Jim Amoss, Editor-in-Chief, The Times-Picayune: "The biggest mistake was the failure to provide adequate long-term shelters"

Posted in United States | 19-Dec-05 | Author: Erhard Boettcher and Joachim Reppmann

At the marina the hurricane pushed aside the lighthouse as if it was a gewgaw.
At the marina the hurricane pushed aside the lighthouse as if it was a gewgaw.
Which were the biggest management mistakes of offices and governments when Katrina was near?

The biggest mistake was the failure to provide adequate long-term shelters, considering that a complete evacuation of a major city is impossible. The thousands of people who fled to the Superdome were without food and sanitary facilities for days. It was a disgrace for local government.

Which were the biggest management mistakes in the time of chaos, violence, and crime?

The federal government was unconscionably late in realizing the scope of the disaster and in providing relief. Without buses to evacuate people, without soldiers to maintain law and order, without emergency medical help and food, New Orleans descended into a state of chaos that was unprecedented for modern-day America.

Which people did the greatest job in the rescue period?

The heroes in the rescue period were a diverse group. They included private citizens who risked their lives saving people in the flooded neighborhoods. But they also included assorted government officials -- for example, police who stayed on the job under incredible conditions, members of Louisiana's Wildlife and Fisheries agency, who used their boats to ferry victims to safety.

Which were the greatest miracles during the time of hurricane Katrina and shortly after?

The greatest miracles were the stories of people surviving after being trapped in their attics for up to a week, with no food and at inhuman temperatures. I would also say that it's a miracle, given the extent and depth and sudden onset of the flood, that more people did not die. In the end, while every death was a tragedy, we had only one tenth of the initial estimate of 10,000 fatalities.

What was your greatest disappointment in the weeks and months since the catastrophy?

My greatest disappointment is how slow the government has been to rally in support of New Orleans and its long-term recovery. My greatest consolation has been in the spirit of unity and resolve which, since Katrina, has united New Orleanians black and white, rich and poor.

Which steps are the most urgent to protect and defend New Orleans?

Without question, the single most urgent need is to provide levees and floodgates that will ensure that a disaster like Katrina will not be repeated. What the Netherlands did to protect its country in the aftermath of the 1953 flooding, we must do for New Orleans and coastal Louisiana. This week, the government took the first step, pledging $3.1 billion toward flood protection for New Orleans.

Topsy turvy: VW beetle in the debris infront of damaged houses.
Topsy turvy: VW beetle in the debris infront of damaged houses.
Should there live people again in the very deepest parts of the city or not?

New Orleans, in my view, will rebound and ultimately be a more robust and better protected city. But before it grows back, we must make some difficult choices about where to focus the rebuilding. Some parts of the city on higher ground will have to be favored over the lower-lying areas in that process.

How long wounds of Katrina may still to be seen?

Within this year, much of New Orleans will once again be vibrant. The signs of that are already apparent. But it will take five to 10 years to erase most of the scars of Katrina.

Why do you, your family, your friends, and your collegues love New Orleans?

We love New Orleans because it is an irresistibly human place -- idiosyncratic, unpretentious, sensual, at once cosmopolitan and provincial, tolerant of people's foibles. For New Orleanians, there's no city in our country that comes close to replicating this exotic blend.

Altogether - what is the lesson learned from hurricane Katrina?

The biggest lesson is that we must use this disaster as an opportunity to address the grave societal ills that plagued New Orleans -- chiefly an endemic poverty and a failed public education system that cheated our youth of its future.

How does your family cope with the challenges after the disaster?

We cope by taking every day as it comes, solving problems as they present themselves and staying focused on the long-term recovery of our homes and our city.

Please, give us a short summary / keywords of all the German journalists who contacted you before and after Katrina hit.

Spiegel online, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Zeitung with certainty.

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