Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina - 2 disasters in one

When a natural disaster occurs, there is often nothing that can be done to avoid the disaster. Tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, flash floods, bushfires and violent weather can wipe out towns, villages and cities and spread disease. Natural disasters can't be stopped, but sometimes they can be anticipated and prepared for.

Meteorological services sometimes give a few days notice for winds and storms. Historical records show regions that are prone to earthquakes. Sometimes information comes out that can be used to avoid massive loss of life and property.

But who are the people who need to act on that information ? Clearly, its the owners of life and property in the threatened areas who need to take measures, be it barricading the home, buying food and water, filling the car with petrol, stormproofing the house, or simply packing up and making a run for it.

And then the storm hits. And in the aftermath, with the media scurrying to show the destruction and damage, people in the rest of the nation feel compelled to "do something to help", usually in the form of private charity and relief efforts. And often people learn from the experience and take future precautions. If an area is extremely prone to flooding like New Orleans, perhaps half the population will abandon the city altogether:

The 2000 U.S. census put New Orleans's population at 484,674, but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused the city's evacuation. Population estimates as of June 2006 range from 192,000[6] to 230,000.[7]

But political parties like to score political points and look like they are "managing" the situation. The US congress approved massive spending on relief and aid, and rebuilding. Even though the individual people are smart enough to get the hell out of there, government decides to waste huge efforts to restoring the city. But one year later, the NY Times has a brilliant and devastating summary of how wasteful government has been in this affair.

WASHINGTON, June 26 — Among the many superlatives associated with Hurricane Katrina can now be added this one: it produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion.

Gregory D. Kutz, a G.A.O. official, testified before a House panel about fraud and held up one of the $2,000 debit cards given out by FEMA.

A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims. And roughly 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

There are the bureaucrats who ordered nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes that are still empty, and renovations for a shelter at a former Alabama Army base that cost about $416,000 per evacuee.
The estimate of up to $2 billion in fraud and waste represents nearly 11 percent of the $19 billion spent by FEMA on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as of mid-June, or about 6 percent of total money that has been obligated.
The $7.9 million spent to renovate the former Fort McClellan Army base in Anniston, Ala., included fixing up a welcome center, clinic and gymnasium, scrubbing away mold and installing a protective fence between the site and a nearby firing range. But when the doors finally opened, only about 10 people showed up each night, leading FEMA to shut down the shelter within one month.
The mobile homes, costing $34,500 each, were supposed to provide temporary housing to hurricane victims. But after Louisiana officials balked at installing them inland, FEMA had no use for them. Nearly half, or about 10,000, of the $860 million worth of units now sit at an airfield in Arkansas, where FEMA is paying $250,000 a month to store them.

WOW.. what a waste of money. Money that was stolen, taxes taken by force with the threat of imprisonment, from working Americans. Money that *could* have even been given to private charities who are accountable to their donors and have to show that they are spending the money wisely on important priorities, or else they risk not receiving future donations.