Louisiana's post-hurricane disaster: Part 2, the federal government

| Thu Nov. 10, 2005 12:20 PM EST

By now, most people have seen enough evidence to realize that FEMA's so-called response to Hurricane katrina was criminally incompetent. What they do not realize, though, is that the federal government's response continues to be inadequate.

Take Calcasieu Parish, for instance, which was devastated by Hurricane Rita. Officials there were told repeatedly by FEMA that every household in the mandatory evacutation area was eligible for assistance. George W. Bush made the same promise. But no one in Calcasieu has seen a $2,000 check. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, in charge of FEMA's on-site relief efforts, announced in late October that failure to provide assistance was an error and that he would see to it that it was corrected as soon as possible.

A few days later, Allen informed parish officials that FEMA checks had been discontinued. The reason given was that the money was intended to help people "immediately after the storm." This Through the Looking Glass excuse is outrageous, considering that immediately after the storm, the people of Calcasieu stood homeless, waiting for the so-called immediate relief from FEMA. The Calcasieu Parish crisis also brings to mind what happened earlier in Plaquemines Parish, when--by the end of September--FEMA had not sent any operating funds to parish officials, and the governor had to run around finding money to cut an emergency check to keep the parish operating.

Thousands of Louisianians are still waiting for FEMA trailers, which are sometimes visible to them in lots where they sit empty. At first, FEMA was opposed to residents hooking up trailers next to their houses while they re-built, but they have since backed down on their opposition. Then the agency issued an order denying aid to affected families in which an employee had to travel to New Orleans or other affected areas to live in work trailers; they have since reversed that order, also. Residents have also had to deal with fly-by-night "insurance adjusters" who have never been trained to do anything but deny coverage, and there has been no one to monitor the incompetence.

For privacy reasons, FEMA refused to allow Louisiana voting officials to access records of displaced citizens so that they can vote in upcoming elections; just this week, FEMA reversed that decision. Though the privacy argument is a strong one, it is a safe assumption that people would prefer to be informed of their voting rights.

Last month, yet another Department of Homeland Security official resigned because he was unable to secure catering contracts for local vendors. As of early October, .014% of contracts had gone to Louisiana companies.

The big news in Louisiana, however, has been the federal government's insistence that the state repay any federal loan; such a request has never before been made following a major disaster. The rumor is that Louisiana's history of corruption makes it a bad risk for utilizing federal funds, despite Governor Kathleen Blanco's hiring of an independent auditor to monitor the money. Louisiana's history of corruption is indeed impressive, but so is the history of corruption of the Bush administration, which Congress overlooks on a daily basis. Halliburton, for example, can "misplace" $9 billion in Iraq, and no one bats an eye. And in late September, the Bush administration had yet to provide Congress with the required weekly spending breakdown on hurricane relief.

Though Michael Brown is finally gone for good, Louisianians have no reason to believe that FEMA and the rest of the federal government will keep its promises to the state. The news media has gone home, the Bush people are doing the bird flu show, and the nation has moved on. But just as Louisiana's legislators are too short-sighted to understand the consequences of a failed New Orleans economy, so are the country's lawmakers shortsighted as to the consequences of the failure of the economy of a state that provides 30% of the nation's energy, and whose Baton Rouge and New Orleans ports, combined, comprise the largest port in the world.

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