Please help me understand this

by Volker Weber

When the WTC towers collapsed you could see people walking over the bridges out of Manhattan. When the tube was closed down in London, people started walking. But when I look at the pictures from News Orleans, I see people sitting in front of the convention center doing absolutely nothing. They are throwing around their trash, they don't try to organize clean areas and dirty ones, they are not walking out over the bridge that happens to be right in front of the convention center.

Is that because people in New York and London knew that they were walking home or is it that these people need to be told what to do? Why can't they take their life into their own hands and walk out of there?

Update Friday 12:47 CEST: Here is why people are at the convention center. Police is obviously not letting them out. Unbelievable!


the difference is that the people in the shelters in NOLA have nowhere to go. Theirs are the homes that are destroyed or flooded.

On 9/11 they were going to their homes, since their place of employement was destroyed or perceived under attack. Same with the Tube/London. Here, these people truly have noplace to go.

Ed Brill, 2005-09-01

Also, we don't know where this bridge is going - maybe it is a dead end right now. If there really is a path out of the disaster area that you can walk on by foot and reach a safe place in reasonable time, I guess these people would be the first to be informed about this and the authorities would send guides down there to encourage people - "follow me!".

One thing that I don't understand is why the disaster recovery mission seems so chaotic. Their military (which usually helps out in a disaster situation of this proportion) is a lot better equipped and trained than ours - and it's not like all soldiers and equipment have been shipped to the Middle East.

And why such widespread looting? It's a modern country, after all, proud of its civil traditions. New Orleans wasn't exactly a crime capital before the flood, as far as I know.

Hanno Müller, 2005-09-01

Just read this on CNN:

In a statement Thursday, Nagin said that "the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for (15,000 to 20,000) people." He said the city would allow people to march up the Crescent City Connection to the Westbank Expressway in an effort to find help.

The interesting word is "allow". People may have been told to stay.

Volker Weber, 2005-09-01

There was tons of crime in New Orleans before the Hurricane. It's just easier now since they aren't bothering to stop it. In fact, this story details how police shot off 700 rounds in New Orleans during one day and NO ONE reported the gunfire to police.

Lots of gang activity, and that is what seems to be going on now. Some people are legitimately trying to get food and such, and that is to be expected and is okay in my opinion. It's the looting for luxury items that disgusts me.

As for the bridge, pretty much every way in and out of New Orleans is destroyed or blocked off for some reason. These people have no place to walk to really, they need transportation.


John Roling, 2005-09-01

I think Ed hit the nail on the head. These people have truly lost everything. Most are being shipped to Houston. I think there are even talks to allow people to stay at the military bases that have been closed down. This would probably be a better idea because there are more sleeping and restroom areas.

Let's hope this is the last hurricane to come through there - although September is generally the most severe storm month.

Chris Whisonant, 2005-09-01

I'm with Ed on this one, but would add...

Even though the twin towers were devastating, the actual land mass that was disturbed (horizontally) couldn't begin to equal the land mass of this devastation. Walking thirty blocks is tiring. Walking out of NO, may take a while.

Lake Ponchatrain sitting to the north of NO has a bridge traversing the smaller (if there is such a thing) crossing distance, and is twenty six miles with numerous "fill up before starting across" warnings. Broken levies used to hold that water back.

Eric Parsons, 2005-09-01

The statistics are that more than 1/4 of the residents of NO live under the poverty level. Since there are about 500,000 residents in NO and they say about 100,000 or so of those stayed - primarily because they had no means of transportation out of the city - it would reason that it was the poorest of this already poor city that stayed and therefore truly have nowhere to go. I also think it helps explain the hopelessness of the people left there and maybe why they are so quickly sinking into this awful lawlessness.

Jackie Horowitz, 2005-09-01

Given the stats from Jackie, I wonder why no-one seems to have tried to bus the poor out before Katrina struck. That seems to have been a real mistake on behalf of the authorities.

John Keys, 2005-09-01

You are making this sound like the plot of one of the (then over-the-top) Sci-Fi doom scenarios: A disaster disconnects a city from the rest of the country, only the lawless remain. "Escape from New York", anyone?

Hanno Müller, 2005-09-01

This is a catastrophe on that order. New Orleans has stifling temperatures and humidity. Most of these people are dehydrated. No way to keep clean. No sleep for several days. The people still in the city are, by definition, pre-disposed to stay put. Even if the few roads west from the city were passable, it would be a daunting task to get this number of people to a place where things are normal.

Civilian organizations are not equipped to deal quickly with this sort of event. They depend on an infrastructure from which to operate. The entire region is uninhabitable. No electricity. No way to refuel generators. Policemen being shot by looters. No way to receive reliable news. And no visible and effective response from those equipped to operate independently of normal infrastructure (the military). That fellow saying 'who'd have thought the levees would break' on national television, and the head of homeland security sounding more like he's delivering a powerpoint show to a corporate audience, with perhaps the next quarter available to measure results.

Apparently things are changing, but it is clear that it will take several more days to move significant numbers of people.

David Richardson, 2005-09-01

Think about the implications of busing 100,000 people out before the hurricane. That's about 2000 bus loads. They could certainly have spent millions of dollars busing everyone out, dropping 1000 people in each of the 100 nearest cities of 50,000 or more that are outside of the predicted path of the storm in order to avoid overloading any one destination with too many refugee. They could have, but who pays for it, and who pays when they get there? And aside from the fact that I doubt that anyone could have actually predicted how many people would need evacuation, there's another big question: who organizes this whole thing?

City and state government just don't have the ability to do this, particularly because most of the evacuation would have to go out of state. The federal government could theoretically step in, but I'm not sure that they have the authority to do it -- unless the President declared martial law or something like that.

And here's the real catch: Nobody knew what path the hurricane was really going to take or how quickly it would weaken. Nobody knew for sure that the hurricane was even going to hit New Orleans for that matter, and certainly nobody knews for sure that the levees were going to break. There have been lots of recent examples, even with all the advances that have been made in meteorology, of predictions turning out to be very wrong. Marial law could have been imposed, and thousands of buses dispatched, and if the storm weakened or changed direction, or if the levees had held up there would likely have been a huge outcry about not just the waste, but also about the excessive use of government authority.

Richard Schwartz, 2005-09-02

Thinking about this further, I think a far better idea than evacuation would have been to bring in -- in advance -- large stores of food and water, national guard troops to keep it secure, along with the power generation needed to store it properly and to keep hospitals and other emergency services running. But as pointed out by Greyhawk funds for improvements to the levees and for planning disaster response have been cut in recent years.

Richard Schwartz, 2005-09-02

Several of the responses here have touched on these points, but I think there are a few other things worth saying.

80% of the New Orleans population evacuated before the storm. The people who remained either had no where to go, no resources (money or transportation) to get there, had a "reasonable" reason to stay (i.e. the parents of those babies in the hospital who are just now getting out), or were sure that they were safe ("this house has stood for 150 years").

How could they have assumed otherwise? This was an unprecedented disaster. I've seen plaintive messages from evacuees who left the cat in the apartment with three days of food and water; who'd imagine they couldn't get back at all? They expected to come home to serious rebuilding -- maybe fix the roof -- not to discover that they no longer own anything but a concrete driveway.

(What terrifies me is that we have this sort of devastation with prior warning, when 80% of people in a mid-size city got out of town. Unlike earthquakes, which strike with no warning.)

I've had to walk long distances during disturbances (I was caught in Manhattan in the 1978 blackout in NYC, when I lived in Queens), and to look for temporary shelter. But as others have said, there's not really anyplace to walk to. It isn't as though the next neighborhood over is safe. Even if it were, the route there may not be... aside from looters, there's toxic water and (few have brought up this facet of Louisiana) alligators.

Plus, the people who stayed behind are largely the poor. That class of people is rarely known for self-sufficiency, *particularly* in this area of the United States. Like you, I'm appalled that nobody in the convention center has the presence of mind to organize the resources that remain; surely there has to be SOME leadership among a random 10,000 people?! But I'm not all that surprised.

(New Orleans has a unique history, since in the space of 20 years it was owned by the Spanish, the French, and the United States. It was also a major slave port. If you want a few references that illuminate this, I can dig them up for you.)

I can't fathom the looters, though. I can understand raiding the grocery stores and maybe even clothing. The rest of it is beyond me.

Hanno, the reason that the disaster relief is so chaotic is that the communication lines are down. Cell phones are useless; the batteries ran out and there's no power to recharge them. Even if areas with power, such as Baton Rouge, access is intermittant. A friend in BR tells me that the only reliable means of communication is text messaging (which is wholly uncommon here in the U.S. -- I don't even know how to use it on my phone, though it has the feature).

The only way to organize any of the large-scale projects --like plugging the hole in the levees -- is to get everybody in one place and have a big meeting. An 1800s barn-raising on a huge scale. It's hard (and unsafe) to bring people in, and the logistics are beyond compare.

The "major" media, like CNN, is wandering around looking for someone to blame. The local outlets, like, are focusing on the real world. Among its contributors is a friend of mine -- who fortunately is safe in a damp hotel room in Baton Rouge. With her husband, brother-in-law, and three cats.

Esther Schindler, 2005-09-02

Many good comments. One thing that I think happens in situations like this is "past experience." The last hurricane that came through wasn't as bad as the forecasters said it was going to be, so I am going to stay. Or, like Esther said, this house has stood for many years, and it will weather this one.

For years, the Army Corps of Engineers and scientists at Tulane have been saying that any storm over Category 3 or 4 will cause widespread damage to NOLA. Maybe the levees provided a false sense of security?

Gregg Eldred, 2005-09-02

I can walk from my office in midtown Manhattan, over the Brooklyn bridge, to the apartment in about an hour.

Walking out of New Orleans for an hour would put people either in the middle of a giant swamp, or in suburbs that were totally flattened by the hurricane.

On 9/11, we were lucky we had somewhere to go.

Eric Hancock, 2005-09-02

I don't understand your update and why it is unbelievable... is it better to keep them in awful conditions -- but controlled, vs. more roaming the streets, looting, desperate violent crime increasing, etc.? It's kind of lose/lose. They really need to get them out of there and into stable towns...which won't happen by allowing them to walk away.

Ed Brill, 2005-09-02

It's probably because I don't understand. :-( Like I don't understand why you need hundreds of Disneybots to herd Lotusphere attendees to their lunch.

Remember my intitial question? Why are they sitting there doing nothing? The update explains it. Because they are being told to do nothing. Dropping food and water from the express way on concrete reminds me of dropping food into a cage.

Volker Weber, 2005-09-02

I think it is pretty clear after all there comments why they are doing nothing. You have a few choices:

1) Do Nothing
2) Join the looters & shooters
3) walk/swim for many, many miles through ganglands and shark & alligator infested, toxic swamp waters.

The police are not telling the people to do nothing just to be mean to them. They are simply educating them of these 3 choices, and recommending the best option - Choice #1.

Dave Armstrong, 2005-09-02

They aren't being told to "do nothing." For the most part, there's nobody to do the telling, because there isn't much authority. The people who might otherwise be in charge have no way to communicate outside the area.

And even if someone wants to step forward and take charge... Look carefully at those photos. Aside from those who are sick or disabled, there isn't much that anybody CAN do. It's not like someone can say, "Hey, everybody -- let's use these tools here to build a bridge!" It's a big huge building with no food, water, anything. Its main advantage is that it has a roof that stayed on, and a floor that isn't under feet of water. (Don't think of the exhibit hall at the Dolphin or the MGM convention center, both of which are attached to hotels with amenities. The NOLA convention center is a big huge box with walls that move around.)

Right now, the effort has to _get people out_. Give them enough food and water to survive until you can get the transport to them, and move them to a safer place.

Esther Schindler, 2005-09-02

They aren't allowed to:

Michael Keukert, 2005-09-03

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