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Bill Sykes' Newsletter from America.
(October 2005)

An ex-Brit gives his views-(without fear or favor)---of the American Scene

Anatomy of a terrible and disastrous storm:
As I started this series of newsletters on the 11th of September 2001 with a man-made tragic event, I never expected that four years later I would be ending these newsletters with a natural tragedy of greater proportions.

Hurricane Katrina first surfaced in the Caribbean as a tropical storm and grew in magnitude as it crossed the southern part of the State of Florida and headed for the Gulf Coast area and the coastal towns of New Orleans, Gulfport, and Biloxi into a fully fledged category five hurricane with winds reaching over one hundred miles per hour and an ocean swell reaching over twenty feet.

Relevant information:

  • The deadliest storms of hurricane force winds and colossal rainfall have been centred over the years mainly around the State of Florida and the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Keys to Galveston, Texas. One of the most deadly storms, being the one that hit Galveston (which for that time period was one of the richest cities in America), on the 8th of September 1900. This storm levelled twelve city blocks in Galveston and devastated nearly three quarters of the Island of Galveston with an estimated death toll of between eight thousand and ten thousand people.

  • Hurricane Katrina, which was forming off shore in the Caribbean was forecast by the national weather stations to be increasing daily to a category four or five storm strength and was heading for the Gulf Coast with a predicted landfall between New Orleans and Biloxi.

  • Five days later these predictions came to pass, and in the early morning hours of Monday the 30th of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in an area from New Orleans to Biloxi with deadly force. Two major levies in New Orleans were breached causing the water to sweep inland and flood most of the area in its path to a depth of twenty feet or more, causing great devastation to property and the loss of many lives.

  • Although warnings were given to evacuate the Gulf Coast cities prior to the arrival of the impending storm, many people were either unable, or reluctant, to leave their homes and stayed put.
    Many of the more affluent white people heeded the warning and having the necessary financial means and modes of transportation headed out of the towns.
    It was reported that unfortunately many of the less affluent black population of New Orleans, who apparently lived from pay-check to pay-check or in many cases welfare-check to welfare-check, did not have the financial means or the transportation at their disposal to leave the city.

  • Many of the black population of New Orleans apparently lived in areas which were fifteen to twenty feet below sea level and were very much dependant in a case of severe storm conditions upon the levies built as a seawall to hold back any storm water surge from entering the city suddenly found themselves struggling to survive, their houses flooded to roof top height and for many days to come did not have food, water, or shelter, and many died.
    The death toll has not yet been fully assessed but it is expected to be quite high considering the number of bodies still floating around in the stagnant water.

  • The people of New Orleans, (mainly the members of the Black community), were instructed shortly after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast and started to cover the streets with up to twenty feet of water to head to the Super-Dome stadium for shelter. Then for at least five days after the event many had to survive without food, water, sanitation, (the toilets were filled to overflowing with no water supply available for flushing), and many other necessities of life.
    Media reports indicated that after the relatively short time of four days and four nights in a very overcrowded Super-Dome the whole place became a disgusting morass of absolute filth, with trash and excrement scattered everywhere.

  • Lawlessness in the form of looting, shooting, and rape, became extremely prevalent in the days following the immediate disaster as there was no police control or any other type of control in place for that matter until many days later. It has been noted by the media that eventually some resemblance of control was established when a State of Emergency was declared and armed National Guard units, (later supported by American Armed Forces withdrawn from Iraq), were flown in to the city to try to restore law and order. One more case of the Administration depending upon the National Guard.
    It has been reported that the sale of weapons by local gun shops increased from around ten a day, prior to the hurricane, to a thousand a day during the initial period of lawlessness which occurred after the storm hit.

  • The potential aftermath of this deadly storm could be a raging epidemic outbreak of anyone of the following maladies: Starting with Gastroenteritis, Diarrhoea, and then followed by more viral diseases such as West Nile Fever, Malaria, (which is carried by mosquitoes), Yellow Fever, Cholera, Smallpox, Hepatitis, and Encephalitis, many diseases which are brought about by contact with the highly contaminated sewage and oil polluted water. One must also remember that the people who were evacuated from New Orleans to large cities such as Houston, Texas, had previously been concentrated in close contact groups prior to their evacuation and also had been in contact with the highly polluted water which may pose in the very near future a far greater endemic problem than exists at the moment.
    Notation of major United States epidemics, some of which were located in the region of the Gulf States.
    1832, Cholera. 4,340 people died.
    1853, Yellow fever. 7,790 people died.
    1867. Yellow fever. 3,093 people died.
    1878. Yellow fever. 13,000 people died.

  • A terrific amount of criticism has fallen upon the emergency relief organization that had food and water stored for just this type of catastrophic occurrence, and had on standby a large number of transportation vehicles available to bus people out of the devastated city, and also hundred’s of pre-fabricated mobile shelter units meant to house evacuees in cases of a national emergency.
    It has been made apparent to most people that the one vital thing that was missing was leadership in the shape of at least one senior person with enough authority to set the wheels in motion during the five day warning period prior to the event, to order the immediate distribution of available relief supplies and the evacuation of the residents. They had five days of warning and apparently did nothing - that is totally unacceptable from a management team that is supposed to have the responsibility for immediate response to any catastrophic event. FEMA leader of Operational Control, for the immediate response team, Mr. Michael Brown, apparently appeared to be way out of his depth and after being congratulated by President Bush, with a pat on the back for doing "a heck of a job" he was recalled to Washington by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.
    Michael Brown eventually resigned on Monday the 12th of September as FEMA’s administrator and R. David Paulson was immediately nominated as his successor - Mr. Paulson was ridiculed some time ago when he recommended that people buy large quantities of duct tape to counteract a possible terrorist attack with biological weapons.
    Michael Brown’s on the spot replacement in the Gulf Coast area was announced some days later, as Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen, third in command of the American Coastguard, who was assigned to take over the duties.
    Good luck Admiral.

  • The issuing by FEMA of $2,000 dollar credit/debit cards to all and sundry, is of course a noble gesture but leaves a situation open to corruption, and it was rescinded in its immediate form shortly after it was started, as I’m sure that the deserving people were not getting a fair distribution and corruption was inevitable. It has been reported that only 50% of the money donated to many of the so-called charities goes to the people that it was donated to and the other 50% goes to fund raising activities and administration - so be warned, and check the validity and reputation of the charities that you donate to.
    By the way, when four hurricanes hit and damaged areas of Florida during the 2004 hurricane season, (a Presidential election year), FEMA was immediately on the spot handing out checks to all and sundry even though some of the recipients were alleged to have not sustained any storm damage. I wonder why such immediate action was forthcoming in a pivotal State such as Florida in a Presidential election year!!!

My Comments:
As I was not on the spot, during or after the terrible disaster, I am not in a position to come to any conclusions as to who should shoulder the blame for the chaotic conditions that ensued during and after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast - every picture tells a story, but I think the front page of the American magazine U.S. News and World Report says it all with the headlines " Who Screwed up" and "From the Big Easy to the Big Guy, there’s a lot of explaining to do".
The front-page headline from another leading American magazine Newsweek stated, " How Bush Blew it".

If Moses really did perform a biblical miracle that divided the Red Sea, (which is extremely doubtful), then surely this President, who started a terrible war for all the wrong reasons, should be able stop a comparatively simple thing such as a hurricane as it is apparent there are many times that this President thinks that he is a Supreme Being.
The reaction by the United States Government and the Bush Administration has been criticised for being slow to react to a dire emergency and was barely responsive during the early days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast.
The lack of law and order, plus the breaching of the two levies contributed to a delayed evacuation, and the distribution of food, water, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and an adequate supply of medicines, plus vaccination of all the local citizens against potential epidemic conditions of deadly diseases - which could be contracted by coming into contact with a high degree of contamination from the cesspool polluted waters - which may eventually create a desperate and highly infectious situation beyond the Gulf Coast area.
Once the search and rescue teams got started, the order of priority was given to the living which cannot be faulted - and one would assume that the traditional first priority was given to women and children, the sick, the elderly and the infirm.

Criticism has been aimed at what some people consider the callousness of leaving the dead bodies to rot where they fell - but the overworked and heroic people doing the job of search and rescue in my opinion did the right thing under the circumstances and have to be congratulated for their dedication, and in many cases acts of associated heroism which was demanded of them in giving priority to the rescue of the living.

America may be one of the best-equipped countries in the world in terms of materialist things but is sadly lacking in a common sense approach when trying to deal with huge problems such as wars and national disasters which require immediate attention and rational thinking.
Take for instance this terrible disaster in the Gulf Coast area - as usual, the people in power were slow to respond but when they got into top gear they reacted with the usual mode of overkill in the belief that throwing large amounts of money at any problem goes a long way to solving that problem, and eventually authorised a Government expenditure of $62B dollars to try to put the matter right - I would suggest that if the United States Government intends to cover the entire cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast cities, which I’m sure that the three Gulf States will request, then surely it will cost much more than the original figure of $62B dollars and will probably run into at least a couple of hundred billion dollars.
Knowing the political wheeling and dealing of the American Federal monetary management system, and the lobbying power of big business concerns, I would imagine that the trek of big business lobbyists to Washington has already begun in an effort to obtain future lucrative contracts that will become available, and I would suggest that a large amount of the relief money that was initially made available will get siphoned off to the wrong people, and the higher the authority the larger the amount of financial kickback will be given, which of course will ensure that more financial corruption will exist and the people who really need the money will have to struggle to get it.

Next Page

Link ArrowAre We Better Protected?
Link ArrowThe Patriot Act (HR3162).
Link ArrowAnatomy Of A Terrible Storm.
Link ArrowReaders Letters.
Link ArrowLate Breaking News.
Link ArrowLast Word/Disclaimer.
Link ArrowA Sad Farewell To Bill Sykes.

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