Back when New Orleans was having to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast, and especially New Orleans, on Aug. 29, 2005, then-president Bush took a lot of heat from those who did not think the government, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had acted quickly enough. The critics also said more money should have been available, aid should have been better organized, etc.
As it turned out, though, once the money spigot was turned on, much of that cash (and there was a lot of it) was wasted, grafted or just stolen. Within four years, according to the FBI, 1,300 individuals had been indicted for Katrina-related crimes, based on more than 36,000 complaints.
A lot of that crime was in the form of government corruption and outright theft by public officials. People thought the government should build them new homes, even though they, themselves, hadn’t insured their own houses. But when government money arrived, it was neatly diverted by officials great and small. It wasn’t FEMA’s finest hour.
Today, as superstorm Sandy finishes having its way with the East Coast we are seeing a new reliance on FEMA, but so far, no expectations of a bailout, such as New Orleans expected. In fact, FEMA is being praised for the work the agency is doing, even though the big majority of the work is being done by local agencies.
But there may be a difference, and that is local agencies were better prepared to deal with what they knew would be a heavy hit from the storm. New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, on the other hand, largely ignored the warnings. In all, probably because of poor local preparation, Katrina cost 1,800 people their lives. We still don’t know what the count will be due to Sandy, but it surely will be less, largely because of better preparation by residents and local officials.