The Mysteries are Solved – 25 Answers to Those Who Know Very Little About New Orleans
On September 30, 2005, Mike Davis and Anthony Fontenot published an article in The Nation entitled, "25 Questions about the Murder of New Orleans", which was widely reprinted throughout the blogosphere. I posted my original article shortly thereafter, which questioned the author's on a range of issues from obvious mistaken points-of-fact to outrageous accusations and race-baiting. Since that time, the authors have edited one portion of their original article, but not some of the most scandalous, in my opinion, parts.
With the release of the House report on the vacuum of leadership this city, state, and country were operating under during the height of the crisis, I feel responsible recrimination is needed so that we can better avoid future catastrophes. However, what Messrs. Fontenot and Davis published does not fall into that category, and they have yet to answer for their crimes.
This article was originally separated into three parts. Fortunately, time has allowed me to learn a few tricks of the blog trade, and I can now shrink the viewable portion of this article into something a little more bite-sized. So without any further delay, here are their questions and my replies.
Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans side and not on the Metairie side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities?
Well, now I don't feel so bad about amending this article. The above question, taken directly from The Nation website, originally referred to the "white side" of the levee in Metairie. Here are a few examples where someone obviously didn't get the memo:
Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities? (from Common Dreams)*
Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities? (from Mother Jones)*
Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities? (from InfoShop.org)*
Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities? (from
* emphasis added
I can see these two are now familiar with Lakeview, Lake Shore, and Lake Vista. I originally excused Mr. Davis' understandable ignorance; however, for Mr. Fontenot, who self-identifies as a New Orleans architect, this was a willful and dangerous disregard for the truth and a scandalous attempt to race bait. Thankfully it appears they've tacitly admitted their error. To answer their second question, no, the levees are under the purview of the Orleans Levee Board and the Army Corps of Engineers, neither group being a New Orleans-centered organization.
Who owned the huge barge that was catapulted through the wall of the Industrial Canal, killing hundreds in the Lower Ninth Ward--the most deadly hit-and-run accident in US history?
This is truly one of the most compelling sites in the 9th Ward. (see "Something Everyone Should See") I’d like to know the answer to this as well; however, hit-and-run requires that someone be controlling the vehicle at the time of the crash. The true hit-and-run was Mr. Davis and Mr. Fontenot in their foolish article, though not the largest of this sort in history. It would also be interesting to find out where they came up with their numbers, since, at the time of publication and until today, no one had the death-toll in the Ninth Ward anywhere near this high.
All of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish east of the Industrial Canal were drowned, except for the Almonaster-Michoud Industrial District along Chef Menteur Highway. Why was industrial land apparently protected by stronger levees than nearby residential neighborhoods?
I could be wrong here, but isn’t the grounds of the Michoud complex higher? Do you think that might be why it didn’t flood? Here's a map, since you didn't bother to look it up and didn't expect your audience to do so, either. For the record, the Michoud complex is roughly 2-6 feet above the flood elevation. Water naturally seeks its own level, so thus the higher areas, such as the French Quarter, the Marigny, Bywater, and parts of Uptown along the River AND Michoud initially may have taken on some water, but these eventually receded into the lower lying areas. Doesn't everyone remember the pictures of standing water around the Superdome and the French Quarter? How long did that remain? Pretty simple concept as long as you're intellectually honest or curious enough to learn the answer. I assume you'll amend this, as well.
Why did Mayor Ray Nagin, in defiance of his own official disaster plan, delay twelve to twenty-four hours in ordering a mandatory evacuation of the city?
Because he’s an idiot. After the recent MLK Day speech, is there any question? While you’re asking the Mayor questions, find out why his official disaster plan was removed from the City website. (See my previous article "The Cover-up has begun...").
Why did Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff not declare Katrina an "Incident of National Significance" until August 31--thus preventing the full deployment of urgently needed federal resources?
Better question, why didn’t Gov. Blanco ask for troops under the manner prescribed by the Posse Comitatus Act and why didn’t she make this request until August 31, 2005? Have you seen the outtake from here CNN interview on that same day? The delay in designating this could be because the levee breaks weren't readily apparent until August 30th, 2005. Perhaps, if the city and state had spent the nearly $150 million on communications equipment they were allocated (less than $20 million was spent), we might have known the true extent of the forming disaster. The authors seem to hope that everyone who reads this article will not have firsthand knowledge of the early days of the flood. Firsthand knowledge includes those who were evacuated throughout the South and had to rely on sketchy media reports to confirm our worst fears. It wasn't until August 31, 2005 that the evacuees and the general public began to learn what was happening in New Orleans, while government officials seemed to know sometime late August 29th or early August 30th.
Why wasn't the nearby USS Bataan immediately sent to the aid of New Orleans? The huge amphibious-landing ship had a state-of-the-art, 600-bed hospital, water and power plants, helicopters, food supplies and 1,200 sailors eager to join the rescue effort.
Your question is framed deliberately to mislead people into believing that the Bataan was docked around the corner. At any time during either of your academic studies, did you learn that most waterborne vessels try to avoid hurricanes? Do you realize that means the Bataan was quite a distance, i.e., several hundred miles, from New Orleans? This isn't the "Philadelphia Experiment", so ships aren’t capable of instantaneous teleportation. Why are you still asking this question?
Similarly, why wasn't the Baltimore-based hospital ship USS Comfort ordered to sea until August 31, or the 82nd Airborne Division deployed in New Orleans until September 5?
See previous comments. As for the 82nd, please refer to the following link, where you will see that they first arrived on Sept. 3rd.
About 80 percent of the Crescent City was flooded after levees broke Aug. 30. That became a challenge for the paratroopers when they arrived Sept. 3. The division had just four boats at the time, Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the 82nd's commanding general, noted. However, the division quickly "started getting Coast Guard, Navy and Marine assets placed under our control," Caldwell said. *
[* emphasis added]
Are you grossly misinformed, in general, or is this a purposeful lie? Note that this is the 82nd Airborne, not Waterborne or Amphibious, so the delay should be understandable. For those who don't understand the difference, airborne units specialize in jumping out of planes behind enemy lines, not conducting civilian water rescue. Nevertheless, these brave men and women came to our aid, and we appreciate them immensely.
Why does Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld balk at making public his "severe weather execution order" that established the ground rules for the military response to Katrina? Did the Pentagon, as a recent report by the Congressional Research Service suggests, fail to take initiatives within already authorized powers, then attempt to transfer the blame to state and local governments?
I guess the Library of Congress trumps the full Congress (please see Posse Comitatus, 1878). All of Sec. Rumsfeld’s plans are for naught if local leadership, in this case Gov. Blanco, doesn’t ask for Federal military assistance specifically. Also, you've still failed to cite your sources after four months.
Why were the more than 350 buses of the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority--eventually flooded where they were parked--not mobilized to evacuate infirm, poor and car-less residents?
Ask Mayor Nagin. I’d share his disaster plan with you, in the spirit of citing my sources, but it was removed from the City’s website shortly after National Review Online wrote an article concerning Mayor Nagin's disaster plan and cited the plan's location on the city's website. I met a young couple who possess Louisiana-issued CDL licenses and work for a private transportation company. This company contacted City Hall to offer the services of their drivers during the run-up to Katrina. Unfortunately for many people, the city never got back to them and one can easily presume many other similar offers of support.
What significance attaches to the fact that the chair of the Transportation Authority, appointed by Mayor Nagin, is Jimmy Reiss, the wealthy leader of the New Orleans Business Council, which has long advocated a thorough redevelopment of (and cleanup of crime in) the city?
First, how is someone’s wealth at all relevant? Second, name one responsible person who HASN’T advocated cleaning up crime in our city? Third, please cite the full and specific examples where Mr. Reiss made such comments. Those with your backgrounds shouldn’t be so careless with such reckless assertions without supporting documentation. I guess if you're for cleaning up crime in New Orleans, you run the risk of being labeled a racist.
Under what authority did Mayor Nagin meet confidentially in Dallas with the "forty thieves"--white business leaders led by Reiss--reportedly to discuss the triaging of poorer black areas and a corporate-led master plan for rebuilding the city?
I would like an answer to this, as well. However, cite a reliable source that verifies that this meeting took place, before you jump to any further conclusions. For college professors, I am quite surprised at how sloppy your work really is, gentlemen. Again, after four months, your work is quite shallow.
Everyone knows about a famous train called "the City of New Orleans." Why was there no evacuation by rail? Was Amtrak part of the disaster planning? If not, why not?
I think you’ve confused Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, not so well-known outside the region, with Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, which is world famous. Nonetheless, your point is valid, and must be answered. I believe rail evacuation was at the very least tacitly included in the City’s disaster plan, but it’s no longer available to verify on the City's website.
Why were patients at private hospitals like Tulane evacuated by helicopter while their counterparts at the Charity Hospital were left to suffer and die?
This is one of your most reckless assertions. And, again, you cite no supporting evidence. You’re implying that the patients at Tulane were lily white and those at Charity were black as night, when you, especially, Mr. Fontenot, have ample opportunity to know the facts. Shame on you. And, after four months, no clarification or retraction. Shameful!
Was the failure to adequately stock food, water, portable toilets, cots and medicine at the Louisiana Superdome a deliberate decision--as many believe--to force poorer residents to leave the city?
Possibly. Was the decision to wait until the Superdome opened and not bring supplies for oneself, despite Mayor Nagin’s public statements to the media, likewise a deliberate act to force the government to provide one’s necessities? I'll remind you of not too long ago during Hurricane Georges in 1998, when a vocal portion of the Superdome's evacuees complained about the selection of food, (hotdogs and Corn Flakes, I believe) despite being instructed to bring their own food. A cop I know relayed a story to me that a group showed up with a couch(!!!) on their pickup truck. Does this sound like someone who seriously considers their emergency needs? According to this same officer, every place where "two walls met" there was biological and non-biological debris, and the Dome's furniture and suites were ransacked. Even in 1998 the Dome was not an adequate place of refuge, and many who were there in 1998 came back in 2005, so why the surprise?
The French Quarter has one of the highest densities of restaurants in the nation. Once the acute shortages of food and water at the Superdome and the Convention Center were known, why didn't officials requisition supplies from hotels and restaurants located just a few blocks away? (As it happened, vast quantities of food were simply left to spoil.)
How do you propose, once the electricity is off and ice not readily available, to avoid food spoilage? Also, if so many were desperate for food, then why were so many shoe and electronic stores looted on Canal Street and in the French Quarter? Finally, when they did illegally enter places with food, e.g. Winn-Dixie on Rampart Street, why were so many non-essential items stolen, such as beer and cigarettes, instead of sustenance providing items? Still haven't answered this after all this time, gentlemen.
City Hall's emergency command center had to be abandoned early in the crisis because its generator supposedly ran out of diesel fuel. Likewise, many critical-care patients died from heat or equipment failure after hospital backup generators failed. Why were supplies of diesel fuel so inadequate? Why were so many hospital generators located in basements that would obviously flood?
For once your questions are valid and well framed. While you’re asking about diesel fuel for the command center, ask Mayor Nagin why the NOPD and NOFD didn’t have adequate supplies of food and water. No one has ever answered that question adequately. Sure, Chief Compass was forced to resign, which I thought might open the flood gates (sorry) for information concerning why out police and fire departments were left to dangle in the breeze (sorry, again). Perhaps, the City needs to hire the crew at Intercosmos / Zipa, who were able to maintain their generators despite shortages, to help the City prepare for the next storm.
Why didn't the Navy or Coast Guard immediately airdrop life preservers and rubber rafts in flooded districts? Why wasn't such life-saving equipment stocked in schools and hospitals?
Ask yourself why you think such equipment could be stored in public schools and hospitals. Are you serious about this idea or just figure it looks better in hindsight? Schools and hospitals are not proper places to store this equipment. If the Navy and Coast Guard were going to airlift this stuff to people, why would you want it anywhere else besides in their possession? If you're interested in this, why not advocate a vest in every house?
Why weren't evacuee centers established in Audubon Park and other unflooded parts of Uptown, where locals could be employed as cleanup crews?
Maybe this wasn’t feasible because of security issues. Had you considered that the police weren’t in control of the city, you might realize that opening another evacuee center would be foolish. And which locals were you suggesting clean up the city, the looters or the evacuees? Funny how you talk about clean up at the point in the crisis when order needed to be restored.
Is the Justice Department investigating the Jim Crow-like response of the suburban Gretna police, who turned back hundreds of desperate New Orleans citizens trying to walk across the Mississippi River Bridge--an image reminiscent of Selma in 1965? New Orleans, meanwhile, abounds in eyewitness accounts of police looting and illegal shootings: Will any of this ever be investigated?
Since it has been several months since Katrina and your comments first appeared and we’ve heard nothing definitive from anyone in the media, though that hasn't stopped them from speculating, so here's my guess: 1) Nagin sent people across the GNO bridge without notifying Gretna PD, 2) some of these people partook in the looting and burning of Oakwood Mall, 3) Gretna PD decided they couldn't handle an influx of storm victims possibly threatening their jurisdiction, so they stopped the flow at its source. Someone needs to ask why Mayor Nagin sent people to the West Bank in the first place. And your Selma comparison is spot-on, as long as you conveniently forget that what happened in Gretna wasn’t about voting or segregation laws, but about maintaining public safety and order. Again, shame on you.
Who is responsible for the suspicious fires that have swept the city? Why have so many fires occurred in blue-collar areas that have long been targets of proposed gentrification, such as the Section 8 homes on Constance Street in the Lower Garden District or the wharfs [sic] along the river in Bywater?
Well, we may never have a definitive answer to this, since our Mayor didn’t provide any supplies or protection for the Fire Dept., but here is my guess. The Ninth Ward area was subjected to rushing and rising waters, which tend to knock smaller structures, such as houses, off of their slabs, which often ruptures the gas pipes beneath. This leads to explosions, which causes large, area-wide fires. Nevertheless, why do the authors care about some abandoned wharves (not wharfs, Professors) being converted into a cruise ship terminal? Furthermore, if you make an assertion, you must back it up with proof, but I don’t need to keep reminding you of that. Four months later, your silence is deafening.
Where were FEMA's several dozen vaunted urban search-and-rescue teams? Aside from some courageous work by Coast Guard helicopter crews, the early rescue effort was largely mounted by volunteers who towed their own boats into the city after hearing an appeal on television.
Is everything the Federal Government’s fault? A better question would be why FEMA turned away roughly 500 local volunteers who caravanned from Lafayette, LA to the edge of New Orleans with their personal watercraft. These people were willing to risk life and limb to save fellow Louisianians, yet were turned away for not holding the right paperwork or some such nonsense. That's the real scandal.
We found a massive Red Cross presence in Baton Rouge but none in some of the smaller Louisiana towns that have mounted the most impressive relief efforts. The poor Cajun community of Ville Platte, for instance, has at one time or another fed and housed more than 5,000 evacuees; but the Red Cross, along with FEMA, has refused almost daily appeals by local volunteers to send professional personnel and aid. Why then give money to the Red Cross?
Perhaps, we’ve something we can agree upon. The Red Cross has a canyon of a money funnel, but a stir straw for a money spout. To me, that makes them criminal.
Why isn't FEMA scrambling to create a central registry of everyone evacuated from the greater New Orleans region? Will evacuees receive absentee ballots and be allowed to vote in the crucial February municipal elections that will partly decide the fate of the city?
They have created said registry and absentee ballots are always sent when valid, why didn’t you know that? Sorry, I forgot your penchant for asking things be a certain way, so you can claim credit for them later when they were done as planned. If anything, this disaster will make it easier than ever for the current leadership to defraud the elections by your very same absentee ballots. Are you going to help ensure that doesn’t happen? The elections are in April 2006; where will you be?
As politicians talk about "disaster czars" and elite-appointed reconstruction commissions, and as architects and developers advance utopian designs for an ethnically cleansed "new urbanism" in New Orleans, where is any plan for the substantive participation of the city's ordinary citizens in their own future?
When you say, “ethnically cleansed” and refer to “ordinary citizens” are you referring to all black folks, poor folks, or poor black folks? Could your questions be any more irresponsible? And for the last time, would you please cite specific times these types of comments have been made.
Indeed, on the fortieth anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, what has happened to democracy?
Helluva ending, gentlemen, I’m glad to see you ended on a high note. On the Fortieth anniversary of Katrina I hope to be sharing stories with my grandchildren about what it was like back then in my home in Lakeview, New Orleans. If you’re still around, your seats will be waiting. Please use this interval to grow the hell up.
Thanks for sticking with me on this rather long article.
Scott M. Phillips
Don't you dare read any more of this!