GRETNA -- Rather than send pump workers 100 miles north of the city when a hurricane threatens, Jefferson Parish will build 20 "safe houses" to ensure that pumps can be started quickly in case of floods, Parish President Aaron Broussard said.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, Broussard sent 236 pump workers to Washington Parish under the "Doomsday Plan" drawn up seven years ago, when Tim Coulon was parish president. Thousands of homes in Jefferson Parish flooded during the 12 hours it took for the workers to return.
"The 1998 Doomsday Plan is no more and will never again be used in Jefferson Parish," Broussard said Wednesday.
You may recall Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky as the pair who wrote about their experiences trying to get over the Crescent City Connection from New Orleans into Gretna ("Building communism under the overpass"). Bradshaw will apparently be featured on December 18th's 60 Minutes talking about the incident.
...Larry Bradshaw, who is white, says he thinks the explanation the officers gave for turning them back seemed racist. "The only two explanations we ever received was, one, 'We're not going to have any Superdomes over here,' and 'This is not New Orleans,'' he remembers. Shauron Holloman, a black man who was also on the bridge, agrees. "A group of people trying to leave a city that's predominantly African American and you have the officers, who were white -- that's the way it appears,' Holloman says. "[We were stopped] I think because the group was 95 percent African American."
Holloman says that when the crowd sat down and attempted to stay on the bridge, an officer became aggressive. "He sped down in his cruiser and over the loudspeaker he just continuously said, 'Get the f--- off the bridge,' and would point his gun at some people," he tells Bradley.
"We're not a predominantly white, racist community that some people may assume," says Ronnie Harris, the mayor of Gretna, whose residents are 35 percent African American. Harris says Gretna had already helped to evacuate thousands of people fleeing New Orleans but at that moment could not accept more for lack of food, water and buses. "The city of Gretna was completely on its own. Our entire services were disrupted -- no city services, no electricity. We had no shelter. We had no medical services. We were hit by a category four hurricane. What were people expecting us to do?" says Harris.
Harris does say that another reason for sealing off his town was to protect his citizens from looting and chaos reported in New Orleans that some in the large crowd, which included women and children, could have taken part in. He says the shotgun blasts were warranted. "When law enforcement is present, order is expected. Without it, terror and mayhem can ensue," he tells Bradley. "The crowd was desperate.... had gone through some unbelievable sights and sounds.... They were looking for safety and security - something that I could not provide. It was as simple as that," says Harris.
The Louisiana attorney general is investigating whether civil rights were violated or if any laws were broken. Oliver Thomas, the president of the New Orleans city council, thinks Gretna could have handled the situation better. "Your politics cannot be bigger than your humanity, and in this case, we didn't need politics. We needed humanity."
Obviously, there are different sides to this story, and one wonders whether the apparent agenda of Bradshaw will be discussed at all.
Previously: "March demands accountability of Gretna police action" (the bridge is back!), Ray Nagin: "We" told people the Crescent City Connection was open, Ray Nagin meets with Louis Farrakhan, discusses conspiracy theories, LAT on the Gretna bridge incident, and Conyers supporting socialists' Gretna bridge tale
When the 17th Street Canal levee crumbled, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard couldn't go to the Home Depot to buy materials to staunch the flood encroaching from New Orleans. What he could do, under the sweeping emergency authority provided by state law, was raid the Lafarge Construction Materials plant at 3320 Airline Drive for sand, concrete blocks and heavy equipment to build a dam at Airline and Severn Avenue.
In the frenzied days after Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, Broussard several times invoked his authority to seize private property when government resources alone could not handle the crisis or provide for the evacuees, relief workers and National Guardsmen swarming into town. He brought two public and two private hospitals under his control, conscripted vacant land from a private owner and gave law enforcement carte blanche to snatch food, vehicles and other supplies...
...Ron Maestri, chief operating officer of the New Orleans Zephyrs, had evacuated to Houston and saw on television that search-and-rescue workers were using the Zephyr Field parking lot in Metairie as a staging area.
Maestri said the franchise was not troubled by the presence of National Guardsmen and relief workers in the chaotic weeks after the storm. But now that they are gone, the team is seeking compensation for missing tools, tractors and other equipment and for the trees that were cut down to improve visibility for helicopter pilots...
More land and property grabs follow.
As controversy continues to churn about Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's decision to evacuate more than 200 pump station workers the day before Hurricane Katrina, officials in New Orleans are vowing to take a hard look at their decision to require pump station workers to staff their posts, an order that endangered the lives of dozens of employees but allowed for the quick draining of a city that was more than 80 percent under water.
"We got pretty close to losing some people and I'm uncomfortable with that," Mayor Ray Nagin said last week. "We will have to take a fresh look when we get a chance to clear our heads."
Harrowing tales of survival abound in the ranks of the 100 Sewerage & Water Board pump station operators who, like police officers and firefighters, were required to wait out the storm while more than 1 million residents packed highways in search of higher ground...
Throughout the city, pump station workers committed countless acts of heroism as they struggled against unprecedented odds to survive and protect the equipment that would be key to the city's rebirth. In all, about half of the city's 22 major pumping stations flooded, and almost all received damage from the Category 4 hurricane's brutal winds and pelting rain. Complicating matters, the S&WB's power plant flooded, causing many pumps, which had already lost Entergy power, to shut down. The East Bank water plant also stopped working when the power failed, cutting off the tap water needed to cool the behemoth pumps, Moeinian said...
Even as they followed orders to abandon their stations before Hurricane Katrina slashed ashore, some of Jefferson Parish's pump operators asked why they couldn't stay.
Why couldn't some volunteers, possibly as many as 30 workers on the West Bank alone, ride out the hurricane in a parish building, they asked, or even hunker down inside pump stations while their colleagues evacuated 100 miles north, as dictated by the parish's "doomsday" plan?
"The question was raised, yes," said Jimmy Aragon, who oversees West Jefferson's 14 staffed pump stations and was among the last wave of 236 pump workers to evacuate Aug. 28, the night before Katrina's landfall. "But we were told that West Jefferson (Medical Center) was full. They were housing firefighters and policemen.
"But there wasn't a choice," he said. "Everybody was ordered to go. There was no choice. We couldn't have stayed if we wanted to."
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said Friday he is moving to sack the head of the East Jefferson Levee District, who publicly questioned the Broussard administration's decision to evacuate drainage pump workers as Hurricane Katrina hurtled towards the Gulf Coast.
Broussard sent a letter asking Gov. Kathleen Blanco to remove Patrick Bossetta as Levee Board president and to install Bobby Bourgeois, one of Broussard's executive assistants, as an interim board member.
The request was the latest sign that the Aug. 28 evacuation of the pump operators has become a political powder keg for Broussard. While Bossetta was among the first to go public second-guessing the administration, other critics have come forward in Kenner, on the Parish Council and especially among the myriad residents whose homes Katrina flooded.
Broussard cited Bossetta's questioning in a written statement disclosed that he had written to Blanco. He also criticized Bossetta for failing to inform him that Metairie was flooding after Katrina passed Aug. 29...
A frustrated New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned Thursday that it would be in the state's best interest to help the Crescent City jump-start its Hurricane Katrina-riddled economy, saying the impact on the state -- if nothing is done -- will pale in comparison to the layoffs the city recently announced.
"You think 3,000 layoffs in New Orleans is a big deal. Just wait,'' Nagin, his sleeves rolled up, said during an evening meeting with The Advocate's editorial board. "I see a state in crisis.''
The mayor pointed out during the Baton Rouge meeting that New Orleans accounts for 35 percent of the state budget.
"This is not chump change,'' he said. "We're going to have to sell the financial realities of what has happened to this state. Four-day work weeks is not going to do it.''
Nagin, who spent a second straight day Thursday visiting New Orleanians in evacuation shelters, including those in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and other parts of the state, expressed frustration over inaction on the state's part and what he perceives as indifference to the city's post-Katrina plight...
...Nagin, asked if the city is considering filing for bankruptcy, said his administration is in the process of borrowing $50 million from Chase Bank and is looking for a consortium of banks to lend the city another $50 million to $100 million...
...The mayor said his much-criticized proposal last week to create a casino district in downtown New Orleans -- what he referred to Thursday as the "hype and glitter factor,'' would be a way to breath life into the ailing city economy...
...The devastated Lower 9th Ward, what he called "the most vulnerable area of the city,'' could face "mass demolitions'' if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot give the city and residents the "comfort'' that it can be protected from future levee breaks along the Industrial Canal. The Lower 9th contains the highest concentration of blighted property in the city, he said, a legacy of Hurricane Betsy. If the Lower 9th is rebuilt, it likely will contain of mix of raised residences, apartments and condominiums, and industry.
His relationships with Blanco and Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard are less than cozy.
"I've been trying to work with the governor. We have very different styles. I'm really at a loss for what else to do,'' the mayor said.
"There are some really hard feelings right now,'' he said of his feelings toward Broussard. Shortly after Katrina struck, New Orleans residents who had fled to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center tried to "walk to freedom'' by crossing the Crescent City Connection on foot to make it out of the flooded city, but law enforcement officials in Gretna -- which is in Jefferson Parish -- met them with guns and "attack dogs,'' he said.
"And they want me to talk about regionalism. I'm not feeling very regional right now,'' Nagin said.
His idea to create a charter school system of 20 schools that he, rather than the Orleans Parish School Board, would control was prompted by the extreme pressure that the board is under to open schools on the city's east bank...
Even with 60 percent of the 1,061 identified hurricane deaths being from New Orleans, there are still 4,000 to 7,000 missing New Orleanians...
As previously discussed, Aaron Broussard sent the Jefferson Parish pump operators out of harm's way because their stations weren't built to withstand such storms. However, as also discussed, he seems to have sent them a bit too far, as the Times-Pic says in "The pump debacle":
...Mr. Broussard's concern for public employees' welfare is understandable. Existing pump stations currently aren't safe places for workers to ride out strong hurricanes. And the parish president maintains that forcing pump workers, who receive relatively low pay, to stay on the job would be a "death sentence."
But in the future, the obvious remedy is to find more adequate shelters in -- or at least near -- the parish and to offer greater pay to workers who accept the risk of staying on duty during hurricanes.
Sending pumping station workers to a site 100 miles away surely hampered Jefferson's ability to respond to conditions created by Hurricane Katrina. Local governments in low-lying areas need to acknowledge that, to most residents, the property damage caused by flooding is no minor matter -- and that pumping water out can be a life-and-death matter for those who do not evacuate.
This editorial - as well as the general topic of AB himself - gets discussed in "The Times-Picayune Undresses a Blowhard":
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard leapt into the white-hot media arena and became one of the most eloquent, savage, and ubiquitous critics of the Bush administration's lackluster, stutter-step response. As we noted earlier, Broussard's gift of gab had quote-hungry reporters lining up for tart samples.
But weeks later, at least one paper has remembered that Broussard is not only a political critic but also a politician -- and one who played a not-insignificant role in the failed evacuation. Unfortunately for Broussard, that paper is the one his constituency reads -- the New Orleans Times-Picayune...
The BBC will be showing a doc called "The Hurricane That Shook America", and they promote it in Fema 'knew of New Orleans danger'.
There appear to be two slightly newsworthy bits of info:
a key briefing officer within Fema sent a message directly to Mr Brown early on the day before Katrina hit, warning him of potentially disastrous flooding in New Orleans, which could trap more than 100,000 people.
I'm pretty sure Brown knew that was a possibility. The question is what details were provided and the major question is what happened after the floodwalls/levees failed. Was there specific information in the memo that Brown did not act on? Recall he wanted a mandatory evacuation. Perhaps the memo should have been sent to Blanco, and a few days before the storm.
Walter Maestri, head of emergency preparedness for Jefferson Parish, told the BBC that Fema officials promised emergency teams from the area that they would supply food, water, medical provisions, and assistance with transporting evacuees from the city - all within 48 hours of the emergency.
In the event, these emergency teams were left without the help they asked for.
Is that news?
Ivor van Heerden, an expert on hurricanes from Louisiana State University, told the BBC that local officials had taken the predictions of the Pam exercise rather more seriously than their federal counterparts.
Covered by Sixty Minutes a few weeks ago.
As for the headline of their story, obviously everyone knew the levees weren't built for a Category 5 storm.
As previously discussed, Aaron Broussard evacuated the Jefferson Parish pump operators.
If "Jeff pump operators gone 24 hours" is to be believed, he might have been right in at least sending them out of harm's way, although whether he could have put them somewhere where they could have been brought them back sooner seems like a possible question to ask:
Jefferson Parish officials want to start the 2006 hurricane season with "safe houses" to shelter drainage station crews from deadly winds and storm surges, so they can keep the pumps operating during tropical storms and other heavy rains.
Design of the safe houses began this summer. But that was no help during Hurricane Katrina when the crews at Jefferson's 18 major pump stations were evacuated to the north shore for more than 24 hours, as part of the administration's new "doomsday plan" to safeguard critical equipment and essential personnel in event of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.
But, according to a comment here:
I heard the pump operators were evacuated to Franklinton. They would have probably been safer staying in Jefferson Parish because Franklinton to a butt woopin from the storm. I recieved this news through the grapevine and I'm not sure of it's validity.
THE CITY OF KENNER HAS ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER THE PUMPING STATIONS, DRAINAGE SYSTEMS OR PUMPING STATION STAFF IN KENNER - ALL ARE ALL UNDER THE CONTROL OF JEFFERSON PARISH.
PRIOR TO HURRICANE KATRINA'S LANDFALL, JEFFERSON PARISH OFFICIALS MADE THE DECISION TO EVACUATE THE PUMP OPERATORS TO A LOCATION OUTSIDE OF THE PARISH. RUMORS ARE CIRCULATING THAT KENNER OFFICIALS MADE THIS DECISION. THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE - JEFFERSON PARISH HAS TOTAL AUTHORITY OVER PUMPS AND DRAINAGE AND THEIR STAFF- NOT KENNER.
HOWEVER, WE ARE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED AND WILL DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SITUATION DOES NOT REPEAT ITSELF.
Saying that he believes some of the flooding in East Jefferson from Hurricane Katrina was due to pump stations that were not running, East Jefferson Levee District President Pat Bossetta said Tuesday he's ready to explore the feasibility of assuming operation of parish drainage pumps...
Bossetta is among a growing number of officials who believe that dozens of neighborhoods and commercial districts north of Interstate 10, from the St. Charles Parish line in Kenner to roughly Bonnabel Boulevard in Metairie, flooded strictly because no one was operating the pumps designed to reduce or eliminate flooding.
"Maybe the pumping stations need to come under our jurisdiction,'' Bossetta said Tuesday during his agency's first post-Katrina board meeting. "Maybe our guys need to be trained to turn them on. The water in East Jefferson didn't come over the levee. The problem with water in East Jefferson - came through the pumping stations and into the canals,'' he said.
The Broussard administration declined additional comment Tuesday, but officials have previously said the evacuations were necessary to save lives. Parish spokeswoman Jacquie Bauer said parish emergency services director Walter Maestri is expected to make Katrina-related remarks to the Jefferson Parish Council, which
has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to process emergency contracts related to the storms.
As essential personnel, Bossetta said pump station operators should be required to stay at their posts during emergencies or, at the very least, be housed somewhere within the parish so that they can quickly return to the pump stations once a hurricane passes...