Democratic Underground

What a Competent Government Would Have Done

September 10, 2005
By TygrBright

August 26, 2005, 4:10 PM EDT: Washington
Rex Responsible, Director of the U.S. Dept. of Domestic Security, is working at his desk reviewing Readiness Inspection Reports when the call comes in:

"Chief, it's confirmed. Heavy probability Katrina's going to nail the Gulf, probably New Orleans, and she's not losing any steam. Implement Contingency Gulf Coast and Contingency NOLA?"

Responsible looks grim but determined. "That's a go. I'll sign the paperwork and alert the President, get MCC-1 up and running for a 2:00 PM departure and be sure that Theresa Takecharge has MCC-2 prepped for deployment."

 
August 26, 2005, 4:30 PM CDT: Baton Rouge
"Governor, I've got FEMA Director Theresa Takecharge on the phone," the aide murmurs into her ear. Governor Blanchefort nods to her Cabinet to continue the discussion of emergency budget reallocations without her, and leaves to take the call.

"Blanchefort," her voice is a bit gruff as she settles behind her desk, talking into the speakerphone.

"Governor, I'm sure by now you know we have a confirmation on Katrina. Director Responsible has implemented Contingency NOLA, and I'm assigning Steve Black from South Regional to be your liaison. He's one of my best guys. He'll be at your office in a few minutes. You've got the plans and lists that were established under the Emergency Infrastructure Act, so you know what's on the regular menu, so to speak. Give Steve a list of what you want, and if there's anything that isn't on the regular menu, let him know and have him get on to me, personally, right away."

Blanchefort has already accessed the material distributed to Governors under the EIA, the Federal Act implemented three years ago to create a nationwide standardized infrastructure of disaster preparation and management services. The Act was hotly contested and criticized at the time for being "Too expensive" and "Too Federalized." Many state and local officials complained bitterly that the act deprived them of local autonomy, didn't provide enough funding for specialized local needs, was too one-size-fits-all, etc. Some compared it to "Those ridiculous Civil Defense boondoggles back in the 1960s."

However, looking at the plans and lists now, the newly-elected first-term Governor feels a slight sensation of relief, although she certainly won't let on to Takecharge, who's an Other Party appointee. Still, a little of the gruffness has left her voice when she replies. "OK, thanks, I'll look for Black. One thing I can tell you for sure, we're going to want to implement Operation Round Up, and we will need those Federal bases operationalized."

"We've already transmitted Condition Yellow to the base commanders. You've got the request forms in your EIA file, just send them electronically and we'll upgrade to Red."

Some of the tension goes out of Governor Blanchefort's shoulders. "Good. I'll do that. You'll have to excuse me, we're trying to get emergency state budget transfers organized here."

"I understand. Good luck, Governor… to you and all the people of New Orleans."

 
August 26, 2005, 6:30 PM CDT: New Orleans
Mayor Bonsecours is standing in front of a battery of cameras and microphones with a wry grin on his face:

"And so, New Orleanians, we're getting a chance to try out the system all that extra tax money paid for! We helped pay for it, now let's get our money's worth. The Governor has ordered a "Staged Evacuation." For those who have Internet Access, you can find all the instructions and information at 'disasterNOLA.EIA.us' Please download copies and print them out for your friends who don't have access. Radio and local TV stations will be broadcasting the instruction list every hour, and starting this afternoon, we'll have the information trucks out in the neighborhoods, distributing flyers. You can also get the information at your local schools, public libraries, and fire stations."

"Let me remind you of the instructions:

"Those who will be evacuating by car should start no later than tomorrow morning, and take the main highways north; the Governor assures me that by tomorrow morning they'll have extra northbound lanes marked and open, so y'all shouldn't have any trouble. For those who don't have a safe point already, you can stop at the Evacuation Centers in Hammond, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Picayune, Mississippi. They'll be open and staffed, and can direct you on to a Regional Safe Point if needed.

"Hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, and other institutions will start evacuating this evening, so that all of those buses will be available by tomorrow to help with the neighborhood evacuations. Remember, they'll all be evacuating to the Fort Polk facility, and you'll be able to keep track of any family members evacuated there on the FEMA website, or call the 800-1FAMILY number."

"Neighborhood evacuation will start tomorrow morning. There will be no city bus service, because all the school buses and city buses will be taking part in the neighborhood evacuation effort. Remember, if you're evacuating by bus, you can take ONE suitcase the size of a carry-on bag, and ONE pet carrier per family. The Humane Society tells me that starting tomorrow morning they'll have an emergency shelter for pets operating at the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds. They'll have pickup centers at churches if you can't get to the Fairgrounds, so check at the public library or online at the Humane Society website for a list of pickup sites."

"Please remember, neighborhood evacuation is FREE, no charge to anyone. Your bus will take you to one of the Evacuation Centers and if needed, you'll be relocated to a Regional Safe Point from there. PLEASE, mes amies, DO evacuate! This is serious, this could be the Big One, and we need everyone to help by cooperating, to make sure everyone is safe."

He grins. "If we're lucky, it will turn out to be the most expensive and realistic disaster drill in history, and you'll all go back home after a couple of days of eating MREs and camping with your neighbors at the Evacuation Centers, and have stories to tell your grandchildren, yes? But if not… we want to make sure that every New Orleanian makes it out alive so we'll all be here to rebuild and laissez les bon temps rouler once again in the Big Easy soonest. So, please, help! Evacuate now!"

Finally, he frowns, grimly. "If for whatever reason you can't evacuate… and I don't recommend it, friends, this one could get very bad very fast… but if you can't evacuate, PLEASE contact your local firehouse by Saturday evening and let them know you are still here so we can identify your body more easily when everything is over. No joke, people. If Katrina flattens us, that's the only way we'll know where to dig for you. Please cooperate, and please EVACUATE! Don't wait!"

Mayor Bonsecours gives a little nod, and the questions start hurling in.

 
August 26, 2005, 8:30 PM CDT: Fire Station #6 in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans
Roscoe LeBrun, Squad Captain, has called an all-shift meeting. They are discussing preparedness in the Ninth Ward, bemoaning the surplus of EIA "Household Preparedness Kits" that have never been picked up from the Fire Station by neighborhood residents.

"Damn, y'all, there's more'n fifteen hundred of those kits in that storage closet… that means there're a lot of people who ain't gonna know squat about what to do, the evacuation plans, what to pack, all that stuff," one of the shift supervisors complains.

Roscoe nods. "Yeah, hell with it. We keep the big rigs here, but you, Etienne, you, Alvin, you, Denise, and you, Dessaint, take the smaller ladder rig and the old pumper and a coupla bullhorns and start going street-to-street, hollerin' that you got the kits and them flyers the police dropped off, and people come an' get 'em. Start now, go 'til ten, and we'll start up again tomorrow morning at nine. Keep your walkie-talkies hot in case we get a call and need the rigs."

 
August 27, 2005, 2:00 AM CDT: Aboard MCC-1 at the Baton Rouge Airport
"Chief, we've tested the satellite relay hookups and they're all good except Slidell. There's some distribution problems, too. Some idiots haven't read the EIA manual and don't know where the emergency units are supposed to go, and some of the local coordinators can't be reached to confirm. Black's people are on it and they're getting help from Blanchefort's people, but I'm worried that we'll lose contact with Slidell."

Rex Responsible looks at the huge projected map and notes the location of the local node in Slidell. "Hell, those poor suckers will get creamed anyway. Let's set up an alternate node in, um… Covington. Get a mobile unit set up there, just in case, and re-route all the supplies from Slidell. How are we on supply shipments?"

"The depots at Hammond and Baton Rouge are at sixty percent, Lafayette is at thirty-five percent. The Base Commander at Fort Polk says they're short a few trucks, can we ask the Governor for help?"

Responsible looks sour. Blanchefort, being from the Other Party, shouldn't be given any gratuitous opportunities to look good, but… "Oh, hell. Alright, get Black onto it and see if she can allocate something from the Guard or the State Highway Admin or something."

 
August 27, 2005, 4:00 AM, CDT: Fort Polk Military Reserve, LA
A convoy of buses and trucks pulls up to the main gate, and stops. An eager-looking driver gets out with a folder of paperwork, which he hands to the gate security detail.

"Oh, right, the civvie supplementary med units," the Corporal scans the list handed to him, and calls the Gate Security Commander. "Sir, the first of the supplementary medical units is here."

An hour later the doctors, nurses, medical students and other volunteers are grouped under lights in an empty building, listening to a Major wearing Medical Corps insignia.

"We've cleared, supplied, and activated base hospital facilities, but we'll need to set up field units as well. Mostly what we expect here is the Level Three and lower care cases; we'll be tracking the Level One and Two cases but they'll be evacuated last, and go directly to hospitals in Baton Rouge. Main thing now is to get specialists registered and ID'd, and issued pagers."

"Everyone else, we'll divide into teams and assign you a military personnel as coordinator. Each team will set up a Ward Unit. We have three buildings like this, each one can support three units, caring for two hundred each. We've got five field buildings going up to house those not needed regular medical care, and two secure compounds for correctional residents. I'd like to assign one team to each of those as well…"

 
August 27, 2005, 7:30 AM CDT: National Guard Armory in Mandeville, LA
Another truck pulls up to the dock, and the men of the XXth LA National Guard unit bend their backs to the tasks of unloading pallet after pallet of crated bottled water and MRE's. Behind them, a heavy thwap-thwap-thwap indicates another transport 'copter landing, reassigned from Shreveport-based units, just in case.

 
August 27, 2005, 11:30 AM CDT: Somewhere on Interstate 10 between New Orleans & Baton Rouge
"I still think you're crazy, Lonell. Nothing's ever happened to Lakeview before, why should it be different now? I don't wanna use up two vacation days-because you know we'll be coming back on Tuesday-and give up a perfectly good holiday weekend to barge in on my busybody sister."

"Your sister will survive, and so will we, that's the point. Ev'ybody happy back there?" Lonell calls over his shoulder.

"Lissy dropped her ice cream cone on the seat," tattled Raymond, "and the dog looks like he gonna pee soon."

Lonell DuBoisier sighs. Time to look for another rest stop. Fortunately traffic, though slow, wasn't stopped or stalled. Having the extra southbound lane blocked off for northbound traffic helped. He looks over at the remaining southbound lane and grins. Precious few trying to get into New Orleans today, though they'd passed a lot of trucks and buses heading south.

 
August 27, 2005, 11:00 PM CDT: Baton Rouge
Governor Blanchefort looks over at Steve Black. His face looked just as wiped out as she felt. He might be an Other Party hack, but he knew his stuff and he'd been darn useful, prying help from the Feds. Though having to allocate those Highway Admin trucks to the military annoyed her. Why the hell couldn't the Administration re-route military trucks from some other facility? Because they were all involved in that Other Party charade helping out a corrupt dictatorship in the Middle East, that's why. And don't think someone wouldn't take note of that when the shouting stopped.

Still, it wasn't Black's fault and he'd stayed out of the camera range when she'd been visiting the Evacuation Center to check up on the preparations. They'd gotten good footage of that on the evening news. She'd been impressed with how far the preparations had proceeded, there were even a few people starting to trickle in and get allocated to temporary shelters.

"Steve, nothing's going to happen for awhile, I think. We should probably each get some rest, tomorrow's going to be worse."

 
August 28, 2005, 9:30 AM EDT: Washington
"Hell, that bitch in the Gulf isn't gonna give up or go away. Rex says they're on schedule getting ready and it's costing a fucking mint. There goes the damn' tax relief bill… again. Someone's going to make political hay out of this, I just hope to hell it's us. Anyway. Better let the President know he's going to have to be on deck later today and Monday."

"He's not going to like giving up his vacation, it's the first one he's had since the election, and he's only had three days."

"Yeah, well, he'd cream my ass bigtime if we dropped the ball on this one, so I'll take the hit. Gimme the phone."

 
August 28, 2005, 4:30 PM CDT: New Orleans
"I don't know, Winna. Maybe we better pack us some suitcases and get on one of those buses. This is the third time that fire truck been around yellin' about it, and it sure is lookin' awful dark," Amab looks up at the lowering sky.

Winna nods. "Guess so. At least it's free. You kids! Y'all get in here!" she hollers out the door.

The next bus to come around, though, is too full to take them all. "Ma'am, there's a big old city bus comin' through here in about half an hour, I think. Might be the last bus, though. Can't guarantee they won't be full, too, but y'all can wait for that, or send off the kids now. All the buses from this neighborhood go to Hammond, there's lots of volunteers there, National Guards, they'll make sure you find the kids when you get there."

Winna and Amab look at each other, fearful now. "Ain't gonna be separated from the kids if I don't have to," Winna shakes her head firmly. "Amab, you get on the bus, though."

"No, Winna. I don't have the diabetes, you do. Things get bad, you gonna need a doctor, you get up there and get things ready. Me and the girls'll take the next bus."

"Doctors at the Evacuation Center, Ma'am," the bus driver offers helpfully. "But we got to get going, now. Make up your mind."

In the end, no one gets on.

 
August 28, 2005, 11:30 PM CDT: FEMA TMCC-3, Covington, LA
Laine Farrier adjusts the armband that identifies her as a FEMA local coordinator, and nods to the National Guard unit commander. "OK, let me show you what we've got. Tanks of gas, here. The generators are over here-" she points to three flatbed trucks, each loaded with several heavy-duty gas gennies, and a couple of dozen more lined up against the back wall of the High School.

They pass on into the gym, where pallet after pallet of supplies-water, food, diapers, packs containing flashlights, tarps, inflatable rafts, etc.-are lined up. A weary-looking man in a coverall is sitting by the locked door to the rest of the school, reading a newspaper and sipping coffee. He looks up and nods to the Guardsman. He's the chief of the school custodial staff; the Principal appointed him liaison with the FEMA people.

"Just be sure that each pallet is scanned when you load it, so we can track the supplies. We have handcomps for that," she displays a little gadget similar to the ones carried by UPS and Fedex drivers. "The codes are always on the upper corners. Otherwise, it's up to you what you take and when, just let us know when you're running low on anything, hopefully before you have to take the last one."

The Guardsman nods patiently. Bureaucrats.

"And these," she moves on to another couple of pallets, containing bundles of poly-wrapped packets of paper, "are leaflets and emergency assistance application forms. The more of the get distributed early, the sooner we can start processing the applications and keeping track of who needs what, so it's important that you get them out to people."

"Yes, Ma'am, we've been told," the Guardsman nods. Bureaucrats. Still, at least everything is ready for his unit to use as needed. They've been assigned to the Lower Ninth Ward, and they've already been warned that the evacuation wasn't by any means complete.

 
August 29, 2005 1:00 AM: Fire Station #6, Ninth Ward
Roscoe LeBrun shifts restlessly on his cot. He and the men of the mid-shift are manning one of forty-eight Emergency Response Centers in the City, most of them located at neighborhood fire and police stations. In addition to the ERCs, there are four Coordination Centers: The Superdome, the Convention Center, Charity Hospital, and the Municipal Services Center where the city's fleet of work vehicles and supplies are kept.

Each ERC has been issued two satellite-relay phones, linked to the Coordination Centers. The Coordination Centers have temporary communications posts set up with satellite-relay linkages to an Emergency Command Center in Baton Rouge, operated jointly by FEMA and the National Guard.

Roscoe looks over at the lighted ready room, where his number two is staying awake. Roscoe took the first shift to sleep because he figured the bad stuff would be later, but now he's having a hard time getting any rest. They all had a briefing that afternoon from a guy from the Superdome Coordination Center, outlining all the procedures for noting and marking collapsed buildings, relaying emergency medical requests, routing survivors to the Coordination Center, and so forth. Grim stuff. Would this be the time it really happened?

He hoped not…

 
August 29, 2005 4:00 AM: Superdome, New Orleans
Tim Corrigan looks up from the radio. "Downgraded to Category Four, people!" There is an audible sigh of relief among the Coordination team. Maybe it'll keep losing steam?

But no one stops work. The Communications Center is in a sheltered part of the Dome, by the administration offices. They spent most of yesterday rigging redundant, reinforced satellite relay pickups strong enough to punch through just about anything both on the Dome itself and in nearby areas. Hopefully they wouldn't all get knocked out.

In the Dome itself, some emergency supplies have already been moved in and stockpiled, and volunteers from the Red Cross, as well as a contingent of City police and fire fighters, are snoozing on cots. Generators wait, silent, in the halls and concourses, next to chemical toilets. The Dome and the Convention Center are functioning as Emergency Shelters, too.

Charity Hospital has been largely evacuated, but medical personnel, generators, and supplies are waiting there, along with another Communications Center. At the Municipal Services Yard, some of the city's municipal and school buses have been rolled in to supplement the heavy equipment, and some of the heavy equipment has been redeployed to other facilities with the rest of the buses. If one area takes a bad hit, equipment should still be accessible.

Tim looks at the monitor screen showing live feed from the National Weather Service and shudders. If that's Category Four, he doesn't want to know what Category Five looks like.

 
August 29, 2005 10:30 AM EDT: Baton Rouge Evacuation Center
It was looking more and more like they'd be needed, Andrea Hall decides as their minivan, with its big white "FEMA" lettering, pulled up at the shelter. She and the others know the drill from Florida. The local FEMA staff has already set up dozens of temporary offices, configured the local network, and connected to the main FEMA server. They've been registering evacuees since yesterday.

Now the "Storm Gypsies" as Andrea's team and others like it called themselves, are on site to do the tough stuff, processing damage information and emergency assistance claims. She wondered how many people this time had actually READ their EIA booklets before evacuating, and remembered to bring important papers with them. She sighed. Probably the usual fifteen or twenty percent. Oh well, they'd learned to cope with it, though it DID delay processing. People never listened to stuff you tell them for their own good. Tough way to learn, though.

She and the others troop into the Center and are welcomed with weary smiles and cups of coffee by the local staff.

 
August 29, 2005, 1:00 PM EDT: Baton Rouge Emergency Command Center
Governor Blanchefort is on the satellite-relay line with Mayor Bonsecours. "Maurice, looks like y'all dodged the worst of the bullet, but Mississippi's getting pounded. What are the preliminary damage assessments looking like?"

Bonsecours' voice is raw with weariness. "Not too many reports yet, Flo. We're starting to get stuff in from the ERCs, a lot of buildings flattened, roofs off… East getting a helluva storm surge, under water pretty good, we'll get more crews out in boats and rafts as soon as…. hang on a minute…. what?" The last is to someone talking to the Mayor on the other end. The word "levee" comes through.

"Oh, good Christ have mercy…" the Mayor's voice is ragged. "Flo, we're for it. At least one levee, possibly two, overtopped and crumbling. We're gonna be under twenty-twenty-five feet of water in a couple of hours. Shit, shit shit shit SHIT!!" He takes a deep, exhausted breath. "Sorry, Flo."

"Don't apologize, Maurice," Blanchefort looks over her shoulder where it is clear that Steve Black is getting the same news-his brows have snapped together and he's rapping out orders. "I'll get the Guard coordination onto it from this end right away. Boats… damn', we should have had more BOATS ready, dammit. Helicopters, though."

"They're telling me they have to shut the power down, Flo… emergency generators coming on… Listen, I've got to get onto the radio, and make another announcement, then I'm going to find myself a boat and go take a look-see. Let you know what's going on in a bit."

"Right, Maurice. Bonne chance, mon ami… I'd better get to the radio, too."

She hangs up, and looks over at Black, who just broke a connection to Theresa Takecharge. Her eyebrows ask a question.

"Ma'am, the Director is on his way here. The President got back from his vacation this morning, he's taping a message for broadcast, and then he'll be heading out… here and Mississippi, they got clobbered pretty bad, too. He's already authorized extra military assistance. We've got two Navy hospital ships on the way, the Coast Guard is deploying everything they've got, and we'll be diverting helicopters and heavy equipment from bases in a five-state area."

"Well, that's well and good, but how are they going to coordinate with my Guardsmen, Steve? I don't want rescuers stumbling over each other one place and missing somewhere else."

"Ma'am… Florence… Mr. Responsible will appoint a military liaison officer who'll work directly in contact with your Guard Commander. He's already on the phone to the Pentagon. This is upgraded to a Category One Disaster, you'll get everything we've got for the rescue effort."

 
August 29, 2005, 11:30 PM: East New Orleans, Plum Orchard neighborhood
"My God, look at the water… it just keeps coming…" Winna murmurs. They are on an upper balcony of their three-story apartment building-it's not their balcony, all the second-floor balconies are under water. Amab broke into an upstairs neighbor's apartment hours ago, when the water came rushing down Flake Street, churning, carrying debris with it. They'd had no time to do more than grab their packed suitcases and head up the stairs. Winna wishes she'd thought to grab some food, as well, and some water. They've been on the balcony for hours, now, and the children were crying and cranky. She's not feeling so good herself. She has her diabetes pills, but they're supposed to be taken with food.

"Winna, you think it's alright we take some of these peoples' food?" Amab says dubiously, looking at the apartment behind them. They know these neighbors only slightly, an older couple… nice enough, but they don't much like the noisy children who live below. Still, how could anyone deny food to a hungry child?"

"Stealin' Amab. Someone be 'long soon, I saw a helicopter over there a while ago."

He knows, he saw the helicopter too… but it was headed away from the Plum Orchard area. "Just some crackers or something, Amab. They wouldn't grudge us that."

Finally, Winna nods, and he goes into the kitchen and searches delicately for something edible. Their neighbors aren't any richer than Amab and Winna, there isn't much. But he brings back some cereal and cookies, and a bottle of juice from the refrigerator, warm now.

Fed, the children finally lapse into sleep.

 
August 30, 2005, 2:00 AM: Superdome, New Orleans
Losing the roof was a terrible blow. Everything had to be re-deployed in the concourses and corridors, but the volunteers and the earliest shelter arrivals had helped, and now each concourse area had its own bank of chemical toilets, food dispensing station, and rows of cots. People slept uneasily, and children wailed. New arrivals looked around, bewildered and shaken, wet and miserable.

Red Cross volunteers passed out blankets, stuffed toys to the children, and food packets, and murmured soothingly that the buses would leave for evacuation shelters in the morning. Fortunately the portable generators were holding out.

A whole flotilla of boats had materialized, seemingly out of nowhere, manned by local people-fishermen, watermen, charter operators, and others. Tim preferred not to ask too many questions about which boats belonged to who, he suspected that a good few had been 'liberated.' He'd asked them to divvy up and help out at the ERCs, and they'd headed off to supplement the police and fire fighters, who asked no questions and were just glad for the help.

The Guard and the military and FEMA workers weren't far behind. In boats and helicopters, they'd been arriving steadily since 4:00 PM the previous day, quartering up each area of the city, contacting the ERCs, and coordinating a steady, sustained search-and-rescue. They'd put some boats at the service of the police when looting reports started coming in, and the problems were quickly dealt with. There'd been a few dozen arrests already, with those who were just seeking food, water, diapers and other essentials chided and routed to the Superdome or Convention Center, and those carrying televisions, computers, and other swag cuffed and loaded on buses for dispatch to Fort Polk.

"The satellite-relay phones are a godsend," Tim tells a reporter from AP, who is there to get a 'first person' account of the disaster. "They really are helping us coordinate between the city people and the Guard and the FEMA people. There's been some confusion but not nearly as bad as it could be."

"How many dead, do you have any idea yet?" the reporter tries not to sound ghoulish and doesn't succeed very well, Tim's lips tighten briefly before he responds, levelly. "We won't know for a few days. The Governor's office says more than 480,000 people were successfully evacuated, and we expect there's more who weren't counted. We know for sure that more than 5,000 people contacted ERCs to report they were staying in the City. More than half of them have already been accounted for here or at the Convention Center. But it's going to be bad, I'm sure."

Of course, not as bad as it could be…

 
August 30, 2005, 6:30 AM: Plum Orchard neighborhood, New Orleans
The heavy thudding sound is faint, but Amab stirs, and stares blearily at the pale sky, scanning. It gets louder, and he nudges Winna awake.

"Winna! Helicopter!"

She struggles to her feet, and the children, too, stir. The sound gets louder, it's coming from behind them, the other side of the building. In a few minutes it's deafening, and suddenly they can feel a wind. They start jumping up and down, yelling into the noise, futile as that may be.

"Help!! Help!! We're here, help!!" They are leaning over the balcony, over the dark, sluggish waters below, trying to see where the chopper is, as it hovers into view, startlingly close. Faces are peering out a door, faces over camo-uniformed bodies leaning out. They wave, and grin, and nod reassuringly. One of them makes a "hold on" gesture.

The chopper seems to be flying away and Winna hollers frantically, waving her arms, desperate, but it's just coming around to get a better angle, and finally it hovers. A big, inflatable, net-sided platform is lowered, and a grinning man in uniform with it, hanging on to one of the support wires. He gestures.

Winna and the littlest girl, first, he gestures. When she's aboard the flimsy-seeming platform, clinging desperately to one of the straps, he hollers in her ear "Nolan Proulx, Ma'am, from Metairie… glad to see you!"

"Not half as glad as we are to see you!!" she screams back, clutching the child tightly with the hand that isn't holding a strap.

 
August 30, 2005, 9:30 AM: Baton Rouge Evacuation Center
The President is holding a press conference, with Governor Blanchefort and Rex Responsible behind him, and a couple of Red Cross workers.

"No, I won't be going down there just yet; I don't want to get in the way or distract our people from the rescue effort. I'm heading on to Biloxi, and then I'll be back tomorrow to tour New Orleans."

"Mr. President, Mr. President! Early estimates are saying as many as five or six thousand dead… Are you satisfied that the government made adequate preparations for this disaster? Could more lives have been saved?"

The President looks a little angry. "Yes, I don't doubt more lives could have been saved. This is the first Category One disaster we've had to deal with since the EIA passed, there's bound to be room for improvement, though I hope we never have to deal with another. If we do, we'll be still better prepared."

"But having said that, I want to make it absolutely clear that I think Mr. Responsible, and his people at FEMA, and Governor Blanchefort and the Louisiana National Guard, Mayor Bonsecours and all the emergency workers in New Orleans, have done an incredible job. They've been working all-out, working round the clock since Friday, and I'd like to see a little focus on what's gone right, as well as making notes of how we can do better. The Emergency Communications system, for one. And the supply depots and the Mobile Command Centers. They've all played a big part in saving a lot of lives."

"Mr. President! Will you be presenting a supplementary allocation bill for emergency aid? And what will that do to your plans for another tax cut?"

The President looks rueful. "Well, we'll get to that tax cut eventually. But not right now. We'll be presenting an emergency aid bill right away, fifty billion for immediate efforts, and another bill when we know more about what's needed to help people get their immediate needs met. Then later we'll look at what will be needed to help New Orleans rebuild."

"Rebuild, Mr. President? Isn't that throwing good money away, re-building in a flood area?"

Both the President and the Governor look angry. "Throwing money away? To rebuild one of America's most historical, unique cities? I don't think so. Rebuilding doesn't mean we have to do everything exactly the same, right up to making it vulnerable to catastrophes like Katrina. We'll find a way to make sure the people of New Orleans have a safe home to go back to. Just how will be for the engineers and planners to decide. But there will be Mardi Gras again in the Mississippi Delta, that I promise!"

Cheers erupt from the people in the Evacuation Center, and Governor Blanchefort is smiling, although there's something about the smile that's a little… painful. Like she's sitting on something pointy.

"Damn' the old fox," she thinks, watching the President from the Other Party score huge political capital and pull the rug right out from under her. Then she looks around at all the tired, hungry survivors of Katrina and the smile becomes more relaxed, more genuine. What the hell. There will be plenty of opportunities to score back.

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