What a Competent Government Would Have
September 10, 2005
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
August 26, 2005, 8:30 PM CDT: Fire Station #6 in the Ninth Ward,
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
"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,
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
"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
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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.
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
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.