Causes and Consequences: Douglas Brinkley’s Overview of Hurricane Katrina and the Emergency Response
In this podcast we feature a recent lecture delivered by Dr. Douglas Brinkley, professor at Tulane University and author of the book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Brinkley spoke at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 11.
Dr. Douglas Brinkley did not plan to write The Great Deluge nor did he plan to be an eye-witness to one of the greatest natural disasters that the United States has ever experienced: Hurricane Katrina. Brinkley, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, shared his first-hand account of surviving the wrath and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a lecture at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
Detailing all aspects of the hurricane, from the warnings issued prior to its catastrophic hit, to the initial reactions, to the rescue and cleanup missions-of which the nation is still in the midst-Brinkley proclaimed that "the breakdown in New Orleans was New Orleans." Some residents simply ignored the warnings while others could not afford to acknowledge them.
Problems cited for the number of people stranded centered heavily around the elderly. Many seniors planned to stay until they received their social security checks, others would not think of leaving their pets, and more still were abandoned in homes by "irresponsible and negligent" staff. Brinkley also cited New Orleans' lack of a proper Emergency Operations Centers as a cause to the hindrance of successful evacuation efforts. Mayor Nagin fled; the police department crumbled; and the city allowed evacuation buses to sink rather than overcome labor disputes for the good of its own people.
As Brinkley went on to tell personal stories of survivors dying of thirst, being crammed into the Superdome with 23,000 others, and the poor residents of the Ninth Ward just wishing that the president seemed to care as Lyndon B. Johnson said he did following Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the impact of Katrina set in.
Looking to the future, Brinkley sees two visions: Americans will either respect New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as American heritage centers that must be rebuilt and preserved no matter what the cost, or the people of this country will move on and allow New Orleans to be just the "sliver by the river" that remains. Brinkley hopes the nation will choose not to abandon its people in times or peril and will restore his home state to the glory it once possessed.
By Robyn Dangora '10
New Hampshire Institute of Politics