Thursday, February 16, 2006


" of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life"

---Michael Chertoff, US Head of Homeland Security, in his testimony to Congress about Hurricane Katrina.

Really? Mr. Chertoff? Hurricane Katrina was one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of your life? I'd like to know more about that, because most of the people I know would say the same thing about Hurricane Katrina. Maybe you could compare notes with them. I have a feeling that the reasons that they would give are different than yours.

They would say it because their parents died in the aftermath of the storm.

They would say it because their house was flooded with 6 feet of water and they now live entirely in the 2nd floor of their house, while the bottom is being renovated.

They would say it because the hurricane destroyed all of the pictures of their children from when they were first born, up until their senior photos, and those are all irreplacable. Nevermind that their furniture, clothing, and car are gone.

They would say it because it caused their families to live in separate cities around the country for the first time ever, and they don't know if they will ever all be in the same place more than a few days a year.

They would say it because they lost their jobs, when the company they were working for didn't get any federal assistance in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and were then turned down for their SBA loan.

They would say it because they have been paying the mortgage for an uninhabitable building for just about 6 months now, while paying rent on another dwelling and waiting for a FEMA trailer.

They would say it because a loved one has committed suicide in the aftermath of the storm, which is happening at a rather alarming rate. Even those who haven't lost loved ones in this manner have lost countless loved ones to moving out of the area.

They would say it because all of the plans they had laid out for their lives, and the little square of real estate that they had finally paid off and planned to live on the rest of their lives may now never be redeveloped as a neighborhood.

I can tell you that the above has happened to multiple people that I know well, and several fall under more than one of those examples.

So, Mr. Chertoff, I wonder if you might want to reconsider your words. Or, better yet, come and spend a week with the people of New Orleans. Listen to their struggles. Let them tell you how difficult it is to get assistance from FEMA and the SBA. Let them tell you how long they have waited on hold. Walk in their shoes for just a week Mr. Chertoff, and I have a feeling that Hurricane Katrina blowing in and shaking up your politically appointed job and making you look like an incompetent executive will become the 2nd most difficult and traumatic experience of your life. Live the aftermath for a while, and see explaining the government's response to these individuals isn't your new number 1.


Maybe this process really works???

Maybe the $30Billion that was sought in the Baker Bill was really overkill, and the new $10Billion number is more reasonable for everybody.

Regardless of the specifics, you throw $10Billion dollars (this latest 4.2 + the 6 that has already been approved in block grant money) into this metropolitan area, and there is going to be a construction boom like you have never seen before. This is very good news for our region, we just need to make sure we don't screw up the implementation...

Bush to seek $4.2 billion more for La

More U.S. Aid Will Be Sought for Louisiana

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Highlights from House Katrina report

Remember, this is a report written by a congressional committee, that includes almost all Republicans, and is deeply critical of the administration. My personal favorites are below, and my comments as always are in italics:

Despite reports from FEMA and the Coast Guard the night Katrina hit, the Homeland Security Operations Center failed to conclude that New Orleans levees were breached. "Perhaps the single most important piece of information during Katrina was confirmation of the levee breaches in New Orleans." What else could it have been? What else could have possibly inundated the city with that much water?

Homeland Security Department chief Michael Chertoff should have activated plans "to shift the federal response posture from a reactive to proactive mode" to save lives and speed relief.

Government failed at all levels to deal with long-standing problems of "interoperability," the ability of different public safety units to communicate with each other effectively. Although hundreds of millions of federal dollars had been spent over time, communications systems still were not always working effectively. For example, first responders in helicopters were unable to talk to crews patrolling in boats, and National Guard commanders in Louisiana and Mississippi used runners to relay orders. We knew about this communications problem after 9-11, glad to see that they have done absolutely nothing to improve the situation. The only people that I know could communicate were extremely fortunate people with Satellite phones, and HAM radio operators.

Rampant false media reports contributed to unnecessary disorder and delay that hindered the recovery. There were repeated broadcast reports on Sept. 1 that evacuations at the Superdome had been suspended because of shots fired at a helicopter, and unsubstantiated reports of two babies with throats slit. I still get questions from around the country from people asking how we could ever consider using the Superdome for anything again after everything horrible that happened there. My answer is that it saved thousands of lives during the storm, and that the reports were overblown. I'm glad to see that confirmed here.

Mandatory evacuations ordered in Alabama and Mississippi and for the general population in Louisiana - excluding New Orleans and Jefferson Parish - went relatively well. "Those individuals in all states who had the means to evacuate, but did not do so, must also share the blame for the incomplete evacuation and the difficulties that followed."

At least 1,000 FEMA workers set to arrive in New Orleans on Aug. 31 were turned away due to security concerns. How could this even happen? Amazing.

A heavily criticized $236 million contract with Carnival Cruise Lines for temporary housing was reasonable, and similar "unfounded negative publicity" could hurt relief efforts in the future. The Carnival ships have been a godsend, with most of our police and other first responders living on them. It's going to be a huge burden when they sail away in a month or so.

The lead relief agency in the disaster, the Red Cross was aware of crowding at the Superdome but was unable to staff that and other locally operated shelters because its workers were denied access. Again, how could the first responders not have access???

When the Red Cross placed orders for food such as Meals-Ready-to-Eat through the government, many of the requests got lost in an overburdened FEMA computer system. The FEMA computer system is not what you think it is.

Visits to emergency operation centers by politicians and celebrities, including talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and actor Sean Penn, distracted personnel from their more urgent tasks. Maybe celbs will get the picture next time and stay away? I doubt it.

FEMA sent unprecedented amounts of supplies to the region, including 11 million liters of water, 19 million pounds of ice, 6 million ready-made meals and 17 truckloads of tarps. But they initially went untouched because of confusion by state and federal officials.

FEMA failed to prepare adequately for emergency disaster supplies and had poor accounting of what was needed and what resources it had on the ground.

FEMA's failure to negotiate contracts in advance led to chaos and the potential for waste and fraud due to last-minute agreements for emergency assistance.

Read more here

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


New Louisiana State Museum

This looks pretty interesting. The local museums are great, but it will be nice to add this one to the portfolio, with its thematic approach.

New flagship museum presents state artifacts and oddities

Monday, February 13, 2006


It's not the Baker Bill, but it's a start

The state proposed housing buyout/grant program looks to me like a good start. It's a state-run program, capped at $150,000 per household in grants or buyouts, designed to get a homeowner back to 100% of pre-Katrina value. I don't like the low cap, but it looks like it would do a great deal for folks across the metro area. The following examples are for a home valued at $200,000 pre-K.

For those who want to sell entirely:

If he has already received an insurance check for $100,000, for instance, the government would offer another $100,000.

The plan also includes some help for bridging the gap between flood insurance and the value of their home. Folks with flood insurance would be eligible for gap grants of 80% of the estimated difference in cost of repairs:

"If the repair job was estimated at $180,000, and he's already received an insurance check for $100,000, he would be eligible for a grant of $64,000, leaving him with a "gap" of $16,000. "

Even those who didn't have flood insurance would be given grants, but up to 60% of gap:

"If the owner received an insurance check for $20,000, and the repair job was estimated at $180,000, he could receive a check for $96,000, leaving him with a "gap" of $84,000. "

I like this for a number of reasons, one being that it focuses on homeowners. I do feel bad for renters, and I know they are affected as much or more than homeowners, but they are also more able to relocate due to nothaving the chains of a mortgage. I also think that home ownership helps to foster a community identity that comes across in numbers of different ways, from parental involvement in schools to cleanliness of neighborhoods. Secondly, I like the extra help for those covered by flood coverage, I don't like the idea of the government always bailing out those who don't have the proper coverage to begin with. A third reason that I like this is that it will leave the state with an inventory of property that can be converted into greenspace, used to build new schools and other infrastructure, and in the long run create affordable housing stock in neighborhoods that have revitalized themselves.

This plan has the approval of the five metro parish leaders, and apparently the state government as well. This is unprecidented cooperation between the local leaders, hopefullywe can continue this novel idea of working together into the future.

I'm sure this story will develop over the coming days. I predict there will be a backlash from many in Jefferson parish who would be left out of this first round of money (the threshhold for buyouts is 2 feet or more of flooding), and other outcry from around the state for the money being concentrated in the five parish area. Hopefully, we can come to a good, quick agreement on this. Something needs to be given the ability to move full speed ahead. We'll be 6 months post storm in a few weeks.



Buyout graphic from T-P story above


FEMA homes not allowed in flood plain?

This is pretty incredible, from Susan Rosegen. Former local broadcaster, now working for CNN:

Then this past week, I saw -- like an oasis in the desert -- 11,000 FEMA mobile homes, real homes, 3-bedroom, 2-bath beauties (comparatively speaking) -- sitting in an Arkansas cow pasture.

FEMA says these mobile homes aren't allowed in a flood plain, which pretty much rules out most of southeast Louisiana. Why did FEMA order them in the first place if they can't be used in areas where people need them? That's what I asked, but nobody seems to know. So the mobile homes sit there, immobile, 450 miles away from the Gulf Coast.

Full story here

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Quote of the past few months

By Representative Richard Baker to the National Review:

"I would ask all our fellow Americans if they can accept having within its shores a great American city and a substantial area of a culturally and economically important state lying in ruins for years to come."

"Think about that: American ruins."

Full story here


Krewe de Vieux

We had our first Mardi Gras experience for the season last night, at the always irreverent Krewe de Vieux. There's a great piece on it at the Washington Post, link below. My favorite quote is this one:

"It's good we can laugh at ourselves," said spectator Robert Elmwood, 77. "It means the spirit is still alive. After all the grim things, we've prevailed."

Mardi Gras Revelers Find Solace in Satire

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