News Stories

No Room at the Inn

Governor Rick Perry of Texas made a generous gesture when he offered to house the newly homeless people of New Orleans in the Astrodome in Houston. There were so many people overflowing the Superdome in Louisiana that the dome, along with the city of New Orleans itself, had to be evacuated. But the governor either didn't realize how many busloads of people were going to arrive or didn't know how many people could fit into the Astrodome. Fire marshals in Houston said there was absolutely no way 25,000 people could fit in there, so busloads of refugees have been turned back. For these people, there was no room at the inn.

Some were sent to San Antonio, where they opened up Kelly air force base and the Freeman Coliseum. Inside the Astrodome, heroic doctors worked frantically to help the new arrivals. Dr. Steven Glorsky said, "We have a crisis in here."

That was an understatement. The public health system in New Orleans has collapsed. Water supplies are sporadic, electricity is shut off, hospitals are closing and trying to relocate their patients. 2,500 patients have not been evacuated from hospitals, because they are so ill that moving them might kill them. At least ten hospitals are running on generators. The emergency generator at Tulane University Medical Center is danger of being drowned by the still-rising floodwaters. Medical workers at Charity Hospital had to manually ventilate patients after back-up generators failed.

Four people have died at the Superdome and more are dying right now. Two of the major hospitals in New Orleans?Charity Hospital and Baptist Hospital?are so heavily damaged they have been closed, perhaps permanently. New Orleans has over half a million people and there are probably 5,000 who require kidney dialysis twice a week. infants from neonatal intensive care units in Jefferson Parish have been sent to the University of Alabama Medical Center in Birmingham. There's no word about whether their mothers were allowed to travel with them.

The mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana have both complained that FEMA has not acted efficiently enough to save New Orleans. Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans in the past few years:

January 2001: President Bush appointed Joe Allbaugh, afriend from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announced that much of FEMA's work would be privatized. In May, Allbaugh confirmed that FEMA would be downsized, and called federal disaster assistance "an oversizedentitlement program."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh left FEMA and was succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who also had no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA was folded into the Department of Homeland Security and refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.

June 2004: FEMA denied Louisiana's funding requests to shore up its levees. The Army Corps of Engineers, the group that would have done the work, had its budget slashed because the money was needed for the war in Iraq. A year later, funding for the corps was cut even further. One of the hardest-hit budget items was the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood ControlProject, which was created after a May 1995 flood to improve drainage.

(The above list was compiled by Prof. Henry Breitrose of Stamford University).Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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