Bells Toll as New Orleans Remembers Aug. 29
Some 1,600 people died in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of local, state and federal officials to quickly act on the news that one of the worst storms in U.S. history was bearing down on the city most vulnerable to such storms.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, standing on the steps of City Hall, told a crowd of survivors on Aug. 29, 2006, “Trust me. We will get through it. We will get through it together.”
While thousands of New Orleans residents rode out Katrina in their homes, unable to leave because of lack of transportation, Nagin allowed hundreds of city-owned school buses to sit idle in parking lots, until they were eventually covered by flood water.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco has acknowledged that she asked for federal help too late to provide meaningful help for the residents of her state. The time to request evacuation buses and supplies from FEMA, she acknowledged, was before the storm struck, not after, which resulted in vital supplies reaching the devastated area 4 days after the levees breached.
President George W. Bush spent the morning of Aug. 29, 2006, praying in St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, lighting a candle for the hundreds killed when the water overtook them.
Later, during a speech at a high school, Bush acknowledged the heroic efforts of first responders and regular citizens, but added, “Unfortunately, the hurricane also brought terrible scenes we never thought we’d see in America. Citizens drowned in their attics. Desperate mothers crying out on national TV for food and water. A breakdown of law and order and a government, at all levels, that fell short of its responsibilities.”
Katrina, Bush noted, was “only the beginning of our difficulties.” He promised to ask Congress to grant Gulf Coast states – some of the poorest in the nation – a greater share of royalties from off-shore drilling.
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown went on the Today Show on Aug. 29 and blasted the Bush administration’s response to Katrina, noting that hindsight being 20/20, he wished he had stopped “giving lip service” to the administration’s claims that the federal government was doing everything it could do to help Gulf Coast residents. He added he wished he had been honest with residents when talking to them about the dire situation.
When asked by host Matt Lauer about the failure of the government’s disaster response plan, Brown responded, “What plan?”
Brown was quick to spread blame for the nearly 2,000 deaths and billions in property damage between the Gulf Coast governors, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the Bush administration, Department of Homeland Response Secretary Michael Chertoff and himself.
In towns along the Gulf Coast, residents remembered the day Katrina struck. Parishioners of Christ Episcopal Church of Bay St. Louis, Miss., which was destroyed by Katrina, rang the bell in the church’s restored bell tower 58 times, once for every resident killed in the hurricane and flooding.
In Gulfport, Miss., a service was held that commemorated the 14 residents killed by the hurricane. Biloxi Mayor Brent Warr, acknowledged, “We’re not well. We’re not finished” with recovery efforts. He urged residents to “move on,” adding, “Let’s move forward.”