From The Grio— The results of a recent poll suggest that the majority of Americans believe the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is worse than the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 storm which devastated the city of New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf in 2005.
I couldn’t disagree more. And I believe if the American public was better informed of the facts, they would too. The truth of matter is 11 people lost their lives on April 20, 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. 17 others were injured. The resulting damage to the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico has left hundreds of fishermen without jobs and income for the foreseeable future. The U.S. government, led by President Obama, has remained committed to understanding the causes and resolution of the tragedy since its occurrence and has responded with the full force of the tools at their disposal.
Admittedly, the Obama White House initially responded in a measured and deliberate way, largely because the fire which lasted 48 hours, and the conflicting reports from BP executives in the first week, made it difficult to understand the full implications of the situation. Hurricane Katrina left approximately 1,836 people dead and hundreds more unaccounted for. In addition, thousands more lost their homes and livelihoods.
The damage from that disaster remains prevalent today: nearly five years later, thousands of displaced residents in Louisiana and Mississippi are still living in trailers. When the levee system catastrophically broke, waters reached 12 miles inland pushing houses and cars with it. Republican president George W. Bush famously praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael Brown, who was incompetent, ineffective, and later forced to resign.
The scope of lack of governmental response to the Katrina disaster, the estimated loss of life and the $81 billion in total property damage make it the most costly storm in American history. Any attempt at equating the oil spill with Katrina is another far-right effort to attack Obama’s White House and undermine his authority and legitimacy as an effective leader.
On August 29, 2005 the force of Hurricane Katrina led to 53 levee breaks — flooding 80 percent of the city of New Orleans. Most of the coastal towns of the state of Mississippi were devastated or destroyed. FEMA had been tracking the storm for a week, but did not coordinate federal and state response teams. FEMA only provided housing for one fifth of the people who needed it, and encouraged state officials to not act for fear of interfering with the federal mandate. George W. Bush was widely criticized for being AWOL during the response effort, and inquiries into the lack of federal efforts are still being debated in Congress.
It seemed to be the first time that Americans became keenly aware that the richest nation on earth which is often so effective at providing billions in aid to foreign countries, for war efforts or in response to natural disasters, was completely unprepared to assist its own citizens within its own borders. This nation has consistently promoted democracy abroad, but did not guarantee the benefits of the wealth of that democracy for its own people. The trillion dollars spent over the last decade in Iraq make the Bush administration’s lackluster response to Katrina almost farcical.
The Gulf oil spill provides a unique challenge for the Obama White House, but not one for which he is unprepared. He has already coordinated efforts of the Coast Guard, FEMA and the U.S. military to address containing the damage done to the coastal communities along the gulf. BP is being held fully responsible and there is legislation underway to ensure they meet their fiduciary duties to provide economic relief and compensation to the hundreds of jobs affected and lost.
Attacks on the right of the political spectrum have claimed Barack Obama was not angry enough. My concern is not that the president shows emotion – but to demonstrate skillful leadership that gets results. His actions over the past two weeks reflect both. He has visited the Gulf three times and is planning a fourth trip this week. His domestic policy team are working around the clock to provide constant updates of the disaster and BP’s intended solutions.
The press should, as it has been, continue to keep the White House accountable. But let us not become so deluded as to believe that the effects and response to this present condition are comparable in scope and failure to the devastation that Katrina wrought and which remains to this day: a deadly storm met with a silent response and ineffective leadership.
Photo Source: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File/AP Photo/Eric Gay