"We're the Government, and we're here to help"
FEMA and the Red Cross are no doubt standing ready - again - to swoop into a hurricane-devastated region. Since parts of Texas are likely to be faced with some of the same issues as LA and MS, there are some things to know about how that might look.
A Washington Post article, "By Hook or by Crook", describes some of the problems encountered by local officials in MS. For instance:
"Gulfport is badly in need of generators to keep its pumping stations working;sewage was beginning to come out of manhole covers, and Warr feared an outbreak of disease. He put in an order for 157 generators with FEMA and did the paperwork. Then he got a call from Washington. The voice on the other end of theline told him that the generators couldn't be sent without a specific address. "Send them to City Hall," Warr said he replied. "I've got 157 places they need to go." He never got the generators."Algiers, on the West Bank of Orleans Parish, was comparatively undamaged by Katrina, primarily because they did not suffer the hideous flooding in the aftermath. However, there is damage and suffering there, and some Algerines are finding it nearly impossible to help their neighbors. The long, emotional email below is from an Algiers resident working incredibly hard for her neighbors. While it's slightly edited and abridged, I posted most of it, just to enhance the chaos.
"Many people lost all their clothes, their bed linens, everything. Even if their houses survived..., some of their stuff was just gone from water damage through the roof. [A bunch of supplies were] sent here by a group called Van Nuys Relief. These trucks were full of stuff - Clothes, linens, toiletries, tons of medical supplies, food, water. It was incredible...At [the relief site], we were told that they couldn't take the linens and clothes and toys, but would take the food. So we started unloading the truck. We put all the medical supplies in my [car] and I took off to find someone who would take this awesome stuff.
First stop, Red Cross. They had set up a station at Landry High School, right across the street from some of the most decrepitly maintained housing projects I've ever seen. A very poor section of Algiers. I find a woman there. Tell her I have clothes, bed linens and toys but I need a truck to get them to her. The stuff is only ten blocks away. She says no problem. She's delighted. She then takes me to the head of the Red Cross station who is a lovely woman hog-tied by Red Cross regulations. She says that because they aren't brand new in the package she can't take them. She wishes the Red Cross would give the field workers some authority but they don't and it would take a MONTH to get the paperwork through to get this stuff to where it's really needed. She said she REALLY needed it but couldn't take it. Regulations. She suggests I go across the street to the other part of the high school or start my own relief organization.
I head across the street. It's FEMA. I start to tell the head of that field office what's happening. She starts hollering at me, flapping her hands and repeating NO NO NO NO. I was fine til she did that. Then I was pissed. She said she had talked with Jackie Clarkson, our city councilwoman. I said, good. Give me her number. I called Ms. Clarkson, got an answering machine, still no answer and those guys are still standing in 94 degree Louisiana heat with these boxes. She keeps hollering at me, I turned around with her still talking and left. She had the same excuse, not new in packages.
I headed to a local church. No one there. Found another church with Red Cross people in front of it. I get a Red Cross Chaplain. Explain the situation to her. She says I have to go over and talk to, you guessed it, the FIRST lady I talked with. I said, why don't YOU get in my car and come see what we have. She says she can't. There's a baby faced Red Cross volunteer in front of the Church. I say, fine send HIM with me. She says he's not authorized to go with me in my car. Regulations.
By this time I'm furious. I KNOW people need this stuff. I've been in their houses.
What about all the medical supplies?? I'd been given a list of supplies needed by a doc who was running the med tent over at Kern's. The list he gave me includes everything from alcohol swabs to antibiotics. It's a huge list. I not only can't FIND the clinic he's supposedly at, but the Red Cross and FEMA won't take the med supplies either.
I stop by the 82nd Airborne and find a doc there. He comes to the car, helps me cut open the boxes and sees what's in them. His eyes told the whole story. He said he really needed this stuff but "wasn't allowed to take it." For god's SAKE, the stuff is sealed in individual sterile containers! IV stuff, a sharps container, I can't begin to list everything there was so much.
By now I'm near tears. There are people, we’ve FOUND them, who need this stuff. But no one can freaking TAKE it? Why? Because it's regular private citizens like us who are getting it donated and trucked in and distributed. I don't have the right paperwork. It's absurd and obscene. Finally I find another clinic, by pure luck. I see a sign saying First Aid Station. I head in there and there is a fabulous midwife nurse practitioner. First she wants to treat me for heat exhaustion (I was pretty red in the face by then, coulda been heat, probably anger!), I laugh and grab a bag of ice and take her to my car. She sees what I have and says "Take it to the Clinic on Teche. They need it desperately."
There’s more, but you get the point. Given that resources are already stretched thin, I'm morbidly expecting to see these stories repeated soon, in the communities awaiting Rita. “We’re the government and we’re here to help.” Unh hunh.