Monday, September 05, 2005

Times-Picayune's Open Letter to the President

From Sunday's Times-Picayune:
An open letter to the President
Dear Mr. President:
We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our
devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, "What is not
working, we’re going to make it right."
Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise
before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.
Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one
main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi
River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.
How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are
interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships,
barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.
Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s
bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing
their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue
the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and
medical supplies.
Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who
work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city
via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning,
that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed
into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.
Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown
New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid
Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show
story Friday morning.
Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people
whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those
who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad
song about how our city was impossible to reach.
We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after
our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been
pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who
could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.
Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he
allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from
the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t
know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the
Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have
been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially
It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people
inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It
should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So
why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We
learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened,
that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So
what did state and national officials think would happen to
tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning,
overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food,
water and other essentials?
State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said
the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!"
Every official at the Federal Emergency Management
Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.
In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said
his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of
storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention
Center. He gave another nationally televised interview
the next morning and said, "We’ve provided food to the people
at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least
one, if not two meals, every single day."
Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.
Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told
him, "You’re doing a heck of a job."
That’s unbelievable.
There were thousands of people at the Convention Center
because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many
people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles
could have gotten there, too.
We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American
than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic
Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific
Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.
No expense should have been spared. No excuses
should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous
as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.
Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise
to make our beloved communities work right once again.
When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

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