Katrina on the HudsonPosted: November 13, 2012
Katrina or Sandy? Late warnings, confused and inadequate responses, FEMA foul-ups and suffering refugees
Is the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy turning into Katrina-on-the-Hudson? Pretty much, and that tells us some things about Sandy, and Katrina, and the press.
One parallel: A late evacuation order. Even before the storm struck, weatherblogger Brendan Loy — famous for calling for early evacuation of New Orleans before Katrina struck — criticizing Mayor Bloomberg for not ordering early or extensive enough evacuations in New York, and for making the “ignorant” statement that Sandy wouldn’t be as bad as a hurricane.
What Bloomberg said was, “Although we’re expecting a large surge of water, it is not expected to be a tropical storm or hurricane-type surge. With this storm, we’ll likely see a slow pileup of water rather than a sudden surge…So it will be less dangerous.” Ignorant at the time, this turned out to be dangerously wrong when Sandy struck and the sea surged.
After Sandy struck, some areas did worse than others, and FEMA — as with Katrina — got bad press. Manhattan was hit hard, but the outer boroughssuffered more. Staten Island residents say they wereforgotten by relief efforts and one press report called the island “a giant mud puddle of dead dreams.” Adding insult to injury, when another nor’easter approached the area FEMA closed its Staten Island office “due to weather.” Time called it “the island that New York City forgot.” Rudy Giuliani called FEMA’s performance “as bad as Katrina.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, refugees suffer in bitterly cold tent cities, while officials try to keep criticism quiet: “As Brian Sotelo tells it, when it became clear that the residents were less than enamored with their new accommodations last Wednesday night and were letting the outside world know about it, officials tried to stop them from taking pictures, turned off the WiFi and said they couldn’t charge their smart phones because there wasn’t enough power,” Bill Boman writes in the Asbury Park Press.
Then there are the gas shortages. These are primarily the result of storm damage. But they’ve been made worse by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s effort — joined by New York Attorney General Eric Scheiderman — to crack down on “price gouging.” This politics hurts victims. It’s elementary economics that holding prices down depresses supply. If you could sell gasoline for $15 a gallon, lots of people would load pickup trucks with gas cans and drive to the storm area, alleviating shortages. (And at that price, people wouldn’t buy more than they needed.) If doing that risks arrest, they won’t. Political posturing over “gouging” leads to gas lines, further economic disruption and possibly lost lives.
So: late warnings, confused and inadequate responses, FEMA foul-ups and suffering refugees. In this regard, Sandy is looking a lot like Katrina on the Hudson. Well, things go wrong in disasters. That’s why they’re called disasters. But there is one difference.
Under Katrina, the national press credulously reported all sorts of horror stories: rapes, children with slit throats, even cannibalism. These stories were pretty much all false. Worse, as Lou Dolinar cataloged later, the press also ignored many very real stories of heroism and competence. We haven’t seen such one-sided coverage of Sandy, where the press coverage of problems, though somewhat muted before the election, hasn’t been marked by absurd rumors or ham-handed efforts to push a particular narrative.
That, I suspect, is because Sandy happened in an area that reporters know. Media folks found it easy to believe stories about New Orleans that they wouldn’t believe about their own area. New Orleans is full of black people and southerners, two groups underrepresented in the national media. Manhattan, on the other hand, is familiar turf. Count on the press to give its own milieu a fairer shake.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is professor of law at the University of Tennessee. He blogs at InstaPundit.com.
- 11-10-12 Midland Beach, New Dorp Beach, Staten Island – Post Sandy/ Post Athena (quotidianhudsonriver.com)
- All Hands Fire Equipment Announces Hurricane Sandy Assistance, Volunteer and Donation Resources (prweb.com)
- Disturbing Update from Staten Island & Queens (2012thebigpicture.wordpress.com)
- All NYC FEMA Centers Closed Due To Weather (sweetness-light.com)
- Sandy’s Wrath Stirs Painful Katrina Memories (houston.cbslocal.com)