Sunday, September 11, 2005

More bus antics

The "Mayor Nagin failed to execute the evacuation plan" nonsense still permeates the right blogosphere. First of all, some facts:

  1. Mayor Nagin did NOT have the right, under Louisiana law, to confiscate property for use in the evacuation plan. His statement at the news conference that he had the right to do so was pure bluster. Only Governor Blanco had that power.
  2. Mayor Nagin did know that the buses existed, because on June 9, 2005, he requested of the Orleans Parish School Board that they put their bus fleet at his disposal for evacuation use in the event of a hurricane. The request was tabled for later consideration. Due to the fact that the OPSB web server is underwater I don't know whether the School Board ever acted on that request. I doubt it.
  3. However, even if he had dispatched armed officers to seize the buses (which were guarded by OPSD police), there wasn't enough buses there to be worthwhile. Media Matters has documented that there existed approximately 600 usable buses within the city limits of New Orleans, including the OPSB fleet and Nagin's own Regional Transit Authority (note that the RTA provided transportation for middle school and high school students using the normal city buses, so the Orleans Parish School Board had fewer buses than you would expect of a district its size). The nearest high ground is a 3 hour drive away under normal traffic conditions on the three (3) land routes out of New Orleans. According to witnesses, these highways were so crowded with private automobiles that it instead took 7 hours to reach that high ground. Thus the buses would have been able to make at most one trip. Meaning that the *only* way to completely evacuate the 100,000+ people left in the city after those with autos fled was to have 1500+ buses already prepositioned within the city. Which would be difficult even under the best of conditions -- the entire Greyhound Inc. bus fleet is only 1950 buses!
  4. Nagin instead decided to evacuate anybody who couldn't leave on their own to the Superdome, which was designed to withstand 200mph winds, using the existing city bus fleet (which was entirely adequate for that purpose). An article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune describes Nagin setting up 12 neighborhood collection points (note that New Orleans is geographically a fairly small city) from whence people would be carried to the Superdome via the city buses.
  5. Nagin is also faulted for not putting the buses on "high ground" in order to use for Stage II of the evacuation plan he put into place (the one that called for people to be evacuated to the Superdome, and from there to high ground a three hour drive away). The question of what qualifies as "high ground" remains. The City has precious little of that. The riverfront parking garage is mostly below ground (i.e. they would have been swamped there). The upper decks of the Superdome parking garage were well above water, but their exit ramps were under 4 feet of water. The parking garages of most downtown buildings were also below ground and thus under water. The notion of parking them on the elevated freeway is utterly ludicrous -- the winds of a Category 4 hurricane would have tumbled them like chess pieces, completely blocking the freeway and rendering it unusable for the Phase II evacuation. It's unclear where you could park 265 city buses on the surface streets of the French Quarter, about the only "high ground" in the city. I don't know what the final disposition of the city bus fleet was, but given the situation, I really can't fault the mayor for saying "f'it, we'll let the state and the feds figure out how to do stage II if we need it."
All in all, Mayor Nagin's sins here were minor. At best he did not preserve resources that he could have used to help himself after the hurricane passed. Nagin had no control over the levees (they are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- I have walked those levees, and that's what the signs say, 'Warning: Entering U.S. Government Property'), Nagin didn't have enough buses to evacuate New Orleans before the hurricane hit, and there are undoubtedly people alive today because they were evacuated by what buses he did have to the Superdome and Convention Center who would otherwise be dead. The aftermath was out of Nagin's control -- his city was underwater, his resources were drowned, all he had was a handful of homeless firefighters and police officers to try to handle a huge national disaster. I am puzzled as to what exactly the Republicans hope to gain by attacking Mayor Nagin... he wasn't the one dithering about bureaucratic bullshit while people died. That was Governor Blanco and President Bush. Somebody needed to step up and lead and say "f*** bureaucratic bullshit, I'm going to save those people's lives." Unfortunately, neither Blanco nor Bush did so, and thus hundreds died who should be alive.

- Badtux the Bus Penguin


  1. Great defense, counselor.

  2. Plus the obvious resource problem: where are the bus drivers? How many of them had got out of New Orleans?

  3. ...that's the way to nail this slimy little bugger down. This issue has been bugging me for the last couple of days, just for the reasons you've documented, along with Dave Bell's point about just where the hell do they expect to get qualified drivers for all those buses if everybody has evacuated. Superb Job!!

  4. Let me clarify something about the 3 hours from New Orleans to Baton Rouge (the nearest high ground). The length of that trip varies greatly depending upon traffic. The biggest variable there is Baton Rouge -- whenever there is something going on there, like an LSU football game, it could take an hour just to get out of Baton Rouge. During rush hour type traffic of that sort, what was a 90 minute drive on a Sunday afternoon became a 3 hour drive.

    Some of the lefties say "but even if Nagin had managed to get 2000 buses, where could he have sent them?" Frankly, I don't think Nagin would have cared. He would have set them on the road to Baton Rouge, and if nobody in Baton Rouge would tell them where to go, he would have probably just said "Go park around the State Capitol until someone tells you where to go." But he didn't have 2,000 buses, so it doesn't matter...

    And finally, as for the driver issue, Nagin uses that as one reason he did not bother with the school buses. Apparently he did not even have enough drivers for the RTA buses, in a CNN interview he said that 67 buses were used during the Phase I evacuation because that's all the drivers he had and it was enough to do the Phase 1 evacuation. And as I noted, the thought of moving them to high ground was a good one, but "high ground" and "New Orleans" are an oxymoron :-}.

  5. It is also important to note that at least one of the major routes out of town was converted to have only outgoing traffic. A return trip would have been even more difficult than one leaving the city.

  6. I keep forgetting that folks don't know about the "contraflow" plan. It wasn't just one route out of New Orleans that was turned into one-way traffic (going out only). It was all *three* major routes -- all four lanes were re-routed *outward* until 6pm on the evening that the hurricane hit (they stopped contraflow at that time so they could pick up the cones and sand barrels, which would present a hazard if blowing around in hurricane-force winds).

    The only way back into New Orleans at that time would be the two-lane highways from Mississippi and Baton Rouge. And those were pretty crowded too, with people who'd been outside the city on business when all this started coming back into the city to grab their families and a few belongings.

    Having sat in that traffic jam in the past getting out of New Orleans before a major storm hit, I gotta say that people who think New Orleans could have been fully evacuated by any mayor other than God Himself are pulling shit out of the bungholes. It just wasn't happening. Given that, I can't blame Nagin for following the same plan that had been followed in all prior hurricanes -- i.e., if you couldn't get out of New Orleans, go to the Superdome, which was supposedly proof against 200mph winds (turns out it wasn't, sigh). It wasn't the ideal plan by any means, but it was what could be done, and the guy on the scene (Nagin) made the call.

  7. Where ya been? Filming that penguin movie? Welcome back!

  8. Plus the obvious resource problem: where are the bus drivers?

    Among the riders I would imagine.

    Die? or learn quick?

    Tough choice - gimme some time to think on that will you...

  9. Err, the whole reason people were being evacuated from bus is that they didn't have cars and thus, err, couldn't drive.

    Frankly, if it's a choice between riding in a bus driven by someone who has never driven *anything* before, and going to the Superdome, I know which one *I* would choose!

  10. Apparently the city govt is supposed to be on a WHOLE DIFFERENT PAGE from the FEMA head who is ostensibly in charge of coordinating it all.

    Here's a BBC story ( from the early days with a telling quote from Mike Brown on evacuating.

    FEMA had responsibility for coordinating, and didn't do it.

    Mr Brown even told the Associated Press news agency that the evacuation had gone well. "I was impressed with the evacuation, once it was ordered it was very smooth," he said.

    Yet on Saturday 28 August, the day before the evacuation was ordered, Mr Brown did not say that people should leave the city. All he said was:
    "There's still time to take action now, but you must be prepared and take shelter and other emergency precautions immediately."


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