end up with a candidate for FEMA's most controversial contract following hurricane Katrina? From the Washington Post: $236 Million Cruise Ship Deal Criticized

But the Carnival deal has come under particular scrutiny. Not only are questions being raised over the contract's cost, but congressional investigators are examining the company's tax status. Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated for tax purposes in Panama, paid just $3 million in income tax benefits on $1.9 billion in pretax income last year, according to company documents. "That's not even a tip," said Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. U.S. companies in general pay an effective income tax rate of about 25 percent, analysts say. That would have left Carnival with a $475 million tax bill.

Carnival's public records boast "that substantially all of our income in fiscal 2004, 2003 and 2002 . . . is exempt from U.S. federal income taxes," largely because it maintains that its operations are not in the United States but on the high seas.

Carnival does not want to see that tax status jeopardized just because three major ships are clearly operating in the United States. After it won the FEMA bid, Carnival appealed to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow for a waiver of U.S. taxes. "We do not want to jeopardize our tax exemption, nor do we want to interrupt our relief efforts for failure to secure this assurance from the Treasury Department," wrote Howard Frank, Carnival's chief operating officer.

(And who knew that they were headquartered in Panama to avoid taxes? And, yes, sure, their campaign contributions were munificent; but they also gave generously to the Democrats.)

And then there was the pirate adventure, on a ship owned by one of Carnival's subsidiaries. If those waters were so dangerous, why was the expert crew of the ship careless enough to let the ship wander off course off Somalia, of all places? Looking for adventure? Or, on the other hand, if cruise ship attacks are so rare, just what was the crew of the ship doing with their handy dandy military-grade LRAD sonic blaster? Communicating with whales?

And is that even legal? I mean, what if the pirates had gotten the LRAD rather than just an earful? And won't the public announcement that a cruiseship carried an LRAD attract upwardly-mobile pirates who'd really like one of their very own? And what other fine munitions might be available for the taking on post-9/11 cruise ships? Aren't there some really good reasons for passenger ships not to pack this kind of heat?

I breathlessly await the next installment of this amazing tale of adventure. (But, um, guys, it would be a really good idea to start keeping track of vanishing passengers.)

Clark Boyd's World Tech Podcast #55: A Must-Listen for Google Earth Enthusiasts

Worldpostcast55smClark Boyd's Tech report for The World (BBC/WGBH) has a podcast of the show from the other day, and the podcast (Tech Podcast #55) is much longer than the original show. Let me start by saying that this podcast is a Must-Listen for Google Earth enthusiasts. Yes, it has clips of me sounding really intelligent at the beginning, but that's not the part I'm talking about.

The part you need to hear is the interview from Anne Wright, of  Global Connection -- a collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, and National Geographic -- which was too long and info-dense for the original BBC/WGBH broadcast, but which outlines the vision behind some of the perks Google Earth users are currently enjoying, and what can be done with this technology and others out there on the market.

She talks about the origins of the Global Connection project, the National Geographic project, how Global Connection came to process thousands of images NOAA from Katrina and Rita for Google Earth overlays, how she and I came to work together on the earthquake project, and her vision of how things could work in the future. It's packed with really great stuff!

Bruce Sterling, Furturist, Lets the Bush Adminiatration in on One of the Tricks of the Trade

Bruce Sterling lets the Bush Adminiatration in on one of the tricks of the futurist trade:

It's easy to predict the future when all you have to do is predict the past. Every time people in power who deny the Greenhouse get their ass kicked, they always proclaim that nobody could have imagine such a thing. We don't have to "imagine" it, guys. All one has to do is document it.

He directs his reader back to his writeup of the Canberra fire in January of 2003.

There's a lot of great stuff, and I don't want to try to quote it all, gutting it from it's very interesting context. This is definitiely a READ THE WHOLE THING post. 

Sterling concludes with remarks on Bush's idea that the military take over disaster relief (an idea that even Jeb isn't too keen on, by the way):

There's no cure for demolished cities that a contemporary army can give. A plethora of Katrinas doesn't mean Army control of evacuation. You can't park the populations of drowned cities somewhere off camera while Delta Force rebuilds their town. The only effective response to really savage and continuous weather violence has got to be vigorous civil defense and a paramilitarized general populace. Those millions of evacuees who were cluttering highways this week – they're the labor force. They and no one else are the ones who will have to do the heavy lifting, because it's their cities and their world that has been destabilized by climate change.

(Via Xeni Jardin at boingboing.)

The War on Weather

MilitarydisasterBack on September 6th, the new War on Weather was a Tom Tomorrow political cartoon. [If that link doesn't work, try this one.]  But the Bush administration is running a little low on ideas, so they are turning to some unusual sources. For example, the other day Bush's speech writers cribbed from a Naomi Klein Op-Ed piece for Bush's weekly radio address. If you read the Klein piece, the policies described in this passage from Bush's speech sound like they are paraphrased from Klein:

. . . the vision of a revitalized New Orleans should come from the people of New Orleans, and the vision of a new Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama should come from the people of those states. We will do everything we can to guide the recovery effort, and help them realize their vision so that communities along the Gulf Coast are better and stronger than before the storm.

Surely, he doesn't mean what she meant about letting the people rebuild New Orleans, but it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

But when White House strategists dipped into the Tom Tomorrow brain trust, the failed to notice that the War on Weather was supposed to be a joke.

But not only that, this borrowing of ideas from the left (serious or not) seems to be getting the President in hot water with conservatives. It seems that what he is proposing violates the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as a police force within the United States borders. Congress made an exception to the Act to allow for the use of the military in the "war on drugs" (see why they called it that?). And since 9/11, the White House has been angling for a loosening of the acts restrictions (and that's why they called efforts to prevent terrorism "the war on terror").  This is from yesterday's CNN article:

Gene Healy, a senior editor at the conservative Cato Institute, said Bush risks undermining "a fundamental principle of American law" by tinkering with the Posse Comitatus Act.

Healy said the act does not hinder the military's ability to respond to a crisis.

"What it does is set a high bar for the use of federal troops in a policing role," he wrote in a commentary on the group's Web site. "That reflects America's traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that's well-justified."

Healy said soldiers are not trained as police officers, and putting them in a civilian law enforcement role "can result in serious collateral damage to American life and liberty."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, told The Associated Press he would not favor expanding the federal government's disaster response role.

"I don't want the federal government to take over disaster response, believe me," DeLay told the AP. "Why? Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy."

I have a hard time understanding what it is that the Republican party still stands for if it is quite this easy for the Bush administration to discuss circumventing governors entirely and sending in the marines in the event of an "emergency." How elastic a definition can "emergency" have? When did states rights pass so thoroughly from the agenda?


High Country Conservative remarks:

I wonder whatever become of the concept of Federalism, once a major component of the Republican agenda. It seems that more and more agencies and government actions are being put under federal control. This, of course, give much more power to Washington, and vastly decreases the rights of the states.

Is this a conscious abandonment of the principle of federalism? Or is this whole line of thought just desperate ass-covering by an administration in freefall, indicative only of the ferocity of attempts to deflect blame to the locals?

(Anyone notice the extent to which the act was violated during the response to Katrina? Wasn't the whole rhetoric about sending in the military primarily concerned with restoring law and order? Certainly, having the military go in to replace the Fish & Wildlife Service, who had been defacto first responders in some areas rescuing people from their roofs, was an improvement. But to what extent were military forces acting as rescue workers, and to what extent as policemen? To hear the conservative bloggers tell it, policing the place was their main reason for being there. But I was paying more attention to what Blackwater was up to than the regular military, so I'm not sure what the real story is on the Posse Comitatus Act and New Orleans.)

Don_quichotte_1Or is it some kind of power fantasy? The whole notion of domestic militarization on this scale is hard to take seriously as policy. The 9/11 timelines, as concern Donald Rumsfeld, do not suggest that he would have reacted a lot faster than the slow-poke in charge of Homeland Security if faced with the Katrina disaster. Nor do Rumsfeld's failures to meet US goals (capturing Bin Laden? flowering democracies) in Afghanistan and Iraq make for a promising disaster management resume. But it is an idea with tremendous virility!

Just imagine the grand War on Weather. Donald astride his horse, in full military splendor, tilting at hurricanes.

UPDATE 9/28: After perusing posts using the word "Federalism" on Technorati, I am amused to report that the wingnut spin-of-the-day is that Democrats and Liberals are to blame for Bush's proposed attack on states' rights because we made him feel bad by suggesting that he take blame.

MEANWHILE, Karl Rove, busy creating his own more palatable reality, warns against "complacency."

UPDATE 9/30: Jeb Bush, writing in the Washington Post,  comes out against federalizing (i. e.  militarizing) disaster response. Perhaps that is the end of that.

The Flensing of the Aid Packages


First, read this story from The New York Times:
Many Contracts for Storm Work Raise Questions

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

OK. Pleanty of potential for corporate profiteering. But you knew that already, right?

NOW go read Josh Marshall on how choice cuts of the proceeds will end up feeding the hungry political machine.

Continue reading "The Flensing of the Aid Packages" »

"many calls and pleas were made by the elderly woman, a deputy came to her house and promised they would be evacuated only to be left behind"

I should say before I begin, that I have a hard time understanding how this could happen. The story I'm about to relate seems to me more appropriate to old Pompeii than 21st century New Orleans. And before we let certain politicians get too cozy in their new-found ability to actually respond to emergencies, we should realize that not all of the New Orleans bodies have yet been recovered.

Earlier this afternoon, I was informed by a man with whom I had corresponded about the depth and time of the flooding that his relatives' bodies had been discovered Friday by the husband of one of the parish officials who took it upon himself to go see whether these people were still in their houses. I feel a personal responsibility to those to whom I've tried to offer direct help, so I find this news hard to take.

2625rosettadrchalmettedr2I looked into the story a bit, and it is extremely sad, and their deaths were truly unnecessary. The dead are Dorothy Hingle, age 83, and her son Russell Embry, a quadriplegic, bedridden man, age 54. (The image to the left is a NOAA aerial photo of their house at 2625 Rosetta Drive; the black arrow is approximately in the back yard.)

Here is an account from a missing persons report written by a relative:

He is a quadriplegic and lives with his mother. They were supposed to be evacuated to a medical facility. Someone last talked to his mother Dorothy Hingle Monday morning and they were still at home. Please contact Margaret at [email address] with any information.

Here is another, dated August 31st:

Subject: Dorothy Hingle age 83, Russell Embry, 55 quadriplegic    

Abandoned at time of rescue. Has been on the list of evacuees for several years. They were told they would be rescued by offical rescue operations. All procedures were followed, many calls and pleas were made by the elderly woman, a deputy came to her house and promised they would be evacuated only to be left behind.

What a tragic thing to allow two helpless individuals to experience. Only by the grace of God will they survive. Shame on all responsible for neither evacuating nor having the respect to inform them that other means of rescue would be necessary.

HingleSo finally, Friday, September 23rd, the family is informed that the bodies have been discovered at home. Dorothy Hingle was found with her arms around her son in their home on Rosetta Street in Chalmette.

How could this happen? It was so unecessary. These people didn't have to die. Why did they die? The family deserves to know what went wrong. Why weren't they evacuated? Why did it take weeks for anyone to go to the house and check despite the family's continual pleas?

I just don't understand.

Can people still react to this, or are we already too desensitized by wanting that chapter of our history to be over? And can't we of the twenty-first century get past the desenisitization of so much death?

UPDATE 9/30: See also, Michael Bérubé's post Disability and Disasters.

9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others.



Caption reads Water flows through a breach in the repaired Inner Harbor Canal toward the Ninth Ward District Friday in New Orleans.

Anyone got a longitude and latitude on this? (KC approximation: Lat 29.978333240947077, Lon -90.02085221140939.) Anyone want to send me the image on a Google Earth satellite image? Or do some complicated thing like place it on the Katrina image and that on a pre-hurricane season satellite picture?

I think the breach is in the general area of the Florida Avenue Bridge and Surkote Road, as shown below. Can anyone confirm? Here's a closer shot from a screengrab from CNN streaming video:


Leveen clearly broken. The CNN reporter also mentioned another broken levee in the Chantilly (he pronounced it something like Chintilly?) Gentilly area. There are other reports of multiple breaches, but none I can find that name locations.  Here's another view of the same breach.


Above is the Google Maps satellite image of the area before the hurricanes. Below is the Digital Globe August 31st, 10AM image showing one the Industrial Canal breaches. (The bigger one is further south.) I can't tell if the new breach is in the same spot as in the 8/31 image, butit looks to me like it's not.


The New York Times provides the best explanation I've seen so far of multiple breaches, but so far all the images I've seen are of the same one. (We don't have TV reception, so I'm not watching TV.)

One break in the levee was in the lower Ninth Ward, on the east side of the canal. The storm sent e water rising so quickly that it had reached windows of houses up to three blocks east of the levee by late morning. Dozens of blocks in New Orleans's Ninth Ward were under water.

Later today, another break was found in the Upper Ninth Ward, on the west side of the levee.

Here's another shot of that breach found on the LA Times site:


ScreensnapzI'm not sure if this next photo (found on the CNN site at 6AM 9/24) is a breach or just overtopping, but it is clearly not the same spot.

UPDATE 9/24, 7:46PM: I see the Washington Post has another view of the same breach, described in the caption as a 30-yard breach on the east side of the Lower Ninth Ward:


Continue reading "9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others." »

Sonic Weapons?

When reading Xeni Jardin's new post, Xeni on NPR, CNN: Sonic Weapons in Iraq -- and now, US cities, I had this terrible feeling of de ja vu. Hadn't I just read something very like that, say yesterday, but it was fiction?

In the July/August issue of Analog, Gregory Benford had a story called "The Pain Gun" about a future Middleeast conflict after a nucler war or two in which nonlethal weapons were used in preference to other types so as not to inflame the political situation back in the direction of nuclear war. The story concerns the use of a weapon that causes extreme pain but does no physical damage. I read the story yesterday.

Back in August, Defense Tech had a write-up on "sonic blasters" (aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices"), which apparently the NYPD had ready during the Republican convention and a new "improved" model was being tested by the LAPD.

This device far exceeds anything I'm aware of. Others are childrens' toys compared with this thing. The developer tells us that there are other configurations they believe will allow it to take even more energy. They estimated we were using 15,000 watts, but with a different type of magnet they believe we they can easily exceed 100,000 watts without overheating.

Further, by rearranging the orientation of the magnetic speakers, they can increase or decrease the width of the lobe, as well as decrease the size, weight and power. The device we tested is "full range;" that is, it provided clear sound from about 50 Hz to about 20,000 Hz. But if we were going to use it just for human voice or a siren, or some other specific frequency range, they can also "tune it" to provide maximum effectiveness for a specific frequency range and reduce the size and power, while increasing the range.

Back in March of last year, the Associated Press reported the use of the devices as weapons in Iraq. Earlier in September, Xeni Jardin documented the deployment of sonic blasters to New Orleans. OK, so there's no electricity and you want to get the word out to those hard-of-hearing old folks stuck in the flooded zone.  Is that what the sonic blasters were brought in for? This is from Xeni's article:

American Technology is donating four devices -- three MRADs (medium-range acoustic devices) and one LRAD (long-range acoustic device). The four devices will be shipped out Friday to a Marine military police unit that is deploying to the Gulf States area for disaster-relief efforts.

"We are donating the use of one of our most powerful prototypes, LTPMS-2, for use in Mississippi as soon as possible, because the governor of that state said that the biggest problem they have right now is the fact that they have no communications infrastructure to get information or instructions out to people," he said. "They can very easily put this on a truck and send sound out for a minimum of at least a mile in either direction."

And Blackwater's just there to help get the word out, too, right? Here's more from Xeni:

Vehicle-mounted devices were used by Israeli authorities to scatter groups earlier this year, when Palestinians and Jewish supporters gathered to protest Israel's West Bank separation barrier. Dubbed "The Scream" by the Israeli Army, the device sends out streams of noise in intervals of about 10 seconds. The specific sonic frequencies chosen affect the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea in human targets.

Is it my imagination, or isn't the use of sonic blasters as weapons to deliberately inflict pain on crowds "torture" as defined in article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture?

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

When sonic blasters are used as weapons, their use is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. I think the US is a signatory.

Continue reading "Sonic Weapons?" »

Who Helps People Help?

Here's a question I just got by email from someone in Louisiana, and I don't really know the answer. So I put it to you:

We have taken in a young Mother and 3 children that are from Westwego, LA. We put them up in our mobile home on the same propety as our home. My question is, who do we need to contact about help with the expenses such as the electric bill etc., as we do not have the funds to last much longer and I won't kick them out?

This sounds like the sort of thing the Red Cross helps with, but is it? Where should someone with limited means turn for help when providing shelter for hurricane victims?

A Few More Katrina Photo Resources

Here are a couple of places I found useful images:

"Mammalian biologists cite development as new evidence for late-stage testiculogenesis."

Josh Marshall had me choking on my coffee this morning with this post:

House-Senate Katrina probe dies as Dems refuse to participate in GOP-controlled probe.

Mammalian biologists cite development as new evidence for late-stage testiculogenesis.

-- Josh Marshall

(I don't usually like political rhetoric involving balls, but I think this is one of the best versions I've seen.)

"Fears abound as government warns data could be used for deportation"

From the Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that information provided by illegal immigrants seeking federal aid could be used against them later in deportation proceedings.

"The administration's priority is to provide needed assistance: water, food, medical care, shelter," said Joanna Gonzalez, a DHS spokeswoman. "However, as we move forward with the response, we can't turn a blind eye to the law."

"luxuriant blue color Earth"

For those of you who read Chinese, here is an article on the Google Earth and the Katrina aftermath in Chinese from the Xinmin Weekly by Zhao Yanyan, and I'm in it. For those who don't read Chinese, here is a very strange translation created by Google's Language tools.

Gently clicks on the mouse, the luxuriant blue color Earth starts to revolve, ever such giant Earth, now actually is all controls in the palm.
Writes a draft / the Zhao colorful swallow king is attractive (reporter)

(Wouldn't it be nice if Google's Chinese translation tools worked as well as Google Earth?)

Urban Removal: "Our own experiences after the Loma Prieta quake is that outsiders are very much into destroying damaged buildings."

Lucy Kemnitzer writes in the comment section:

Our own experiences after the Loma Prieta quake is that outsiders are very much into destroying damaged buildings. FEMA had a program where they'd bulldoze your house for free for a limited time. Getting buildings properly assessed would take much longer, and a lot of buildings were bulldozed that shouldn't have been, including our beuatiful sandstone and brick nineteenth-century courthouse, which was supposed to be about to fall down of its own accord but resisted the wrecking ball for several tries. In this case, the feds are going to be even pushier about it, and it will take outright rebellion to keep serviceable old houses.

As for mold -- mold is killable and cleanable. It's a health hazard while it's growing and sporulating, but it's not a structural threat to the houses. The houses will need super cleaning anyway: that water that they've been under is dirty.

Volunteer Cook Needed

I'm sure some of you out there have been wondering what you could do to help with disaster relief. Are you a good cook? Here's your chance!

The Fire Department in Abita Springs, Louisiana, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, needs a volunteer cook to cook for the Firemen:

A cook that would be willing to volunteer services
to cook in the station, Abita Springs Fire Dept. They
would need to be able to prepare 30-80 meals 3 times a
day. The station kitchen will be used and housing can
be provided. It would great but not required if they
would be responsible for meal planning and stock

To volunteer, respond by email to They also need frozen and fresh food of all kinds. All email should contain "Katrina" within the subject line.

They have a number of other material needs, since the Emergency
management system has let the department down. Email for the current list.

For more in the current situation in Abita Springs, see this aritcle in The Slidell Sentry-News. See also The Pensacola News Journal.

UPDATE 9/18: Good news! They've gotten everything they need for now:

I just got off the phone with the fire chief of Abita,LA. He said all immediate needs have been met and further assistance will not be required.


The Red Cross Is No Substitute for Competent Government

One of the early media photos of a NOLA dead body was of a woman weeping over the body of her husband who had been suffering from lung cancer. When his prescription oxygen supply ran out, he suffocated and died.

Yesterday the Harvard School of Public Health released a survey of evacuees in shelters in the Houston area conducted in cooperation with The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey had the following health-related findings:

  • 52% report having no health insurance coverage at the time of the hurricane. Of those with coverage, 34% say it is through Medicaid and 16% through Medicare. Before the hurricane 66% of people evacuated to Houston shelters used hospital or clinics as their main source of care and of those, a majority (54%) used Charity Hospital of New Orleans, substantially more than the second most common care site (University Hospital of New Orleans, at 8%).
  • 33% report experiencing health problems or injuries as a result of the hurricane and 78% of them are currently receiving care for their ailments.
  • 41% report chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
  • 43% say they are supposed to be taking prescription medications, and of those, 29% percent report having problems getting the prescription drugs they need.
  • Of the 61% who did not evacuate before the storm, 38% said they were either physically unable to leave or had to care for someone who was physically unable to leave.
  • 39% report that they did not get help from any government agency or voluntary agency during the flood and evacuation.

Earlier this week, I had my adventure trying to solve a prescription problem for someone long distance, which I chronicled in my post, Walmart Wonderland: A Strange Tale. While the situation  I was trying to help with was potentially life-threatening, I remember thinking how glad I was that it didn't involve either psychiatric meds or withdrawal. This morning, Navy Blue emailed me a link to the story of a discussion board's attempt to help someone out of a situation involving both.

About the post, she writes:

I am frustrated. AND I am concerned.  This is an entry on the teeny little tale of me, a couple a people, and our friend Dan. He needed medication and had to have it sent from halfway across the country.

I still have the Red Cross link on my pages, and I still feel people should donate and that it is better to have the Red Cross trying to help than not, but as disturbing anecdotes involving Red Cross folk pile up in my inbox, it seems to me that for someone out there there is a book in this: a case study on how the Red Cross is just no substitute for competent government. (And neither is FEMA, for that matter.)  Here are notable passages from Navy's account:

Now it was Saturday, the 9th. Two of his medications will run out tomorrow.  One is a moodstabilizer and an anticonvulsant.  When one quits an anticonvulsant 'cold turkey', you are at risk for seizures.  The other one is a strong anti-depressant- known for heavy withdrawal symptoms. Combine this with such a traumatic experience and the physical and psychological stressors that come with it and Dan was in a very bad situation.

He emailed FEMA and The Red Cross, asking for information on what he can do.
A Red Cross truck came and delivered water and meals.

The Walgreens, a couple towns over, opened.  He drove through the dirty roads to  the store, stopping to wait three hour for gas. Then he brought his medication bottles, which were current and clearly had refills on them, to the pharmacy. They wouldn't be refilled unless the pharmacist could get in touch with his pharmacy or doctor.
. . .
On the 15th, 6 days after he had contacted them, Dan finally heard from FEMA, by email and the Red Cross, via a representative.

“Fema said that in a few days I will be assigned to a case handler who will check into the situation and drive out to interview me for an assessment of my needs. ”
“Red Cross said they only get involved in drugs when it is a matter of life or death.  I tried explaining; the guy, who had a double digit IQ, stood there with a sort of glazed look in his eyes.  Nothing I said penetrated the fog. ”

He received the last package [FedExed by a member of the online discussion group] and has taken four doses, and the discontinuation symptoms are generally improving.

While in Walgreens, Dan ran into an acquaintance of his, who's psychiatrist is still in the area.  He will tell the psychiatrist of Dan's situation and likely enable Dan to get new scripts for his medications.  In the meantime, he will be ok with what he was able to receive.

By the time FEMA sends him a case worker for an interview, he will have probably already gotten his refills.   If he hadn't had another resource, which happened, in this case, to be online friends, he could be severely ill.  In a worst case- Dan could be dead: seizures; acute dehydration- he was getting weak and likely wouldn't have gotten food and water very easily in the next few days; physical illness [ he was extremely sick and lost 11 pounds in about three days, no doubt lowering his immune system when he is already weak and prey to several infections]...

(The other Red Cross anecdote I received was from someone whom I had tried to help assess possibilities of rescuing a trapped relative in the early days of the flooding crisis. After exhausting all governmental avenues to place a request to have some people in a specific spot in NOLA rescued, the family tried calling the Red Cross. The person they reached didn't want to help with the rescue but did want a donation. The desperate family tried to exchange a donation for the person taking the rescue request and passing it along to someone who might help. The representative eventually allowed as how no rescue request would be passed along even if a donation was made.  At that moment, as nearly as my correspondent was able to assess, there was NO organization anywhere in the country willing to receive rescue requests. The request was ultimately conveyed via helpful journalists to the Coast Guard.)

People are suffering and dying because the emergency prescription infrastructure just doesn't work well enough. The Red Cross can help, but the nature of that help is far from ideal. We should not rest assured that all we have to do is donate money and that the hurricane survivors' needs will be taken care of, because it just ain't so.


  • Reed Hundt has a bunch more excellent questions that need to be asked of the government we have, competent or not.
  • Boy, our President sure knows how to roll up his sleeves, doesn't he? I'm very impressed with his sleeve-rolling competency. He's been practicing a lot lately, hasn't he?


"we are identifying some breaches in levees we did not see initially"

PlaqueminesbreachesScary stuff from a military briefing yesterday: Defense Department Briefing on Hurricane Katrina Repairs, Presenter: Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Carl Strock. (A PDF of the slides from the briefing is available here)

One of the questions that we are dealing with now is the status of the levees.  It's a very important question for two reasons. Number one, we want to make sure that if there are weakened portions of the levee or there are breaches that we haven't identified yet, we know about those.  Because as the decisions are made to move back in to these parishes, we need to understand the level of vulnerability that our citizens have moving back in.  So we've got a very intense effort going out to assess the condition of the levee systems and put in repairs where it makes sense.

The other thing, of course, is we're looking down range a little bit and we realized when we get through our response and the initial stages of recovery, we've really got to understand exactly what occurred here.  So part of our project condition survey is to capture the conditions as the water recedes so we can do the analysis later on to ensure we have the right engineering and we're doing the right steps to protect the people in the future.

So that's it.  It's a sort of a forensic aspect of the effort now, principally for operational and safety purposes, but also so we can go back and understand what happened.  And that's an ongoing effort.

As we do that, we are identifying some breaches in levees we did not see initially.  Our attention was really drawn to 17th Street and London Avenue canal in the inner harbor.  But now we're finding some levee breaches in places like the National Wildlife Refuge up here.  So there are other sections of the levee which breached.  We also have levee breaches down in Plaquemines County.  If I could go to that one real quick.

This is Plaquemines County, which is -- which is south and east of New Orleans.  They have breaches down there which we're working as well.  Plaquemines has been kind of out of the news, but clearly, it's an important area, it needs to be brought back up.  One of the reasons for that is a lot of the support for the oil fields moves up and down this corridor here, so we need to bring -- bring that area back up as quickly as we can.

"How could it be that people were not monitoring the walls?"

Schempp1_3Physicist Ellery Schempp, a friend of sf writer Jim Morrow's and a fascinating character in his own right, sent in the following interesting analysis of the levee failures:

First of all, we recognize that the flooding in New Orleans was predicted in an article in Scientific American in October, 2001.   There have been many disputes between environmental groups and the Army Corps of Engineers as to how to manage the lower Mississippi.  It surely is not a black and white matter.

There is dispute as to when the first levee broke--some say it was ca. 10 AM on Monday on the 17th St canal.   Others say it was later that evening.  In either case, all the catastrophe and suffering occurred after the levees broke, which resulted in flooding the city.  Before that moment, the remaining residents were not in severe danger.  All the horrors occurred because of the flooding.  All the future expenses are due to the flooding.

It is truly amazing that no one seems to know when the first levee wall broke.  How could it be that people were not monitoring the walls?  Relatively simple and inexpensive measures could have been implemented in the months before.  The levees did not fail because the water was so high that it overran them; it wasn't the direct effects of a category 5 hurricane that destroyed New Orleans.  In fact, 99% of the miles of levees held perfectly well--there were two breaches, one about 50 ft wide on the 17th Street Canal and the other about 200 ft long on the Lake Pontchartrain levee.  Maybe there was a third one--no account seems to know.  How could people not know?

I emphasize that this was not a case of an overflowing bathtub.  Cement walls failed, not due to a category 5 hurricane, but because there was no system in place to monitor and support the levees.

This  is well explained in the graphics of the recent History Channel description.  No earthen levee or cement wall failed { via snap}; in every case the failure took place over hours.

What should have been done:
1. All the major levees should have been outfitted with electronic sensors to monitor them.  There are a host of simple means from simple water sensors on the dry side (shielded from rain), to breakable wires to monitor continuity, to tiltmeters--dozens of technologies geologists use to monitor volcanoes and earthquake zones.  These could all have been connected to redundant monitoring centers provided with multiple battery and diesel generator backup.  In the event of an incipient failure, alarms would be sent pinpointing the area.

2. The important levees could have been constantly patrolled on the parallel roads so any signs of trouble would be seen quickly.   Trucks filled with sandbags and crews ready to work would be stationed at intervals.  Mobile cranes, too.   

3. How did the levees fail?  The most probable scenario is this.  Levees are at risk of water infiltrating under the barrier, percolating through and undermining the footing.  This is well known, so engineers prevent this by carefully sealing the water side with mixtures of clay and grout to prevent any water infiltration.  However, the dry side is usually not so protected. 

Probably, water started to slosh over from waves.  As it did, it ran down the dry-side walls and began to undermine the easily-penetrated dry-side foundations, possibly somewhat weakened by the heavy rains.  Eventually, one section began to tilt slightly, allowing more water over, more erosion, and from then the result was foregone.  The first breach probably was over only one or two 8-foot sections.  But as everyone knows, as soon as water starts flowing fast through a breach, sections on either side go quickly.  So a small breach became 200 feet wide.

4. Had the sensor monitoring system been in place and had the patrols been in place, this could have been prevented.  Sensors and patrols would have noticed the water coming over and immediately two-feet of sandbags placed on top of the levee, preventing further undermining.  The levees would have been saved, and there would have been no massive flooding.

5. Assume that even with monitoring for an incipient situation and timely response, a cement wall breaks {snap?  there were no warning signs?}.  How to stop the rush of water?  Well, you have barges prepared for this--they move into place and block the flow enough.  Takes some engineering to make it work, but certainly doable.  Street-based crews provide back up.

6. In a worst case scenario, the levees would have failed despite these early warning and corrective activities.  In that case, the monitoring and patrols would have been able to raise the alarm.  In a well-organized emergency management system, immediately loudspeaker trucks and buses would fan out throughout the city.  "The levees have broken,  The levees have broken.  You must leave now.  A flood is coming.  You must leave now." 

At the time the levees broke, there was a 12-18 hour window to get into the city and evacuate people.  In New Orleans, when the levees broke, everybody was clueless,  there was no early warning, and there was no effort whatever to repair a small break before it became unstoppable.  There was no effort to evacuate the residents with warnings of the NEW danger, after the hurricane had passed. 

It is clear that a mere $50 million in monitoring technology and levee patrolling and response teams would have saved $400,000 million in future costs.

There is no excuse for the lack of a constant monitoring system; there is no excuse for not patrolling the levee walls; there is no excuse for not having a response plan to prevent a minor break from expanding to flood the entire city.  Incompetence and stupidity are high on the list.  I mean, why wasn't a simple monitoring system for failure in place?

(One minor point: The people swarming around this web site were able to verifiy three breaches in three different locations by matching media images to satellite images; and as far as I know we were the first "media" source to do so. Pretty sad, yes? I entirely agree with Schempp's general point about the shocking lack of information about the breaches.)

Schempp's CV concludes:

In a 1999 interview, Ellery said:  “I have had the good fortune to have worked 400 miles from the North Pole and then 800 miles from the South Pole thanks to Prof. Robert Nichols at Tufts; I enjoyed these unique places immensely and they were transforming in my life; I had the good fortune to have the Supreme Court agree with my understanding of the First Amendment, with lots of help from the ACLU and my parents.  I had the good fortune to do a PhD in physics at Brown, with support from Prof. Philip Bray and many professors.  I am happy to be acknowledged, and I guess I made some contributions, but I think many others are to be recognized.”

He is also the author of the widely circulated satirical essay, Warning: Gravity is “Only a Theory.” Of his gravity essay, he remarks, " Amazingly, I found a lot of responses that took me seriously.  I therefore had to write an annotated version that explains the science and jokes. "

Advances in Katrina Map Technology

Mapwise, a lot seems to be happening.

First of all, the New Improved! Clickable Depth Map (aka the C&C Technologies New Orleans Flood Map) now has an address field! Hooray! (Now you don't have to go into Goggle Maps first in order to pin-point and address before using the depth map.)

Secondly Microsoft's VirtualEarth has joined the effort. Today I got t his message from a Program Manager:

After the Hurricane, a number of us began a project to show before and after imagery in an effort to help victims discover if their homes are under water. Instead of relying on low res satellite imagery, we worked with a company who specializes in low altitude oblique imagery which gives a MUCH more useful view of the area. Anyway, we just got the results of this effort online yesterday at msnbc. I hope you find it helpful.

I tried the site in both Safari and Firefox (G5 Mac; OSX Tiger). On neither broswer did their aerial photos display properly, although the bugs were different. But the project only launched yesterday, and I could see what they were trying to do, which looks very promising.It might work for you today. Or it might work for you next week when they get a few kinks out of it.  Very promising.

UPDATE: My correspondent suggests the following to get around browser incompatibility issues:

Here is an idea since images aren’t displaying for you in the browser properly. At the end of the day, Eagle Eye images are standard JPG images. You can view them in any picture viewer, not just the online viewer we built at MSNBC. If you right click (or whatever the Mac equiv is) on an image that didn’t display, you can see the full URL for the image. You can just enter that URL in your browser to display it. Like this:

The image he links to I find quite affecting. The boats look like toys forgotten by careless children, an odd collision in the semantics of scale.


FURTHER UPATE: The folks at Microsoft have volunteer to take care of my current address query  load, so current inquries have been passed along to them. I've been working on a bit of a case of eye strain, so it comes at a good time.

94.5 FM on the Air in New Orleans

Algiers_antennaFrom Gizmodo: Joel Johnson writes about an improvised radio station set up by volunteers now on the air in New Orleans:

Some volunteers came down with a low-power FM station, a hundred feet of coax, and a makeshift antenna. What they didn’t have was a tower. I was going to strap a pole onto the chimney of the house we’re staying in, but another volunteer named Jackie said she was pretty handy with a Skill saw and would be happy to rig something together.

About 8 hours later, we lofted this home-built antenna tower onto the top of the roof and begin broadcasting 94.5 FM, a station the radio operators are calling ‘The Battle for Algiers’ (which has a political connotation that I have not had the time to grok).

After the sun set, I walked a little ways down the street (but not too far, because of the curfew), listening to scratchy, mono sounds of John Coltrane beaming our from an community radio tower built from the salvaged lumber of destroyed homes. With the helicopters overhead, it felt like a lull in an 1960’s American war in our own streets that never happened.

Picture by Bradley Stuart, Creative Commons, non-commerical.

(Thanks to Xeni, who told me it was coming, and to Matt Harris who told me it had happened!)

Walmart Wonderland: A Strange Tale

I've been debating for a day or so whether to post this, because I don't want to advertise myself as someone who can solve this kind of problem. But I think this tale needs to be told. So here is it, as I wrote it up in email yesterday:

In addition to queries from people wanting help with NOLA disaster maps, I get a few from people asking for help of other kinds. The missing persons queries I really can't do anything with. But I got one that, after a little bit of discussion to clarify the issues, had something I might be able to help with.

The woman I'm trying to help is displaced from Jefferson Parish. She has type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She was given a one week supply of each of her three medications. It was paid for by the Red Cross, and filled at the Walmart in Baton Rouge. She was running out of medication. She said the diabetes medication was crucial to the maintenance of her blood sugar levels, and without it she was at risk for going into a diabetic coma. Also at the time of our first email exchange, the only aid she had received was the one week prescription.

She had applied unsuccessfully for food stamps (since resolved). She also said, "I went online and applied to FEMA and received an application for an SBA loan."

In the meantime, she had relocated to a rural community, Baywood, LA. The nearest Walmart is in Zachary, LA. She went there to refill her prescription, but was told that the Red Cross picking up the tab was a one-time thing.

So, I thought about this a bit, and called up Melanie Miller, the Assistant Minister at the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua, NY. We kicked around some ideas of how to help, and our first thought was for Melanie to get in contact with a Congregational Church in Louisiana. She tried calling the one closest to Baywood. But for understandable reasons, their phone line was perpetually busy.

So we had another thought. Why couldn't Melanie just call the pharmacy department of the Zachary Walmart and give them the church's credit card number and have the church pick up the tab? Sounds easy, right? An elegant solution.

So Melanie called. And she was told, not very nicely, that we didn't have enough information to get the prescriptions refilled and that their usual policy was that they didn't take credit cards over the phone. So we get more information, and Melanie calls again and is told that the only one who can authorize phone credit card charges is Pat, the Manager, and that he won't be in until after 11 AM. She Melanie calls and calls. Pat is 45 minutes late to work. When he finally arrives, Melanie gets him on the phone and he declines to allow the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua to buy this woman her medication because he won't take a credit card number over the phone.

It seems to me that anyone managing a pharmacy would be fully aware of the risks of taking someone of the medications the woman was prescribed without a doctor's supervision. So I don't really understand what Pat the Manager is thinking. Now, I don't want to rag on Walmart, because their distribution system may be the backbone of the recovery. And I don't even want particularly to rag on the Zachary, LA Walmart. But PLEASE, people, WAKE UP. This is a national emergency.

My next thought was to give a call to the Westchester office of one of our elected officials to see if she can help, which I did, leaving a request from a constituent for assistance. Hillary lives just around the corner from the First Congregational Church, at 15 Old House Lane.

When Melanie got upset with Pat the Walmart Manager, he told her that there was a  possibility that our woman might be eligible for some form of free aid, but that she would need to call or come in to determine whether she was eligible. I suspect that if she contacts him to inquire, she will be told that the one week prescription from the Red Cross that she has already gone through is all that's available.

We're still working out it. Meanwhile, the woman is looking for a more cooperative pharmacy to which to transfer her prescriptions. I think she ran out of her diabetes medication a day or so ago.

UPDATE: Senator Clinton's office in on the case.

A FURTHER UPDATE AND EPILOGUE: First of all, our woman got her meds, so she isn't going to die. We had Senator Clinton's Westchester office all set to call Pat the Manager, but before the call took place, our woman transfered her prescriptions to a much-more-cooperative CVS, where she received her essential medication for free. Also, in the comments, Madeleine of the Red Cross explains that the Red Cross prescription help is not supposed to work the way the Zachary Walmart employees said. So if you have this kind of prescription problem, get in touch with the Red Cross for help solving it.

The Airport Takeover: Another Case of Routing Around FEMA

Blurb200_1From NPR: A Doctor's Message from Katrina's Front Lines. Quoted is Hemant Vankawala, 34, is a doctor with one of the nine Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) medical groups set up at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport:

In hindsight, it seems silly that a bunch of civilian yahoos came in and took over the airport and had it up and running -- exceeding its normal operating load of passengers -- with an untrained skeleton crew and generator partial power. But we did what we had to do, and I think we did it well.

(A lot of the article, especially as concerns triage, is tough reading.)

Are these the first Katrina-related charges of Negligent Homicide?

CNN's front page this morning:


It seems to me that there should be a lot more people charged with negligent homicide, including government officials at all levels (up to and including that fellow who, after two weeks of dithering, has just publicly acknowledged that he's responsible.)

MEANWHILE, Josh Marshall writes about something I've been wondering. Just what was Dick Cheney doing while the rest of the administration waited for someone to tell them that the unfolding Katrina disaster wasn't all done with CGI? The answer is really interesting.

NASA's Missing Thousand?

Did NASA ever locate the 1,000 people missing from the Michoud Assembly Facility east of New Orleans? Anyone know what the story is?

(Um. And why didn't they evacuate in the first place? Anyone know?) Karen explains in the comments that there were only 56 people actually at Michoud; that they missing employees are or were people not yet accounted for who may or may not have evacuated. That makes more sense.

If This Were Only Cleared Away: The Nation Takes on Fantasies of Future New Orleans, Plus a Few Other Thoughts Of My Own

Parenti_200x152From The Nation: New Orleans: Raze or Rebuild? by Christian Parenti:

Though the area is routinely designated a ghetto, the homes of the Ninth Ward are mostly beautiful, century-old capes and bungalows, some with ornate wooden detailing reminiscent of old homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. "They'll have to bulldoze it all," says a visiting New York City cop, surveying the damage from inside an NYPD van.

Is that option--the right's much-touted tabula rasa--inevitable? "They don't have to tear all these down," says Joe Peters, a Ninth Ward tier repairman. "Under that siding, that's all cypress frames and barge board." Peters seems to think that the more solid homes of the Ninth Ward can be saved. Increasingly the holdouts here see the mandatory evacuation order as part of a huge land grab.

I track down Mike Howell, a Nation reader I'd met several days before. "Yeah, this could be their dream come true," he says. "Get rid of all the poor African-Americans and turn the place into Disneyland." After camping on Howell's roof, my colleague and I leave him and his wife our extra water and gas and push on.  . . .

9thwardwp"The evacuation order is just trying to get out the criminal element," says the cop in the classic flat, nasal Yat accent common to the Irish- and Italian-Americans who make up much of the city's white population. He explains how the military is mapping the city for holdouts using helicopters with infrared, and how troops on the ground mark the suspect building with a system of Xs and checks, a code that indicates to the police how many people are inside. The cop finishes his drink, shakes a few hands and rolls off.

Facilitating the tabula rasa agenda is an increasingly militaristic attitude that borders on boyish fantasy and seems to pervade the numerous federal SWAT teams, out-of-town cops, private security forces, civilian volunteers and even journalists. There are exceptions: The young soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and First Cavalry seem much less caught up in it and are quite generous with their ice and MREs.

. . . two vehicle convoys from Blackwater USA--one of the biggest mercenary firms operating in Iraq--cruise the deserted city, their guns trained on rooftops ready for snipers, who have recently shot at a cell-tower repair crew. . . .

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Bush-connected firms like the Shaw Group, Bechtel and Halliburton are lining up to get big portions of the $62 billion in federal money that will soon flood the storm region. The fact that some of these companies had been convicted of defrauding the federal government in the past, are under investigation again for corruption in Iraq and were once banned from federal contracting due to unethical practices has not stopped the process.

(Photo of Paretti from the Mother Jones web site. 9 Ward photo from the Washington Post.)

MEANWHILE, from the New York Times:

More than 1,000 displaced residents from St. Bernard Parish crowded the State Capitol to learn about the state of their devastated houses. No one has been permitted to re-enter the area to retrieve belongings or examine their houses. News of the meeting traveled by word of mouth and Web sites, and people lined up for blocks outside the Art Deco Capitol, where Gov. Huey P. Long was assassinated in 1935. Some drove from Houston.

Local officials did not try to hide the bad news.

"You will not recognize St. Bernard Parish," the parish president, Henry J. Rodriguez Jr., told hundreds of residents in the marble foyer of the Capitol. "All you will have left of St. Bernard Parish is your memories."

Now, I've looked at photos of St. Bernard (see for example this one; compare to this image for reference), and I'm not sure exactly what he means. His statement implies that the building are gone. But they're not. Most of them are still standing. Shouldn't it be up to the owners and residents whether to give up on properties in St. Bernard?

I should add that I have looked up lots and lots of specific NOLA area addresses on the Digital Globe (and occasionally NOAA) images, and I have not yet had  to write the "you house is smashed to bits" letter, though I did ask one person if he had a really big side yard (see image below), since the pre-Katrina satellite image was too blurry for comparison. Except in obvious cases, in which a house has been replaced by a debris field, it should be up to homeowners, in consultation with structural engineers and other such professionals, whether NOLA homes that are still standing need to be demolished, not handwaving politicans making sweeping generalizations. The vast majority of New Orleans are still standing and should not be razed without their owner's consent.


For further contemplation of Future New Orleans, see Joel Garreau writing in the Washington Post, whose piece entitled A Sad Truth: Cities Aren't Forever, is an odd combination of hard-headed realism, and politically-naive passing along of the current spin. His last paragraph reads:

I hope I'm wrong about the future of the city. But if the determination and resources to rebuild New Orleans to greater glory does not come from within, from where else will it come?

Let the people go back to their houses to make their own decisions, house by house. They want to do it, but grand plans are afoot that seem likely to preclude that process. In the end, Hurricane FEMA could do more damage to the city than Katrina if let to run its course.

UPDATE: I just this one below. The building that was inquired about looks at best very badly damaged. It is down the street from the Michoud NASA facility, also shown (aerial photos from


Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana"

[Note: A guy from Blackwater, writing in the comment section of my other Blackwater post, rightly points out that US citizens operating on US soil are, by definition, not mercenaries. In this, he is technically correct. What we call them, espcially those whose previous Blackwater deployment was outside the US, I leave up to you. -KC]

Transcript from a Democracy Now segment: Overkill: Feared Blackwater Mercenaries Deploy in New Orleans [mp3]:

. . . one of them was wearing a golden badge, that identified itself as being Louisiana law enforcement, and in fact, one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana, and what's interesting is that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security have denied that they have hired any private security firms, saying that they have enough with government forces. Well, these Blackwater men that we spoke to said that they are actually on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and indeed with the governor of Louisiana. And they said that they're sleeping in camps organized by the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the Blackwater guys said that when he heard New Orleans, he asked, “What country is that in?” And he was bragging to me about how he drives around Iraq in what he called a State Department issued level five explosion-proof BMW. This, as U.S. soldiers don't even have proper armor on their Humvees and other vehicles. And so, we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans.

Now this opens interesting semantic possibilities. Because once these guys are deputized, the Governor's office can claim that they aren't "mercenaries," but rather "deputies."

(Thanks to Terry K!)

"When can we expect the Administration to state its goals, including describing whether and when they intend to have previous residents of New Orleans return?"

ReedhuntOver at TMP cafe, Reed Hunt (who served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, 1993-97) proposes talking points for Democrats on the reconstruction of New Orleans. My only misgiving is that it shouldn't just be the Democrats asking these questions. Anyone who cares about property rights, up to and including the otherwise evil archconservative Pacific Legal Foundation should be asking question number 4.

Good stuff:

Simply have to investigate, expose to plain sight, reform the Administration's method of reconstruction in the Gulf.

  1. Who is in charge? Surely DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is inappropriate. Who is the person who will be held accountable for spending the money?
  2. Why is any sole source contract let? Is there no way to conduct competitive bids in a hurry?
  3. Why can't retired business persons, with real management experience, take charge of reconstruction?
  4. When can we expect the Administration to state its goals, including describing whether and when they intend to have previous residents of New Orleans return?
  5. Can't we have on-line an accounting of all money spent, to be sure that political lobbying isn't playing a role?
  6. What will HHS, Veteran's Affairs, SBA, and each other agency do? Shouldn't each be subject to oversight on a continual basis, not after the money is spent?

Go! Go!

(See also my post FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends for Their Homes.)

US Army Corp of Engineers Maps Katrina Levee Repairs


Denis McMahon writes in to say "Hi, I have some maps and photos of the levee breach locations, they might be interesting." And indeed his site is interesting and has the advantage of being created after the fact, so that there is a more orderly progressing of information than in the group stream-of-consciousness document on my site that was created as information was emerging.

The most notable thing on his site is the Army Corps of Engineers repair map which I had not previously seem. He remarks:

The Army Corps of Engineers Map shows multiple levee breaches, and suggests that some were made deliberately to allow water to drain back into the canal system or to the surrounding marshes from inside flooded areas.

Dsc_0006_1I should say that by this point in Katrina-blogging, the words "deliberate" and "levee breach" used in association, are a hot button of mine. I have been emailed a number of variations on the idea that it was in someone's best interests to flood New Orleans and that they did it on purpose. So when I saw the word deliberately I thought oh, no.

But in fact there is something a bit odd about the text on the map. The flow of water at 17th Street has been staunched. So it doesn't get its own note. But the labels say, Orleans East Bank . . .3 Breaches; Orleans East (Citrus) . . . 1 Breach;  St. Bernard Sump . . . 6 Breaches; St. Bernard 4 Breaches. So either the levee system failed in a more complex way than anyone has yet documented, or Denis's interpretation is correct, that some breaches have been created to let water out of the flooded city.

I am astonished at the depths of the political naivete of the Army Corps of Engineers showed by posting that map without an accompanying explanation regarding the nature of the breaches. When my husband was in a store in Chappaqua, New York, yesterday, there was an angry man yelling about someone intentionally running a boat into a levee being the cause of "the" breach. Amid rumors that someone did some of this on purpose, they need to be much more detailed and careful in their explanations.

In fact, they need to publish a timeline showing when the narural breaches occurred and under what circumstances, along with information on these deliberate breaches.


I've been getting a number of queries about a breach timeline. I don't have one myself. I was writing to Josh Marshall about making sure he added that info to his timeline when someone emailed me for mine. Here are the levee break entries from Marshall's timeline:

Monday, August 29:

  • Shortly before 8:00 AM CDT: Storm surge sends water over the Industrial Canal. Soon afterwards, Army Corps of Engineers officials believe "a barge broke loose and crashed through the floodwall, opening a breach that accelerated flooding into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish."
  • 8:14 AM CDT: The National Weather Service New Orleans office issues a flash flood warning stating there had been a breach in the Industrial Canal levee with 3 to 8 feet of water expected in the 9th Ward and Arabi.
  • Late morning: 17th Street Canal levee is breached.  Other reports place the breach much earlier.  According to Knight-Ridder, a National Guard timeline places the breach at 3 AM, three hours before the storm made landfall.
  • 2:00 PM CDT: City officials publicly confirm breach of 17 Street Canal levee.
  • Tuesday, August 30:

  • Late morning: 17th Street Canal levee is breached.  Other reports place the breach much earlier.  According to Knight-Ridder, a National Guard timeline places the breach at 3 AM, three hours before the storm made landfall.
  • 2:00 PM CDT: City officials publicly confirm breach of 17 Street Canal levee.
  • And from another timeline, Think Progress, there are a couple of items on the 28th:

    AFTERNOON — BUSH, BROWN, CHERTOFF WARNED OF LEVEE FAILURE BY NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: “‘We were briefing them way before landfall. … It’s not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped.’” [Times-Picayune; St. Petersburg Times]

    LATE PM – REPORTS OF WATER TOPPLING OVER LEVEE: “Waves crashed atop the exercise path on the Lake Pontchartrain levee in Kenner early Monday as Katrina churned closer.” [Times-Picayune]

    And of course everyone already knows about this item from the 30th:

    MIDDAY – CHERTOFF FINALLY BECOMES AWARE THAT LEVEE HAS FAILED: “It was on Tuesday that the levee–may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday–that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city.” [Meet the Press, 9/4/05]

    You knew that already, but I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that the timestamp on my first blog entry about the levee breaches is Tuesday, August 30, 2005 at 11:30 AM. It's like a story out of the Onion: A Westchester housewife is on task before the director of Homeland Security even knows that there's a problem. Surreal.

    UPDATE: Rafe, via email, sends links to the technical discussion:

    Routing Around FEMA: Someone Give This Man a Medal

    Harrylee2From the Times-Picayune: Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee commandeers Sam's & Wal-Mart stores

    Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said he has "commandered" the Sam's and Wal-Mart stores in the parish and ordered them to open as soon as possible.

    Lee said he took the action after he learned that a Wal-Mart store wanted to open recently but was told by FEMA officials that it could not. . . .

    Lee said he gave handwritten notes to Wal-Mart stores in Harvey and Kenner saying they were ordered to open as soon as possible. Lee said Parish President Aaron Broussard agreed with the decision.

    Lee said anyone from FEMA who tries to close either store will be arrested by deputies.

    Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Dies in Texas; His Slidell, LA Home was Destroyed by Katrina

    BrownFrom the AP:

    BATON ROUGE, La. - Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the singer and guitarist who built a 50-year career playing blues, country, jazz and Cajun music, died Saturday in his hometown of Orange, Texas, where he had gone to escape Hurricane Katrina. He was 81.

    Brown, who had been battling lung cancer and heart disease, was in ill health for the past year, said Rick Cady, his booking agent.

    Cady said the musician was with his family at his brother's house when he died. Brown's home in Slidell, La., a bedroom community of New Orleans, was destroyed by Katrina, Cady said.

    "He was completely devastated," Cady said. "I'm sure he was heartbroken, both literally and figuratively. He evacuated successfully before the hurricane hit, but I'm sure it weighed heavily on his soul.

    (Photo from the Texas Music Project.)

    It is worth noting that a strong emotional attachment to one's home and community is not something unique to musicians. Many people are feeling the way he felt all at once.

    His website, not yet updated to reflect his death, has the following message:

    Dear family, friends, and fans,

    Gatemouth Brown and his family evacuated the New Orleans / Slidell area shortly before Hurricane Katrina made landfall and made it safely to his hometown of Orange, Texas. However, due to hurricane damage, Gatemouth lost his home and all of his belongings. In an effort to raise money to help pay for his relocation to Austin, Texas, and to help pay for his medical expenses, living expenses, and the replacement of his instruments, Gatemouth Brown's Disaster Relief Fund has been established. To donate to the cause, you may send assistance in one of two ways:

    Donations by credit card or debit card may be made via PayPal.

    Donations by check or money order may be mailed to:

    Gatemouth Brown's Disaster Relief Fund
    (c/o Celeste Biles)
    3529 Cannon Road, Suite #2B, #611
    Oceanside, CA 92056

    (Make checks or money orders payable to "Gatemouth Brown's Disaster Relief Fund". All proceeds will be forwarded to MusiCares in Austin, Texas and will be distributed to Gatemouth for his medical and living expenses.)

    Thank you for any help you can offer. Check back regularly for updates on Gatemouth's situation and to find out about benefit concerts in the Austin area.


    Family and Friends of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

    Towards a public index of NOAA's Katrina Photos

    NoaanolaI really need to use NOAA's aerial photos of greater New Orleans, and as I have said before, I hate the NOAA interface. Since my dream of a clickable interface for the NOAA photos has not yet come true, nor my dream of a Mac version of Google Earth, I'm setting up this page as my own personal index to  the NOAA photos, to which I will make additions as I go along.

    Here's how it will work:

    1. I'll make a thumbnail image (with a larger thumbnail if you click on the small one),
    2. write a little description, and
    3. give approximate GPS coordinates if I can get them. 
    4. Time stamp information is highly desirable.

    The highest priority are those areas of New Orleans that are not covered by the Digital Globe 8/31 10 AM satellite photos. This overview of the Digiatl Globe images shold give you a sense of the problem:


    They don't cover enough of New Orleans and also it is hard to get information on nearly communities.

    Contributions (by which I mean submissions for inclusion) are welcome and encouraged via email at kathryn.cramer at

    I'm posting one now, and will post more later.

    1. 24441170 St. Charles Avenue, including the Loyola university stadium. This area is not covered by the Digital Globe 8/31 10 AM images available via Google Maps.

    Katrina and the Lessons of Galveston

    Wea00589In the comments, a reader named Tim (the same fellow who provided the clear anaylsis of how levees break) provides this lucid presentation of the Galveston disaster and its relationship to our current disaster. (Photos from NOAA.)

    We are witness to a terrible disaster beyond any in US history, with the single exception of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane in which 6,000 to 8,000 or more people died when a hurricane storm surge swept over the island.

    Sadly, many of those people died because of one man -- Isaac Cline.

    Isaac Cline was the chief meteorologist of the US Weather Service Bureau in Galveston in 1900.

    He advised the citizens of Galveston that the island was not in danger of being overwashed by the storm surge, and also believed that his home, which he constructed, was "hurricane proof." He also opposed the buiding of a seawall to protect Galveston.

    Wea00588Sadly, he was wrong on all counts. Although he survived the storm surge, his house along with his wife and many who had sought refuge in it did not.

    Some see Cline as a proud, arrogant man who refused to believe a hurricane of such intensity could sweep across the island as it did. Further, he stridently discouraged plans to build a seawall to protect Galveston from storm surges. Based largely on his advice, the city decided not to build the seawall.

    Cline, whatever his true place in history, bore the distinction of being the one man most blamed for the disaster.

    To his later credit, he devoted much time and energy to encouraging others to implement protective measures, many of which were responsible for saving New Orleans and other Mississippi cities from later disastrous storm surges.

    Galveston built its seawall soon after the 1900 storm, and it served to protect them against a similar hurricane years later.

    If there are lessons to be learned here that ar relevant to the Katrina disaster, I suppose that the failure of imagination on the parts of Cline, the city officials and the NWS which are parallel to the lack of preparations in New Orleans in light of all the well known risks posed to N.O. by hurricanes may be the most important lesson of all.

    As regards the sad state of affairs in New Orleans and Mississippi, there appears to be an ongoing failure of imagination, or more to the fact, a failure to realize and respond.

    Yes, it is very sad and very bad what has happened and what is still happening. Will we ever get over it? I hope the victims, the survivors will, in the sense of recovering and going forth with their lives.

    I hope we, the rest of the country as well as the city, state and federal agencies and governments, do not "get over" it, meaning I hope we learn and remember and work to prevent a recurrence of such disasters on the gulf coast as well as all other locales.Wea00583

    The sadness does pass in time, or diminish some. Anger, too. But the memory remains, most strongly for those who suffered. As for the rest of us, we owe it to them to remember as well.

    I don't know if this helps you any, but we have come through many trials before and emerged to carry on, and with knowledge sore learned, we often carry on better than before.

    So it has been, and so it will be again. History bears witness to this, yet each time we are presented with a new chance to do better. So, pray for the suffering and hope for the future, and always remember.

    Via email, he also suggests some links:

    I suppose I should add that my ancestors tended go through immigration in Galveston, not Ellis Island. I do not know whether I am directly related to any of those who perished in the 1900 hurricane, but it is not unlikely given the place and time.

    FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends for Their Homes

    6039providencepsmlI had a fairly thorough look through the FEMA website, and no where could I find any mention of any plans to tell people FEMA's intentions for their homes. There are instructions for registering a claim with FEMA, but it is not clear to me what FEMA does for you once your claim is registered. Is this simply a mechanism for receiving aid money? Or does their attention to your claim involve keeping you updated on whether they plan to tear down your neighborhood? Anyone know?

    Over the weekend, a reader made what seemed to me a really good suggestion, though I didn't yet understand at the time how good a suggestion it was:

    Please consider contacting the USGS to have updated satellite photos made available for New Orleans citizens, their families and friends - so that the conditions of their neighborhood can be evaluated from their distant locations while awaiting permission to return home. This may take weeks. It would put many minds at ease (or make the worst known, not better, but less harsh than the wait to see it firsthand).

    Make it so, Kathryn. Use what contacts and influence you have to make this idea understood as an important technical tool and its use as a social service.

    This will also help FEMA recovery efforts.

    There aren't enough satellite and aerial images publicly available to accomplish what he suggests. But the general idea, that the US government needs to provide people information about their homes, is a good one.

    Clearly, some of the houses are a total loss and need to be torn down. On some portions of satellite images houses formerly aligned in neat rows now look like they were casually dropped and haven't been lined up yet. Those homes are gone. There is no question that they need to be replaced. But many others, some in quite deep water, may well be reparable. The question is this: How much of New Orleans does FEMA plan to restore, and how much does it plan to simply replace. And if the houses are replaced with something else, are they to be replaced for their original owners? Or will the land be taken by eminent domain and redistributed?

    One thing I did find on the FEMA site was a news release detailing the FEMA time-line for federal funding of "debris removal":

    State and local governments will be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency for 100 percent of Hurricane Katrina eligible debris removal costs incurred during the sixty days following President Bush’s federal disaster declaration, from August 29 through October 30th, 2005.

    Examples of eligible clean-up include removal of debris from public rights-of-way to ensure safe passage and debris removal from public property to eliminate health and safety hazards.

    Removing the massive debris left by Hurricane Katrina is a cooperative effort between local communities, state governments, federal governments, and state and federal agencies.

    It's not clear to me whether this time-line applies (or even could be applied) to the cleanup of New Orleans. But now that Michael Brown is out of the way, presumably some plan for the future of New Orleans is coming together.

    Whole neighborhoods will need to be torn down entirely. We know this. It's obvious from up there in orbit where Digital Globes satellites live. But how many neighborhoods? And who will decide? Will FEMA tell you in advance if your house is to be razed, or only after the fact? FEMA needs to make its plans public as soon as possible.

    The data tying specific New Orleans addresses to GPS coordinates and aerial and satellite images exists. I've been using it all week. FEMA needs to provide us with their overlay for the map of New Orleans before they start the bulldozers. My personal recommendation to whomever is now in charge of the restoration of New Orleans is that as soon as they have a map showing what areas of the city the plan to tear down, that they release it to the public and to the media so that it can be integrated into the same tools the public has been using to check on the storm damage to their homes. Specifically, I would like to see a publicly published map that could then be integrated into the Google Maps and Google Earth interfaces. Also, FEMA should license this same technology, for use on its own website, to create an Internet site where people can type in their addresses and receive a detailed report on what FEMA plans for the area.

    If FEMA goes in with the bulldozers and starts razing areas without either informing the property owners and residents, nor allowing them back in to get their possessions, there will be mass panic. I hope that whoever takes over for Michael Brown has the sense to do better than that.


    Continue reading "FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends for Their Homes" »

    Black Water

    [UPDATE: See new post, Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana."]

    I've spent days scrutinizing satellite photos of New Orleans, helping people check out their houses. Inevitably, if they or their neighbors had a swimming pool, the turquoise blue of the pool visible on the pre-Katrina image is black on Digital Globe's shots from August 31st 10 AM. Also, as I said in a previous post, I was pretty certain that certain corporate names, familiar from the mercenary industry in Iraq, were going to turn up in New Orleans. So this evening I got an email from Patrick Nielsen Hayden informing me that Blackwater's in New Orleans.  Bodyguards to the coalition, they have a certain cowboy reputation among the private "security" firms. The style of their website tends to be a little over-the-top macho in comparison to other private military firms, whose websites tend to mimic accounting firms, as though it was sercurities (in the plural) they were selling, rather than "security."

    And, yes, those were Blackwater guys who died in Falluja, touching off the public revelation that at Paul Bremer's instigation, Iraq was awash in mercenaries who were pulling down salaries ten times what the American troops stationed there were making. Blackwater. From a novelistic standpoint, it is inevitable that they would turn up in the city in which there is so much water and on the satellite photos it looks like a black stain. And really, when you hire mercenaries, a certain amount of murkiness about accountability is part of what you are paying for. I lost track: were any of the private contractors implicated in the torture documented in the Taguba report ever actually charged with anything? What ever happened to John Israel and Steve Stephanowitz?

    Sending Blackwater into New Orleans is the twenty-first century's sad answer to that quaint twentieth-century phrase "send in the marines." It is the public confession that too much of our infrastructure has been "privatized," by which we mean that services formerly provided by government employees accountable to the American people can now be purchased, often at much higher prices, from the private sector, opening up much larger opportunities for war (and now disaster) profiteering. This is not to say that there aren't talented, strong, idealistic young men working for companies like Blackwater. But rather the privatization of these areas of endeavor, in light of the Iraq experience, is part cynical exercise in looting of the public treasuries, and part liberating the government from the burdensome accountability that keeps public employees from behaving like action heroes do in the movies.

    Put yourself in the shoes of those frightened, traumatized people holed up in their houses, determined to hang on because what's left of their houses is all they have left in the world. What would you do if one of these big burly Blackwater guys, with sunglasses and a sub-machine gun, showed up on your doorstep and instructed you to evacuate? As nearly as I can tell, New Orleans is awash in rumor. Suppose you had heard that they weren't really rescuing black people, but rather were rounding them up and putting them in concentration camps, something I wish were further from the truth [link via Xeni at boingboing]. What happens if the man from Blackwater reacts badly to your response?

    And how much is Blackwater being paid to prance around with guns while firefighters who came for free are used as props for political photo ops?

    (Via Attytood, thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden.)

    A FURTHER THOUGHT: In August of 1955, Hurricane Connie passed through the Delaware Valley, followed shortly by the remnants of Hurricane Diane. This resulted in the Great Flood of 1955. As the late science fiction literary agent Virginia Kidd (at the time of the flood, Mrs. James Blish) told the story, the flood waters rose up to the window sills of the main floor of the house (to a depth of about 4 ft on one side of the house, and much deeper on the other side, as Arrowhead has a daylight basement). The waters stayed for two weeks. Meanwhile, Virginia and her family stayed at Judy Merrill's house, on much higher ground, 3 doors down from the Milford stoplight (for those who've been there). As I recall, Virginia said they spent the whole time playing cards, waiting for the waters to recede. Much of the contents of the house had to be discarded because the flooded houses all had septic systems and the septic systems had been destroyed. But the Blish family still had their house.

    But not for long. The US government took most of the houses in the flood zone by eminent domain and tore many of them down. There was a plan for a vast flood management program involving making the whole area a lake. The plan was never enacted. When I worked for Virginia in the late 1980s, we were still sweeping the Delaware River mud out of the floor boards.

    Virginia was allowed to rent the family house back from the government for the rest of her life, though if the Feds had ever decided to act on their plan, she would have been evicted. And the house it is where she founded and ran the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. And when she died a few years ago, the agency was allowed to continue operating in the house, and there they are still.

    Why is Blackwater in New Orleans to do work that many others have volunteered to do for free? Two words: Eminent Domain. Think about it.

    What is Eminent Domain?
    Eminent Domain is how the government takes your property for a public purpose, whether you chose to sell it to them or not, at a price they specify. In Kelo vs. New London, the supreme court vastly expanded the powers of government to take property in situations where it was arguably for a private, not a public, purpose. The American Bar Association outlines it thusly:

    The exercise of eminent domain has a central role in urban redevelopment, smart growth, water quality improvements, wild land preservation and restoration, and a host of environmental and energy infrastructure projects.
    The Fifth Amendment enjoins: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This Quick Teleconference will examine the Supreme Court's recently decided 5th Amendment cases Kelo v. New London, No. 04-108 (June 23, 2005) and Lingle v. Chevron, 125 S. Ct. 2074 (May 23, 2005). In Kelo, the Court by a 5-4 majority upheld the City of New London, Connecticut's condemnation of 15 homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for the sole purpose of furthering economic redevelopment around a planned pharmaceutical research facility. The QT will discuss the extent to which the decision allows governmental officials to condemn private property for the purpose of increasing tax revenues and promoting development.

    In Lingle, the Court held in another 5-4 opinion that the 5th Amendment does not engender inquiry into whether the regulation "substantially advances" legitimate state interests, as it would with an issue under the Due Process Clause. Instead, how the amendment applies is a function of the extent and duration of the governmental action.

    Translation: in situations like Katrina, Kelo vastly expands the opportunities for corporate looting.

    ONE FINAL QUESTION: Under exactly whose authority is Blackwater exerting police powers?

    See, for example, this passage from a NOLA account on BoingBoing:

    We got yelled at some by police and official-types who wanted us out of areas where they were operating. Herding media isn't really their job, but they weren't rude about it (just brusque). The Blackwater employees, on the other hand, were phenomenally unpleasant. Jake has a lot more to add soon, I'm sure, but there's a serious question as to the authority of these mercenaries.

    I imagine that FEMA might enjoy an arrangement with them rather like Paul Bremmer had Bagdad. Except that's impossible because of the extremely peculiar legal circumstances under which the Provisional Authority functioned. New Orleans is under Federal, State, and Local law.  There is a state of emergency, yes, but a subcontracted State of Martial Law is difficult to exaplin.

    UPDATE 12/11: I just went looking to see why this post on Blackwater from three months ago  was getting so much traffic. It seems there has been an uptick on news coverage of Blackwater lately. One item that caught my eye was a November 29th piece from the Village Voice, Relief at the Point of a Gun:

    Among other things, Blackwater's men with big guns can be found guarding the Jewish Community Center on lovely St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, a FEMA recovery center in one of the most recovered neighborhoods in the city, where the gym is open for business and the Salvation Army is giving out hot meals. It is not an area where anyone normally shoots to kill.

    "You're not taking a picture of me, are you?" asks a middle-aged man with a military tattoo, a Blackwater hat, and two pistols, who is immediately joined by an even beefier and younger colleague. When asked who they're working for, the older man says, "The federal government. We're providing security."

    So, now that it's common knowledge that Blackwater has contracts with FEMA, what I want to know is why wouldn't people who took exception to what I'd written back in September admit the existence of the contract.  Come on, guys. That wasn't fair, now was it?

    If you're going to show up to tell the liberal chick in Pleasantville that she Just Doesn't Know, you've got to be straight with me. Those are the rules of engagement here.

    Will Katrina destroy ISS too?

    Written By Guest Blogger Karen Cramer Shea

    Katrina was a very powerful but nobody expected its destruction could reach all the way to Low Earth Orbit. The External Tank Factory for the shuttle is in New Orleans. While initial reports were optimistic the continuing deterioration of the situation in New Orleans looks bad for the external tank plant. The reports of looters and fires sound even worse.The satellite photo looks like the area is flooded. (compare to the Google Map, looking at the area to the east of I-510).

    The work force is scattered, their homes destroyed, along with the entire infrastructure of New Orleans.  NASA is talking about a delay of the next shuttle launch until May.  I think that is very optimistic.  They may be able to move workers to Florida to modify the tanks they have.

    Another year delay in the International Space Station would make completion by deadline impossible. If the Michoud plant is badly damaged how much are we willing to pay to fix it?  This cost should be considered when looking at the cost of the Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle since, if the major repair of the facility will not help ISS construction, it should be considered part of the the new launcher. Which may eliminate any cost advantage over, starting from scratch with a Boeing built Saturn 5 derived launch vehicle.

    Our Own Chernobyl

    BAG News Notes has been doing a nice job of analyzing media photos emerging from New Orleans.

    Certainly, most of the Katrina images last week were unvarnished and pulled no punches.  At the same time, however, I'm wondering how much of what we saw was still edited according to the taste of a mainstream viewing audience (MSVA?) that tends to alternate in disaster preference between sensationalism and denial.

    Meanwhile, Josh Marshall describes the Bush administration's emerging priorities in New Orleans:

    At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal. But now it's pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration's takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story.  . . .

    Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

    This is a domestic, natural disaster. Absent specific cases where members of the press would interfere or get in the way of some particular clean up operation, or perhaps demolition work, there is simply no reason why credentialed members of the press should not be able to cover everything that is happening in that city.

    Too bad Karl Rove hasn't taken his frog-march off to jail yet. Otherwise they might not be trying so hard to staunch the flow of inforation.

    25000bodybags_1This morning, CNN reports that 25,000 body bags have been shipped to Louisiana. "This is our tsunami," Biloxi Mayor AJ Holloway told the Biloxi Sun Herald. But the tsunami happened for the most part to countries with little infrastructure and very little warning. It seems to me more accurate to say that this is our Chernobyl.

    Xeni Jardin posted a long account by Jasmina Tesanovic, Serbian native best known for her work documenting war in the former Yugoslavia. Tesanovic writes about visiting the temporary occupants of Austin's Convention Center with great attention to psychological nuance filtered through her experience working on the book The Suitcase: Interviews with Refugees from Bosnia and Croatia:

    Who is this old respectable thin woman staring out of the window in silence?

    The other old woman is all dolled up; she is sitting in the terrace, chain-smoking, chain-talking. The chair next to her is empty. People come and go and listen to her, but she never stops talking. She has thin legs and a big belly, a pretty old face and fancy sexy clothes: everybody seems to know her. They are offering her stuff and want to help, to carry her, amuse her, bring her music. But she talks and talks only. She reminds me of a raped woman who compulsively talked after she escaped the war zone; she talked sweetly and mildly of everything, even of her rapist... This woman is telling us all how happy she is with life as such, happy to be alive, happy to be here.... I wonder when she will break down, from that chair, from that cigarette to which she is clinging to as if it were a pillar.

    (Can anyone who still asks where all the women bloggers are please slink away in embarrassment right now?)

    Jasmina Tesanovic, left, with science fiction folk Linda Steele and Deborah Newton at Utopiales, the Jules Verne Conference in Nantes, France last fall.

    The LA Times writes about the issue of whether the people of New Orleans should be called refugees or evacuees:

    In Houston, where tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims have sought temporary shelter, officials distributed a terse memo Wednesday dealing not with food, lodging or human connections, but with something that in its own way has become just as emotionally loaded: the word "refugee."

    "The term is perceived negatively by many of those housed at the Astrodome, who prefer to be called evacuees," said the memo to reporters, which addressed a heated conversation that has echoed in recent days from emergency shelters through the media to the White House.

    "I'm not a refugee; I'm an American," said Daphne Carr, 37, who fled New Orleans with her niece, Loasha, 9, and is staying at the Astrodome.

    The people displaced by Katrina deserve vastly more respect than they have been getting, but Americans should not deny the commonality that their experiences have with refugees throughout the world. We need to stop telling ourselves that this shouldn't be happening to these people because they are Americans. It shouldn't happen to anyone, anywhere, ever. The fact that they live(d) in the US simply made it less likely. (And if we adopt the term "evacuees," what then do we call the people who were not evacuated, but rather managed to escape New Orleans after the fact on their own. Escapees?) The blanket adoption of that term implies that something was done for them that may not have been.

    In a longer post on our ecosuicide, Bruce Sterling remarks:

    Over and over last week, people said that the scenes from the convention center, the highway overpasses, and the other suddenly infamous Crescent City venues didn't "look like America," that they seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans (whose life had never previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so different from other poor and black parts of the world: its infant mortality and life expectancy rates, its educational achievement statistics mirroring scores of African and Latin American enclaves.

    Nathan Newman has a thoughful post on the role of privatization in this strange new America:

    This is the challenge to the Left. Not just demanding accountability for Katrina, but looking systematically at every vulnerable facility or area in the country, and highlighting the hacks and scoundrels Bush has put in charge of our security.

    Because SEIU has labor disputes with Wackenhut, they've put the energy into exposing these other problems with the company, so it's a great place to start the investigation. Check out their Eye on Wackenhut site for more.

    In the context of Katrina, Dana Milibank also has this story about how private security guards from Wackenhut blocking press access to an HHS building, despite a decision by HHS officials to give them access. As Milbank said, "Thus was the true hierarchy within the federal government revealed: DHS outranks the White House, and Wackenhut trumps them all."

    Which of course is no joke. Of course, the private corporate donors to the GOP, who loot the public treasury through their privatization deals, outrank the White House. As with any feudal system, it's the folks with the money who run the system. Government officials, and that applies to Bush, are only their useful vassals.

    And the losers are the public who have to live -- and die -- based on the competence of folks like Wackenhut who have been entrusted with the security of our most vulnerable facilities.

    As I have composed this post, a little girl in fairy wings kept trying to climb into my lap -- quite a contrast between my setting ans this post's subject matter -- but of course protecting our children is an important reason why the task Newman puts us must be done.

    Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare. That's what America is supposed to be about.


    Can Google Maps please, pretty please, integrate the NOAA photos into its interface? They are in the public domain, so copyrights should not be an issue. I seem to be getting only hard cases (i. e. people who followed my instructions and didn't get what they needed,) this evening. And, as I keep pointing out, Google Earth for Macs still isn't out.

    I am hoping to find out about  3501 Apollo Drive in Metairie.  It appears to be pretty dry.  The couple living there are both disabled, one with a walker and the other in a wheelchair.

    This is out of the flooded zone, and I'm also not seeing destroyed houses on NOAA maps for that general area I've been able to study. But the area's not covered by Digital Globe. And the NOAA interface for photos bites: the images are not oriented, and you have to remember what image you've just looked at on their difficult-to-parse interface in order to know what next one to move on to. Arg.

    Katrina & the Science Fiction Social Infrastructure: We Pay Back

    I did want to take a moment and comment upon how the science fiction field's social infrastructure contributed to the genesis of the work of collaborative cartography presented here at this blog.

    First of all, my general attitude toward disaster response was nurtured by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog Making Light, with its intelligent and fertile comment sections,  where I had much of my early Katrina commentary. A DOS attack on their server aimed at another site shut down their site at just the time the levee breaks were being reported. So I did my own post, New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After (originally phrased in the singular). Patrick and Teresa are longtime science fiction fanzine fans and also have been my friends for decades. They both work at the science fiction publishing house, Tor Books, where my husband David Hartwell also works. (I shouldn't forget to acknowledge my ovely wife David, without whom none of this is possible, who has put up with me spending all this time on the Katrina Maps project.)

    Once the levee break piece was posted, it seemed to me after a look around that I had the only levee Before & After shots available on the web. So I wrote a note to my friend Cory Doctorow using the BoingBoing submit-a-site page telling him about it.  (Further connections: Tor publishes Cory; Patrick is his editor. When I was pregnant with my first child, Cory jokingly suggested we name him Darth; we chose Peter instead.) Xeni, who was doing most of the Katrina coverage there, picked it up and sent me a band of useful techies. (Also, Ned Sublette, providing some of BoingBoing's other early Katrina coverage, is the significant other of fantasy writer Constance Ash.)

    From there, the whole thing took on a  life of it's own.

    Internet service over Labor Day weekend provided by L. W. Currey Rare Books and by Joe and Kit Reed.

    I suppose I should add that New Orleans hosted both a World Science Fiction Convention and a World Fantasy Convention. Nolacon, the Worldcon in New Orleans, had a number of programming disasters, but New Orleans is (or was) such a great city, that the very charisma of the city saved the convention. Who cared if the infrastructure of the convention had fallen apart. The WorldCon was in New Orleans! We had a great time!

    And then there's Jim MacDonald's check-in page and Gary Farber (who was once a Worldcon Chair; and who lived on P & T's sofa for a while; and then in an apartment with a roomate who borrowed some of my furniture). This is a tightly knit little tribe you see. Many fewer degrees of separation. We liked New Orleans.

    We pay back.

    (I'm sure I've left some science fiction people out. By all means, rush forward and claim credit where credit is due!)

    How to Submit a Request for Help

    When submitting a request for help finding out abut a specific address please put KATRINA HELP in the subject line. My email address is kathryn.cramer at Thanks.

    MEANWHILE: now has a Katrina rumor page. I found it a little disappointing, since it didn't take on a couple of the Biggies that I've had inquries about, but I'm sure in a day or so they'll get around to them.

    Anne Rice on Katrina

    Dan Mills sent Anne Rice's NYT Op-Ed piece on the nations' response to Katrina, which I exerpt here:

    . . . to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

    Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.

    Private Contractors & New Orleans

    I know a fair amount about mercenaries and private military contractors (see my somewhat incomplete  Mercenaries & PMFs archive), and have been anticipating with a certain sick feeling of de ja vu that I was going to have to blog how all the usual suspects from Iraq and Africa turn up in New Orleans, the world's newest Third World country, so the sentence New Orleans may well have more mercenaries and National Guards operating in it than there are citizens left at the moment gives me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    I have been focusing  primarily on the cartography of Katrina and would appreciate reader recommendations for articles on the involvement of Private Military Contractors. No one knows where all of the bodies are buried in that field, but I at least know where some of them are.

    Atk_1And yes, I know about Halliburton. I want the rest of the names, especially those guys carrying guns. UPDATE: Ah. Here are some names:

    • "British security firm AKE Group has three employees on the ground in New Orleans with CNN, a unit of Time Warner Inc. <TWX.N>, and is preparing to send three more." This makes sense to me: CNN should have security people. And it seems to me that security guys accompanying reporters are highly unlikely to turn Rambo. Nonetheless, the Terminator/Robocop graphic to the left comes from their site.  AKE is apparently run by a former CIA guy.
    • "Security firms Kroll Inc. and Beau Dietl & Associates also said on Friday they have seen a surge in requests for security services and advice in the New Orleans area this week.
      Kroll, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. <MMC.N>, has been working to help clients in industries like hotels and casinos to evacuate facilities and implement emergency contingency plans, according to spokeswoman Jodie Rosenblum." This sounds sensible on the face of it, except that it could easily get out of hand. Exactly who is going to prosecute one of their guys if he shoots someone just because the piss him off?

    [ADVISORY: Those who came here for the maps and aren't interested in my personal political opinions, stop reading here.]

    Continue reading "Private Contractors & New Orleans" »


    Jerry Walker writes:

    Hi Kathryn,
    Not sure if you've seen this map or not. You can point and click and see what the water depth is in New Orleans, street by street. It's a google map, but I can't find the map on google itself.

    Thanks so much for all you're doing!


    I tried it and it seems to work! Now all it needs is the addition of an address input field. But if you have the address already up in Google Maps in a separate browser window, then you can pretty much find what you are looking for.


    It's creator, Teh Treag (aka cjames) says

    We started off with LIDAR terrian model of the city.  Then, with some  reported water depths in  the city we projected the data into our model. I'm still waiting on the data processors to get some more data to me; right now we have over 2.5 million data points loaded into MySQL using the spatial features.  I expect this number to tripple as they continue refining the modeling.

    The page uses AJAX to query the database for a 200x200m area and averages the result.

    So far, the data appears to correlate well with the post storm images.

    Gods of Google Maps, you've answered my prayers once by adding the Katrina button. Please come through for me by adding the depth info.

    To Google Earth users: are their overlays already integrating this info?

    (Someone else may have sent this URL to me previously, but I've been pretty busy and have lost some of the things I planned to check out in the rising tide in my inbox.)

    SEE ALSO: Flood Level Maps, which gives you an idea of which parts were flooded at various stages on the flooding and this Customized Dynamic Map of New Orleans. You guys are heroes. This kind of information is tremendouly important  to the people whose houses or relatives were there.  Also, it may even  have cash value to the victims, in that I suspect it will make dealing  with FEMA claims officials and their insurance comapnies a lot easier if there is  physical evidence of the damage to homes.

    What about a Toxics Map?

    5725stanthonyb_2ANOTHER READER QUESTION:

    have you found a site that would have the results of the toxic water in New Orleans.  My husband has been down there since last Tuesday trying to get the MCI telephone sites up and running.  Passed the worrying stage about the gun shots around him but now am worried about the toxic water problem and long term effects.

    An extant toxics map sounds to me a bit ahead of the data we have right now by a good bit. But it is something that should exist, even if it doesn't. I have been talking about the need for information on the water depths and water movement with the tides and other factors,  and still haven't come up with a solution for that yet, but her question is an important one. Anyone know if there have been surveys of toxics. I recall that preliminary looks seemed to suggest that the toxics problem was not as bad as it might be, but that could have changed and might have been wrong in the first place. What can be done to get this information together?

    (Image of chemical sheen on the water courtesy of Shawn McBride. I think it's a NOAA image acquired through Google Earth with overlays; I gather it's a search he did for someone who enquiring about their house.)

    Also, if you can load a really large image, have a look at this NOAA image, just to get the scale. I'm trying to find someone's house on an area of the city not covered by the Digital Globe images, and I'm a little lost, because NOAA doesn't preserve orientation in its interface. But the sheen, oh my God . . .