Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Where Was FEMA? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
     America is one of the most affluent, high-profile countries in the world. So, it’s always wonderful to be seen “spreading the wealth” with a country in need. But what about when our country is in need? The Bush Administration has only come to the aid of its people when it benefits their self-serving purposes. All the “goodness” the government likes to parade around is only one public relations spin after another. Which explains why the country’s leaders are patting themselves on the back for the “wonderful job” they’re doing helping the people on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Okay, we all know they didn’t do a wonderful job. But how did the relief effort become so pitiful? First of all, the president appointed an underqualified friend - Michael Brown - to what he considered a cushy job. Second, responsible parties up and down the chain of command delegated their problems to whomever they could. When the situation took a serious turn that caught Brown off-guard, he blamed anyone he could think of. This was the third big mistake. We can’t put all the blame on the shoulders of the federal government, but in the end it’s the blatant disregard for the welfare of the president’s “subjects” that is the truly nightmarish realization.

Lots of importance has been given to Homeland Security; after all, to the American government an attack on American soil is humiliating. But what about an attack that’s not directly against the American people, an attack that is completely neutral and passionless? The government can’t use it to their advantage, so what do they do? Well, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is supposed to come to people’s rescue. It is FEMA’s responsibility to help American citizens in an emergency. And, of course the greatest natural disaster in American history qualifies. Unfortunately, FEMA’s mandate has been completely ignored.

Let’s start off with an introduction to a good friend of Bush: Michael Brown, head of FEMA when Katrina struck. One would assume he was qualified. His previous job was the head of IAHA. What’s that, you ask? The International Arabian Horse Association! And if you guessed he only left after being fired for incompetence, you’re right! Actually, in the words of his former colleague, he was an “unmitigated ... total disaster.” With FEMA, though, his incompetence not only wasted money but may have allowed people to die. Apparently his prior job experience didn’t prepare him to head FEMA. Nor did his other former job helping - surprise, surprise - the Bush campaign.

The American Red Cross took on much of the responsibility for the victims, setting up a reported 200 shelters (including in the much overlooked Biloxi, Mississippi) and sent 185 emergency vehicles to deliver food. Approximately 2,000 Red Cross volunteers from across the country were on their way to the damaged areas.

A substantial amount of help was given by the Coast Guard and the Department of Health and Human Services. Even the Agricultural Department sent what it could. Police and firefighters came from as far away as New York. It’s comforting to know there are organizations doing their part to help, but it’s FEMA’s responsibility to be doing all this and more. Where was the management? What America really needs is for people to do their jobs, not pass responsibility off to others. But at this point the federal government was still mourning Bush’s two lost days of vacation.

And then Brown decided to vilify the victims of Hurricane Katrina to save his name. He was quoted as calling those stuck in New Orleans “those who chose not to evacuate.” Note that he expects the sick and impoverished to fend for themselves. With those carefully chosen words, he even went so far as to blame them for their watery fate. While being interviewed by Fox News’s Paula Zahn, he explained that FEMA’s slow response to the problems in the convention center was only because he “hadn’t heard about it until today.” This interview was on Thursday, September 1. Apparently everyone in the country except Michael Brown had heard about it since it had been on every news station. In another desperate attempt to clear his name, Brown claimed in an interview with Larry King, “I must say, this storm is much bigger than anyone expected.”

There is no excuse for FEMA’s slow reaction. Where were the buses to remove people unable to evacuate before the storm? In an interview with PBS, Brown insulted the American people with more lies:

“What we cannot do, and what we did not do immediately after the storm passed and as the levees were breaking, was to be able to bring in rescue workers and urban search-and-rescue teams and the medical teams because they themselves would have then become disaster victims.” What he forgot was that there were literally hundreds of newscasters with their teams doing live coverage in New Orleans. Apparently the American government can’t compete with the Herculean efforts of American media.

When the storm quieted and flooding was the number one issue, FEMA finally did something: they called in the National Guard albeit six days after the fact. A physician in the Louis Armstrong International Airport reported more than 10 people dying there. Three babies died from heat exhaustion in the convention center, one man committed suicide in the Superdome and another was brutally beaten. There were also reports of rapes. Over 5,000 people waited for days for buses to evacuate them. Many of these evacuees were reportedly too sick and weak from hunger to help themselves. And where was FEMA during all this? There were so many lies it’s impossible to know. But what we know for sure is that while Brown held a news conference to defend the relief efforts, New Orleans Mayor Nagin issued a desperate SOS for help.

The last emergency of this magnitude on American soil was the surprise attack of September 11, 2001. This time the whole country, not just the Bush Administration, had a “heads up” before the event. Meteorologists warned of a storm unparalleled in our history. And where was FEMA? Well, they must have been doing something more important because the warning was disregarded. The appalling lack of relief is directly FEMA’s fault.

Hurricane Katrina proved many things. First, it showed how seriously unprepared the government was for a disaster. Second, it proved how negligent certain officials were in their duties. And third, it proved how much the Bush Administration looks down on the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting. Barbara Bush visited the Superdome surrounded by reporters and afterwards, on National Public Radio, took the silver spoon out of her mouth to say, “And so many people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

Oh, really?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback