The real scale of the Bush administration's failure in responding to Hurricane Katrina can be summed up in those figures. Yesterday Cyclone Phailin made landfall on the east coast of India with wind strengths of 125 m.p.h. - the same as Katrina - yet the preparations and evacuations organized by the Indian government meant it led to the deaths of 18 people. Wikipedia states the number of deaths resulting from Katrina was 1836.
In the Indian states of Orissa and Andra Pradesh up to a million people were evacuated by the government agency organizing transport for predominantly poor villagers. Others took refuge in special storm shelters or schools away from the danger zone where they were able to get hot food. The result was devastration of the homes of some of the poorest on the planet and the local infrastructure BUT:
despite the destruction, there's a feeling of relief that the loss of life has been lower than had been feared. Many people said the government's urgency in getting people into shelters ahead of the storm had made the difference.In contrast, the New Orleans evacuation plan basically meant that the poor in the city had to "depend on the kindness of strangers" to transport them away from the city. A report from the National Academy of Engineering makes it clear:
The most serious questions, however, relate to the city’s poor populations. Local governments have been blamed for poor planning and not providing adequate transportation to shelters of last resort. For example, it was widely known that some 112,000 people did not have access to personal vehicles at the time of the storm (Russell, 2005). Given these numbers and the limited capability of moving this enormous number of people quickly, public officials have long advocated “neighbor helping neighbor” policies, urging low-mobility individuals to arrange for transportation with friends, family, neighbors, and church members. Local plans also included using Regional Transit Authority buses to carry people to the Superdome from 12 locations around the city (Russell, 2005).Heck of a job?
A major failure of the plans for evacuating the low-mobility population was the lack of communication. Evacuation plans can only be effective if people are aware of them, and evacuation orders can only be heeded if they are received in time