Archive Issues - Social

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader."

Samuel Adams, 1779, Letter to James Warren

COMMENTARY CONTENT

CI-S1. "An Untold Story" On Katrina's Five Year Anniversary

CI-S1. An Untold Story
News Commentary, A Personal Recollection, August 29, 2010, Revised September 03, 2010

We're hearing a lot about hurricane Katrina's lingering effect upon New Orleans this week.  The following is a personal account of the national media coverage etched into memory for five plus days surrounding Katrina's inland assent:

With hurricane Katrina churning through the Gulf of Mexico I listened to reports describing the landscape surrounding New Orleans, many areas of the city and parishes with below sea level terrain protected by seawalls and levees built many years prior. Questions analyzed as to what grade hurricane winds and sea surge could be withstood, what grade Katrina would be as she hit the coastal areas of Louisiana, and to what proximity to New Orleans Katrina's course would take her?  With guarded anticipation I watched and listened for news on Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina reportedly slowed as she neared landfall, her arrival as much as thirty-six to forty-eight hours later than earlier forecasts.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday passed with a reported state of emergency released by Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco and an evacuation order issued by New Orlean's Mayor Ray Nagin.  Bumper to bumper traffic was shown streaming out of New Orleans.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was reportedly staging water, ice and other emergency supplies along with relief personnel miles inland positioned to respond to the pending coastal emergency as soon as Katrina proceeded inland.

Sunday passed without reports of the storm reaching shore.  Katrina was reportedly forecast to be a 4 - 5 grade hurricane as she neared the coast of Louisiana.  I left for work around 9:00 pm CDT Sunday evening (I worked midnight shift) still awaiting news of Katrina's arrival.

I arrived home around 8:00 am Monday morning, hurricane Katrina had reportedly hit the coastal areas of Louisiana at approximately 4:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005; the eye of the storm had skirted New Orleans.  Reporters were shown on site under heavy rain with high winds.  Trees, boats, buildings, etc. were shown having received major damage due to hurricane force winds but the city and surrounding parishes were not flooded, overall damage was not shown as anywhere near catastrophic.  Now tropical storm Katrina was reportedly heading north by northeast up along the Mississippi River.

To no matter what national media coverage I tuned, ABC, CBC, NBC or Fox, or to what twenty-four hour news channels I watched, CNN, Fox News or MSNBC the overriding theme expressed was that New Orleans had figuratively dodged a bullet, the city spared, as the storm had passed without the feared catastrophic damage.  I have vivid memory of these accounts as I recall literally shouting at the television to the effect that it was much to early to be pronouncing that outcome, the hurricane force winds were never reasoned to be the highest risk factor for catastrophic damage, it was the threat of flooding if the levees were topped or breached.  I recall thinking that with heavy rain falling north along the Mississippi River the rain runoff would be tremendous and it would naturally flow south to the New Orleans basin at the mouth of the Mississippi, the strain on the levees magnified.  I left for work around 10:30 pm Monday night, the reporting hadn't changed to any significant degree.

Arriving home around 9:00 am Tuesday morning I found that news coverage was in general similar to that of the day before until around 11:00 am. The first national reports of levees being breached and of rising flood water levels within New Orleans and surrounding parishes were beginning.  Later that evening video reports of wide spread flooding and looting were airing.

I arrived home Wednesday morning, reports of catastrophic damage and of human peril and deprivation and of rescue heroism were prevalent on all national news outlets.  Through ignorance and a copycat approach to journalism the national media forty-eight hours earlier had portrayed a sense of false security to those in imminent danger.  It will never be known as to how many people were emboldened to stay put, when they still had time to evacuate, and to how many lives and how much suffering may have been cost due to this inaptness in national media reporting.

Five years, an opportunity in retrospect for some media coverage self assessment?  Not hardly, with an arrogance of national media accounts published after the fact and to this day blaming others but taking no known responsibility for their own actions.  I suspect there were earlier local or random reports warning of levee breaches, flooding and of the dangers they presented to the local population.  In effect they were either overlooked or ignored by a national media swept up in their quest for "echodom".  The truth should hurt but undoubtedly won't, what a tragedy.

"Justice is the end of government.  It is the end of civil society.  If ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit"

James Madison, 1787, Federalist No. 51

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