The city had hundreds of vehicles at its disposal: school buses, city buses, garbage trucks, and city cars. But the mayor failed to mobilize these or to set up procedures for all city employees to be available to assist in keeping order and organizing evacuation. For those unlucky enough to end up at the Superdome, no plans were in place to get thousands of desperate people out of there once the winds died down. My son was able to get out on Sunday before the storm hit. Thanks to quick thinking, lots of determination and a measure of good fortune, he managed to get a rental car at New Orleans airport and drove to Baton Rouge with four friends. But others were not so lucky.
In our federal system of government, the national government does not step in -- even in dire emergency -- until state officials request that help. But what do you do when those officials are dysfunctional, as they clearly were in Louisiana? According to The Washington Post, federal officials have asked the governor for "unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law." And, the Post reported, "Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said."
No doubt, the federal response to this crisis was far from flawless, but at the end of the day, it was federal troops that restored order, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that plugged breaches in the levees, and federal forces that ultimately evacuated thousands of those trapped. Instead of blaming federal authorities, the country ought to be giving thanks.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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