Bill Sykes' Newsletter from America.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!!!
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,
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
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
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.