New Orleans Braces for Staggering Death Toll
Officials are preparing for thousands of dead
By Der Spiegel
09/05/05 -- -- Over the weekend, New
Orleans's rescue operation turned into a recovery mission to find
the city's dead. There are still no firm estimates for the exact
death toll -- but most agree it will be out of the ballpark, at
least for a natural disaster in an industrial nation. United
States Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt is expecting
that 1,000 to 2,000 body bags will be filled. But the city's
deeply stressed out mayor, Ray Nagin, who infamously called on
President George W. Bush to "fix this goddamned crisis,"
offered up a staggering figure in interviews.
Here's his equation: The city has close to 500,000 residents and
if you conservatively assume that 5 percent remained in New
Orleans after the flooding, the numbers could go through the roof.
"So you probably have another 50-60,000 out there," he
said. "You do the math, man, what do you think? Five percent
is unreasonable? Ten percent? Twenty percent? It's going to be a
big number." Louisiana's Republican Senator, David Vitter
said he believes the figure will exceed 10,000.
The federal Secretary for Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff,
whose department appears to have failed its first major disaster
test, declined to predict numbers. "I think we need to
prepare the country for what's coming,'' Chertoff said.
"What's going to happen when we de-water and remove the water
from New Orleans is we're going to uncover people who died, maybe
hiding in houses, got caught by the flood, people whose remains
are going to be found in the streets. ... It is going to be about
as ugly of a scene as I think you can imagine.''
Outrage over the government's initial anemic response to the
disaster filled the pages of America's biggest newspapers this
weekend. The critics run the gamut from liberal to conservative.
New Orleans native daughter and author Anne Rice skewers
the federal government for its paltry response to the crisis, and
complains that Americans "turned your backs" on the Big
Easy. Conservative writer David Brooks says people have lost
faith in civic institutions and that what happened in New
Orleans was the "moral equivalent of leaving the injured on
the battlefield." New Yorker editor David Remnick writes of a
failure by the president. "Over five days last week, from
the onset of the hurricane on the Gulf Coast on Monday morning to
his belated visit to the region on Friday, Bush's mettle was
tested -- and he failed in almost every respect," he wrote.
But Bush's biggest slap in the face didn't come from the Democrats
-- it came from his own party. "I think it puts into question
all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the
last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to
an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we
think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological
attack?" asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of the
Republicans. He then urged the president to put former New York
mayor Rudy Giuliani, who showed remarkable strength in his swift
reaction to 9/11, in charge of relief operations and restoring
order in the South.
But is Bush to blame for denying funds for flood-control projects
in New Orleans, as New York Times columnist Maureen
Dowd and former Clinton aide Sidney
Blumenthal alleged this week? Factcheck.org, a nonprofit
project run by the Annenberg Center and the University of
Pennsylvania has studied
the facts and concluded that, yes, Bush has cut funds meant
for flood projects but it refuses to "blame" or
"absolve" the president. That's a job for Congress --
and a major probe is expected when the legislative body returns to
work this autumn. Bloggers from the Bush-supporting "red
states" are hot on the trail of their own theory -- a lot of
them are linking to this
photo of school buses left abandoned in a bus yard this week
as evidence that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin failed to muster his
own resources. You can follow these threads using Technorati's
blog search engine or by viewing the latest posts on Instapundit.
Meanwhile ... the streets of New Orleans are dead silent,
like a ghost town. The National Guard seems to have gotten most of
the city under control, but there have been shootouts. The
National Guard and workers with the Army Corps of Engineers were
shot at and returned fire, killing four armed men. According to
numerous newspaper reports, 200 members of New Orleans's
1,500-strong police force have walked off the job and two have
committed suicide. To keep the remaining officers on the job, the
mayor has offered family vacations to Las Vegas after order is
restored and the city rebuilt.
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