Saturday, November 19, 2005


The New York Times is reporting this in tomorrow's edition:

JACKSON, Miss., Nov. 19 - When the federal government and the nation's largest disaster relief group reached out a helping hand after Hurricane Katrina blew through here, tens of thousands of people grabbed it.

But in giving out $62 million in aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross overlooked a critical fact: the storm was hardly catastrophic here, 160 miles from the coast. The only damage sustained by most of the nearly 30,000 households receiving aid was spoiled food in the freezer.

The fact that at least some relief money has gone to those perceived as greedy, not needy, has set off recriminations in this poor, historic capital where the payments of up to $2,358 set off spending sprees on jewelry, guns and electronics....

But didn't Mississippi take a direct hit? Well, in Jackson's case, not exactly:

By the time the hurricane reached this far, its power had diminished. The sustained winds, recorded at 47 m.p.h. at the airport, were far below hurricane speed.

You have to skip to paragraph 23 to grasp what really happened here: Sept. 7, at Mississippi's request, the disaster zone was expanded as far as 220 miles inland, reaching 32 counties, including several that never experienced sustained hurricane-force winds. The zone eventually reached 47 counties. The disaster area in Mississippi - which is led by Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican ally of President Bush's - extends 200 miles farther north than that in Louisiana, which is led by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat who at times criticized the federal storm response.

Got it?

Yes, the individuals who took this money did so under false pretenses. But FEMA was practically demanding dishonesty from Hinds County, where Jackson is located:

Weeks after the storm, Larry J. Fisher, director of the Hinds County emergency department, got a call from a regional FEMA representative saying that staff members wanted to know why county officials had reported that so few homes were uninhabitable.

FEMA has sent aid to thousands of county residents who claimed their homes were ruined, including 7,622 checks for $2,000 in emergency financial assistance. But Mr. Fisher counted only about 50 uninhabitable homes and perhaps 4,000 with any damage at all.

To resolve the discrepancy, Mr. Fisher recalled, he was told: "You are going to increase your number." A Baptist deacon and a former city police detective, Mr. Fisher, 67, was going to have none of that. Backed up by digital photographs he had taken of damaged properties, he refused to revise his reports. "I am not going to change my figures up to yours," Mr. Fisher said he told the FEMA official.

I gave money to the Red Cross after Katrina and my tax dollars go to FEMA. It never occurred to me that I was helping an ex-lobbyist crony of Bush dole out pork to the undeserving.


UPDATE: In comments, I'm told that I unquestionably accepted an unreasonably rosy picture of what the storm did to the Jackson area, and I realize that's probably the case -- although the devastation in New Orleans was clearly on another level altogether, and I still believe that party politics is a factor in the federal government's response. But please read the exchange between blueneckFromBT and stjohndavid, who know a lot more about this than I do.

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