In a speech delivered in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Barack Obama said the tragedy was initially an example of what happens when government fails. The recovery that happened after has been an example of what happens when government works together.
Former FEMA chief Michael Brown however has a different story. Blamed mainly for the failed federal response during the disaster, Brown said Katrina is an example of “how Washington fails – and how it assigns blame.”
In remarks made after touring Faubourg Lafitte neighborhood, New Orleans, Mr. Obama highlighted the recuperation made in the ten years following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Mr. Obama described the recovery as an example of the incredible federal, state, local partnerships that helped to revitalize the community. The neighborhood now has housing, a new school and a community center.
“The fact that we can make this many strides 10 years after a terrible, epic disaster I think is an indication of the kind of spirit that we have in this city. So we’re proud of you,” Mr. Obama told his audience.
In another speech made at the Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center, first reported by NBC News, Mr Obama acknowledged that Katrina had been a wake-up call to “a man-made disaster, a failure of government to look after its own citizens.” The president outlined that even before Katrina hit New Orleans, the community was already suffering structural inequality, lack of jobs and poverty.
“What the storm laid bare was another tragedy, a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades. And so, like a body weakened, already undernourished, when the storm hit there [were] no resources to fall back on,” Mr. Obama said.
Nevertheless, he said that New Orleans inspire him. “If Katrina was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what happens when government works together.”
While Mr. Obama has kept talking about how the government and the community effectively worked together to achieved recovery in ten years, former FEMA director, Brown or “Brownie,” is stuck in the moment when everybody was blaming him for what happened in New Orleans. In a piece personally written for Politico, Brown said that the people “were wrong then, and they are wrong now.”
Brown explained that he did not evacuate New Orleans because “FEMA had no authority to do that under the Constitution, which clearly establishes a system of federalism in which state and local governments are autonomous governmental entities.” He explained further that FEMA could have ordered the evacuation but it involved waiving “posse comitatus and invoked the Insurrection Act, which Congress ultimately amended in 2006 to permit deployment of troops in response to natural disasters.” By the time it was already clear that evacuation needed to be ordered by the government, it was already late, Brown wrote.
He thought at the time to get help from the media and urge people to leave New Orleans. However, as he was doing this, the mayor had already announced for people to evacuate at a “shelter of last resort” or the New Orleans Superdome. However, the Superdome roof was eventually ripped out and people was eventually surrounded by 8 to 12 feet of water and the power went out.
“The pictures of young, poor mothers with babies in cramped and unsanitary conditions gave the media what they needed. A focal point of fearful, confused citizens in a damaged building, surrounded by floodwaters. The blame game was primed,” Brown wrote.
“The blame was placed on me—the one person who had no authority to do anything at that point except get out the checkbook and start paying the Department of Defense to evacuate people from that hellhole to a place of safety. And that is exactly what I did,” he explained.
“Soon the blame started coming at me from another direction—higher up.”