September 11, 2005  ·  Lessig

This American Life‘s episode this week, “After the Flood,” is an extraordinary collection of stories from New Orleans. Most extraordinary among the lot was the clear picture it gave of the work by some bit of government down there to forbid people from leaving the city. The story is told by a group of paramedics at a convention in New Orleans; it is about the force used to keep them (and others) from leaving.

However outrageous not being prepared was, however insane was the delay in reaction, this, imho, is the worst. Listen.

  • a reader

    Gretna was already evacuated and could not accommodate refugees.

    Meanwhile the LA State Guard was preventing Red Cross and buses from entering with supplies and to ferry people out.

    That “keeping people out of NO” story seems more egregious, given full context, than the highly-publicized “keeping people out of Gretna” story.

    New Orleans *did* achieve an 80% evacuation rate, which exceeded their planning expectations, but there’s still no lucid story for why city transit and state schoolbuses were not used to get people out of the fishbowls, as their emergency plans required.

    This is one of the clearest examples of date of a coordinated corporate media campaign confusing public perception of events. The DNC is in process of losing the south — that’s what’s driving CNN coverage priorities these days.

  • Seth Finkelstein

    “New Orleans *did* achieve an 80% evacuation rate”

    There is about zero evidence that is true. It appears to be an off-the-cuff comment that entered the echo chamber.,,SB112603781963233031-_18cx60eLT6fFGEMH1lOs5GcGi8_20051006,00.html?mod=tff_article

    Sigh … why bother?

  • Rick Prelinger

    I’m starting to think that legal advocacy teams should be included in future disaster response plans.

    Tons of people are in very cloudy legal situations where there is no due process, actually no legal process at all.

    Displaced people are being housed in situations governed by arbitrary and capricious rules, sometimes verging on detention. FEMA personnel are preventing charitable and social contacts between displacees and members of the public. Relocated people with criminal records are experiencing discrimination when they apply for replacement housing. Property owners in New Orleans lack control over the integrity and destiny of their buildings, many of which may be in danger of gutting or destruction without due process. And then there are FEMA’s efforts to keep the press away from disturbing scenes, which seem to have been quashed for the moment.

  • Justin

    “New Orleans *did* achieve an 80% evacuation rate”

    There is about zero evidence that is true. It appears to be an off-the-cuff comment that entered the echo chamber.

    It doesn’t seem like it would be that far off. The number who evacuated would (roughly) be the population minus those would didn’t evacuate. And we can probably get a rough count of those who didn’t evacuate: the people at the Superdome and Convention Center, the deceased, and the stragglers they’re (still) trying to convince to leave. I don’t see it as unreasonable to assume that adds up to around 100K people. Even if it was 150K people, that’s still around a 70% evacuation level.

    I agree that it’ll be a long time before we get an exact count of the non-evacuees and the dead, but for a starting ballpark figure, 80%-ish sounds reasonable.


  • Peter Rock

    Sounds interesting. Is there a way to listen to this on a free system?

  • Matthew Lerner

    You can’t listen to it here, but you can read the account of the two paramedics.

    a reader:
    “Gretna was already evacuated and could not accommodate refugees.”

    With all due respect, this is either ignorant or disingenous. People were not trying to settle in Gretna, they were trying to get out of the flooded area via one of the biggest routes there is, which happened to be a federal highway. As others have pointed out, this is like if Brooklyn cops decided to close the Brooklyn Bridge to keep out the yuppies after 9/11. (Incendiary metaphor chosen advisedly.)

  • Peter Rock

    Thanks Matthew!

  • Rob W.

    Digby says it was (conscious or unconscious) racism that led the Gretna cops to block the bridge. Certainly he makes an interesting point.

    I wasn’t there so it’s kind of not my place, but I wonder what would have happened if the people had simply refused to stop trying to cross, just kept walking into the guns and dogs. Would the cops have fired into the crowd of desperate unarmed people who were just trying to get to safety and relief? Or what if the refugees had charged the cops? I know it’s asking a lot, but these were desperate people, and there couldn’t have been THAT many cops there; Gretna isn’t a huge city with a hundreds-strong police force, and certainly the department had other responsibilities that would take some of their available manpower away from the bridges. I would think that a group of several hundred refugees would have had little trouble overpowering a dozen or so cops, even with machine guns and dogs (how many cops were there?).

  • The Lonewacko Blog

    legal advocacy teams should be included in future disaster response plans

    I’ve thought that for a long time. Lawyers make excellent flotation devices.

    The EMT’s screed was first published on a socialist site, and it’s dripping with socialist “lessons”, albeit not quite at the polished level of Soviet propaganda.

    That’s fine, but then when the MSM starts quoting it, they tend to leave off the fact that the original screed was trying to teach as well as inform.

    For instance, here’s the New York Times on the Gretna bridge events. They “confirmed” the EMT’s accounts, then they selectively quoted from it.

    Note that Nagin or his people told people to head to the bridge, and he thought they could stay on the highway.

    Note that the tourists in the screed were white or Asian, yet we’re told by (projecting?) divisive “liberals” that it was racism. The facts of the matter – and a deeper analysis than race-baiters are comfortable with – shows that many factors were involved.

  • adamsj

    The EMT’s accounts have been, at least in part, confirmed by multiple sources, including the Gretna sheriff. They also happen to come from one of the left-wing traditions that happens to specialize in not making things up. (I’m rather familiar with both sorts.)

    They’ve got good jobs, and I doubt very much they’d endanger those jobs by lying.

    There’ll always be someone to smear people based on their political beliefs, but please note: Once you’ve filtered out the insults and the sneers from Lone (not–he’s reading his talking points) wacko (hmm…)’s post, all you have left is: “They are socialists and therefore liars.”

    In other words, he can’t argue the facts, so he’s smearing the source.

    Ptooie on that, and shame on the Lonewacko.

  • The Lonewacko Blog

    That’s nice.

    However, the problem (as it should be clear) is the “at least in part” bit.

    So, let’s say someone else comes along where they describe their experiences, but from a libertarian perspective. They discuss how they bartered for things, how they consulted Atlas Shrugged for guidance, etc. etc.

    That account would be suspicious as well, because of the lessons the author is trying to teach. One would have a bit of trouble differentiating between what actually happened, and what was enhanced (or ignored) due to ideology.

    I doubt whether the NYT would have “confirmed” that account without double-strong disclaimers. Of course, when it’s socialists offering a message the NYT is all ears.

  • http://http:/


    No, wait–that’s not worthy of a reasoned response.

    Ptooie on you, too.