10 September 2005

Willie, You Did a Heck of a Job

I read an email which has the following astounding excerpt from President Clinton's book, My Life (red added):

... I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew. I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this. I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane. Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won. Voters don't chose a President based on how he'll handle disasters, but if they're faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

Bushie, you're doing a a heck of a job.


Anonymous said...

how quickly we forget

But FEMA didn't do much better under much less taxing conditions, when the floods that followed Hurricane Floyd left tens of thousands stranded up and down the Eastern seaboard, wondering what happened to federal rescuers.
New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida were hit hard when Floyd slammed the coast on Sept. 16, 1999. It was the worst storm to hit the U.S. in 25 years - yet it killed only 61 people. That death toll expected to be dwarfed by Katrina.

Clinton FEMA Director James Lee Witt won high marks for hurricane preparation, but the flood that followed swamped his agency.

A full three weeks after the storm had passed, Rev. Jesse Jackson interviewed Witt on his CNN show "Both Sides Now" - and complained that flood victims were still suffering from a "misery index."

"It seemed there was preparation for Hurricane Floyd, but then came Flood Floyd," Jackson began. "Bridges are overwhelmed, levees are overwhelmed, whole town's under water . . . [it's] an awesome scene of tragedy. So there's a great misery index in North Carolina."

Witt explained that the storm's devastation was unparalleled, prompting Jackson to ask what was being done for the thousands of families left homeless by Floyd.

Though nearly a month had passed since the storm first hit, Witt said his agency was just beginning to address the problem.

"We're starting to move the camper trailers in," he explained. "It's been so wet it's been difficult to get things in there, but now it's going to be moving very quickly. And I think you're going to see a -- I think the people there will see a big difference over within this next weekend."

The Clinton FEMA Director came in for more criticism during another CNN interview - this time for failing to do a better job with Hurricane Floyd evacuation efforts.

"I hate to do this to you so early in the morning," host Carol Lin began apologetically.

"But I want to show you some video of Hurricane Floyd. This was the evacuation scene out of Florida last year. And you can recall, some three-million people in three different states were hitting the highways, jammed back-to-back trying to get away from the danger. And much of the local as well as the federal government was criticized for this backup. What is being done this year to prevent something like this from happening again, keeping people out of harm's way?"

Witt explained that evacuation problems were to be expected under such dire conditions. "It was very unusual when you had multiple states all evacuating at the same time," he told CNN. "It was the first time that that has happened that way and it did clog the highways."

While Witt's reputation remained largely intact after the Floyd fiasco, more than a few of the storm's thousands of flood victims complained that the agency had failed them.

"I had heard FEMA was going to be downtown, so I got up early to get down there and get in line," one North Carolina woman told the Associated Press, recounting her ordeal months after Floyd had passed. "The time came and nobody was there, just all these people waiting in line."

FEMA's sorry performance left her overwrought.

"I had been let down so many times, I just lost it," the flood victim said. "A friend of mine came walking up, and I just started toward her. She said, 'Robin, what in the world is wrong?' I was just standing there in the middle of the street crying, totally disoriented, practically hysterical."

Weeks after Floyd's floodwaters subsided, the suffering for many had yet to be addressed.

"We passed hundreds of families sitting outside their now-uninhabitable homes, with their water-soaked possessions spread out on their lawns," the Raleigh's News & Observer noted on Oct. 3, 1999.

"Desperately picking through the mess for anything to salvage, most people - particularly the elderly - seemed to be in a state of shock."

And where was FEMA?


WestEnder said...

I don't think this story let's FEMA off the hook, which I think is what you intended.

It only points out the difficulty of evacuating millions of people before the hurricane, and then bringing in temporary housing after a flood. It does not suggest that FEMA failed, just that the situation was an ordeal for the people as well as the responders.

The NOLA situation is widely considered a failure because everything that happened was anticipated and warned about. It was the officials (at every level) that couldn't coordinate effectively.

The primary blame has to be with FEMA because that is the agency charged with handling major natural disasters. FEMA is supposed to be the go-to-agency. That is its reason for existence. It failed, and a major reason is Bush's restructuring of the agency and his cronyism-filled government.

Anonymous said...

I was in no way trying to let FEMA off the hook. Only pointing out that Clinton’s golden boy that he was praising in that quote was unable to handle a similar, although smaller, situation.

No matter who is in charge of FEMA disasters are terrible and there is no way to be prepared for them completely. The area's flooded by Floyd were in a flood plain as well and flooding should have been anticipated just like in new Orleans. Thankfully there was less loss of life with Floyd and so it wasn’t as big a story.

The point I would like to take from the article is that the clean up and relief for this hurricane is outpacing the relief for Floyd. FEMA is responding more quickly to a worse disaster.

I will fault bush as well as the congress (republicans and democrats) for the reorganizing. A special criticism of bush is in order because he initially opposed the forming of the department of homeland security and let political pressure sway him. If he had held his ground there would have been one less layer of bureaucracy with which to deal.

Don’t let Clinton’s idealized remembrances take away from the real problems that were in place with Witt.

WestEnder said...

I won't let Clinton's idealized remembrances take away from real problems if you won't let Bush's idealized perceptions take away from real problems.

Wes said...

It's NewsMax.com - I wouldn't believe it if it said ice cream tastes good and the sky is blue.


Anonymous said...


you woulod know it is not an original piece by newsmax if you bothered to read it. It took information from CNN and the raleigh's news and observer. feel free to use nexis to pull up the original pieces and transcripts if you wish.


I agree with you that there are real problems that predate the clinton administration and exist to this present day. No one has gotten it right yet.

Hopefully katrina was the wake up call to the rest of the nation to begin emergency planning now. Every state and local government should be working on emergency plans as we speak and FEMA needs to be cutting out some of their BS regulations. There is much that can be done to improve our response at every level.

WestEnder said...

In addition to cleaning up FEMA, the issue of whether it really is best to keep it under Homeland Security also needs to be reconsidered. An agency like FEMA needs to be quick, and adding layers of beaurocracy is not conducive.

The issue also does not start and end with FEMA. The "retrospectoscope" (as Howard Dean once termed post-event analyses) is showing that there was poor coordination among federal, state, and local authorities. This also cannot happen again.