The Katrina Comparison

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That didn't take long... the Katrina-California wildfire comparisons are all over the blogs, and a lot of people are angry.

Some compare the populations of California and New Orleans:

Leadership plays a roll... but I think attitude, particularly as regards the residents plays a bigger role.

Others argue that views like those are offensive, and untrue:

It's all race and class-based, and it's also pathetically narrow and simple-minded.

And there are plenty who say any comparison is just wrong, that it's apples and oranges. It goes back and forth like that. And fair or not, the comparisons and critiques of those comparisons continue to come up. On the show today, we'll talk with a blogger about what people are saying, and ask you: is there any comparison, are the comparisons fair?



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Besides the lessons learned...California has ELECTRICITY, INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORTATION and MONEY.

Sent by nycmidtown | 2:11 PM | 10-25-2007

Call me cynical but I can not help but notice that a Republican high profile administration gets a better response from a Republican Federal administration.

Sent by Bob | 2:11 PM | 10-25-2007

Call me a cynic, but I think part of the quick response on the part of the Federal government is due to the fact that the preponderance of San Diego County voters are upper middle class and/or wealthy and vote Republican. The non-cynical part of me observes that the stadium is accessible, there were many ways out for residents, and places for them to go, which was not true in New Orleans.

Sent by Gail A. Williams | 2:15 PM | 10-25-2007

How about missing 1001 BASIC points? I am floored by your guests eager praise of Calif officials in comparison to the experience in New Orleans, south Louisiana and the greater Gulf Coast. First, there was a comprehensive pre-Katrina evacuation. Second, most people who remained did so for complicated reasons related to their own resources or other usually well thought out decisions. Third, how can you have been on the air this long without mentioning that officials and citizens alike were responding amidst rising flood waters over in the case New Orleans 70%+ of the city, electricity largely gone, telecommunications of all varieties largely gone, plumbing largely gone.

Also to the best of my knowledge both the Governor's Office and Mayor's Office requested federal aid to retrieve stranded people on MONDAY. They got that aid not until Friday, and after the well covered desperate pleas.

It not fair to make blithe comparisons, followed by casual remarks about the situations not being comparable.

Sent by Rosanne Adderley | 2:17 PM | 10-25-2007

I grew up in SoCal, lived through the Northridge earthquake in 1994, moved to New Orleans in 2003, was flooded out in Lakeview and relocated to Sacramento after the flood. One thing that is different is New Orleans was a disfunctional city before the flood and had no plan for something everyone knew would happen eventually.

Sent by David Triche | 2:20 PM | 10-25-2007

The importance of California in upcoming presidential elections should not be underestimated. The Bush Administration can hardly afford to neglect white/wealthy/Republicans in their time of need

Sent by Joy Nelson | 2:22 PM | 10-25-2007

As a Red Cross volunteer for the Hurricane Katrina disaster and someone interested in becoming a part of the rebirth of New Orleans, I have first-hand experience with the Katrina disaster. I worked for the Red Cross through the entire disaster response operation lasting almost nine months. After that I stayed in the city until last month excited about the prospect of the city's recovery. Last month I became frustrated with the lack of recovery, crime and deplorable state of the city and left; there were people living down the street from me still living in FEMA trailers two years following the storm.
As for the San Diego wildfires, my 82 year old grandmother lives in Poway, and cousins and aunts and uncles live in various parts of the city not affected by the fires. My brother-in law is a marine living in Fallbrook. Both my brother-in-law and grandmother evacuated, and have both returned to their homes.
The difference between the disaster effects and recovery in New Orleans and San Diego, is public dependence on government assistance. There are many people in New Orleans who have lived off of the governement in public housing, with food stamps and Medicaid, for generations. They do nothing for themselves, and waited for the government to rescue them from the disaster because they thought they were owed it. This is simply not the case in San Deigo. The lower welfare rate, signifies fewer people depending on the government for care. More people take responsibility for their self here, and got out of the way.
The infrastructures of the city is also a factor; New Orleans is very old with horrible streets, water systems, etc., while the San Diego suburbs are modern developments with all of the modern appointments.

Sent by Ayn | 2:24 PM | 10-25-2007

I believe that this is less of an issue of race and more of an issue of economic disparity and injustice. Unfortunately, in the United States, there still exists
a strong correlation between race and income inequality. Equally as stark is the difference between political ties to each region.

On a separate note, I hope that insurance companies do a better job of treating the victims of the fires that they have the victims of Katrina.

Sent by Maggie | 2:24 PM | 10-25-2007

The most impt thing your guest said was pointing out the difficulty the Calif governor had trying to get federal aid for faulty levees. Has Congress appropriated or even planned to appropriate the $30 billion or so needed for real long term improvement in flood control for south Louisiana? Why not?

Sent by Rosanne Adderley | 2:25 PM | 10-25-2007

The comment that it will say something if CA rebuilds sooner than two years: yes, it will say the CA folks have insurance. The scope of the impact in CA is great but nowhere NEAR the scope of Katrina. The CA population is more educated, affluent and had access to nearby resources that were not wiped out; everything on the Gulf Coast was impacted so those who could help were far far away.

Sent by Maria Sorolis | 2:26 PM | 10-25-2007

Although the federal, state, and local response to disaster has clearly improved, I think one important point needs to be pointed out. New Orleans was an entire city, trapped by Katrina, while the southern California wildfires are effecting areas much more sparsely populated. I don't think the two disasters are entirely comparable.

Sent by Mary Cloud Ammons | 2:27 PM | 10-25-2007

People need to remember that we live in a world were money runs things. I don't think the dirrerance in response is an issue of race. I think it's a combination of two things. The lesson learned from Catrina and the fact there is more money in this region. Not that they deserve better resouces but they do pay way more for there homes, there property taxes are probably ten times higher and there for more resources are avalible.

Sent by Paul Peterson | 2:28 PM | 10-25-2007

You can not compare the two. The flood happened in an instant. The fires are moving slowly up and down hills.

The people in NO were poor and had limited resources, the people in the fire zone are all wealthy and have a limited need for government services.

In Calf, the emergency center was set up before it was needed, and you can bring supplies in to the center. In NO, the dome was cut off from supplies, it was not a planned center, and nothing was moved in before the flood.

Sent by jan dumas | 2:31 PM | 10-25-2007

something that absolutely irks me about the katrina story is that the VIETNAMESE community is NEVER mentioned! why are they so invisible.
and they have probably pulled themselves up by their own boot straps and gone on with their lives.

Sent by wright gregson | 2:35 PM | 10-25-2007

George Bush cannot be excused from his responsibilty to immediately send aid to New Orleans. The levees broke and my understanding is that they are the responsibility of the army corps of engineers....isn't that a federal organization. Don't subtly excuse Bush with the excuse that it was a state responsiblity to deal with this or ask for help.

Sent by nancy mitchell | 2:35 PM | 10-25-2007

How many people were bussed out of the evacuation areas of the San Diego Fires? I don't think you can compare fire disaster with a hurricane/flood disaster.One progress daily the other must be correctly preassessed and comes on rapidly.

Sent by Paul Benson | 2:38 PM | 10-25-2007

race, class? how about simple education, the better educated react better then those without good education?

Sent by Dawn | 2:40 PM | 10-25-2007

The thing that's the same here is that in both cases, humans are trying to live where they should know they will be subject to natural disasters!!

Sent by Janet Gannon | 2:40 PM | 10-25-2007

I've been listening to this argument over the issue of federal response and how it relates to race for several days and I just can't keep quiet on the subject any longer. Don't we want the government to do better at reacting to disasters? The argument over race just seems ridiculous to me. Katrina is in the past, mistakes were made and hopefully learned from. Maybe part of the response speed has been a result of learning from mistakes made in Katrina. Stop focusing on the negative and be thankful that the response to the disaster has been so quick and well done.

Sent by Amber Iwen | 2:40 PM | 10-25-2007

A characteristic that the people of New Orleans and those in California share is that both groups have repeatedly ignored the fact that they live in unpredictable environments. They continue to do so, neglecting to take precautions that could save their lives and property. Defensible space around a structure has proven to be effective in surviving wildfires, yet very few "affluent" Californians spend their money on measures such as these - those luxury car payments must cut too deeply into the family budget... Likewise, for as long as most of us can remember, there has been talk of a hurricane disaster in New Orleans.

Sent by Mindy Varner-Willett | 2:42 PM | 10-25-2007

So what has New Orleans done to improve the response next time? so they are not caught in the same situation. Now that they now what can happen have they done anything to improve things instead of crying of how responses are different in Southern California to Katrina. They need to find a solution to their own problems. "Its the planning ...." What has happened to the billions appropriated by the federal government? Are the politicians being held responsible and accountable by the voters?

Sent by Pete Luna | 2:43 PM | 10-25-2007

While I have great compassion for those who are suffering in Cal fires - it is obvious money talks. Not a race issue but an economic and political one. Living in an area that was surrounded by fires this summer - our town and lands were largely left to burn by the Fed gov. No one paid much attention to our danger until the local "rich folks" homes were threatened - then the gov got involved. Poor folk, ranchers, farmers - oh well............ got money - oooh gotta step in. Pfft.

Sent by Linda | 2:48 PM | 10-25-2007

This is all about Politics as always with Republicans. It's about getting the Middle Class White Voters who are being effected to keep voting Republican, and not Alienating them. That's why such interest by Schwarzenegger in the services being offered to the people there.

Sent by Oscar | 2:53 PM | 10-25-2007

Mudslides come after fires in SoCal. Are they looking for that in the rain?

Sent by carol E | 2:55 PM | 10-25-2007

I got an email from a cousin affected by the California wildfires. He is advanced age and well to do. He had very little advanced warning for the evacuation of his neighborhood and had said that he knows that many of those million dollars homes have been lost. He is in a hotel awaiting the return to his home if it is still there. I am certain that he has all the resources he needs to rebuild and certain that he has adequate insurance.
I had another cousing in Slidell when Katrina hit who is also elderly. During the evacuation she fell and broke her hip. She was alone and had no resources to call upon and they found her three days later, thankfully still alive. She is rebuilding slowly and she has few resources and been jerked around by the insurance company. There are few comparisons between the two tragedies except to say that they had vastly different resources. The one common lesson for both is that preparation and prevention goes a long, long way to minimize damage.

Sent by John | 3:05 PM | 10-25-2007

Has anyone given thought to the problem of the National Guard being deployed overseas in a war of aggression when a natural disaster like this strikes? I think Diane Feinstein herself admitted that the forces fighting the wildfires are understaffed, and the Iraq War is partially to blame.

No comment on the air about Blackwater's presence on the ground in New Orleans, either.

Sent by David | 3:31 PM | 10-25-2007

This is all I've heard about on talk radio and NPR for the last couple of days. Not sure how exactly I feel about it. I am glad that FEMA seems to have gotten itself together, but there are so many levels of blame here in New Orleans that I don't know where to begin. The money from other countries that was turned away, FEMA being late, the Mayor waiting too long to react, GWB not following through on his promise to get NOLA back up at any cost. The red tape in the Federal Government. The people waiting for public housing to re-open, People not getting their road home money, insurance companies screwing people, the cost of living now sky-rocketing in New Orleans, And of course the people who keep voting for crooked politicians. And I didn't move here until after Katrina (another volunteer who couldn't leave). I just hope those of you in California don't have to deal with half of the problems we have here in New Orleans.

Sent by Phillip | 3:40 PM | 10-25-2007

People need to focus on the fact that these two disaters were significatly different in scope. Katrina hit NO so fast and with such vengance that the ability for people to react at all was astonishing. It does come down to how well an area is prepared for a particular disaster. In the case of the California fires, this is somethings that we in California have to deal with every year. It's not always as costly as this time around but we should always expect fire season to be coming. I think you see that in the reponse time of the local government and citizens that were clearly ready and prepared for what happend. You can also see that even in California much more could be done in preperation for such times. We were lucky here because the basic infrastructure of the city and state were general uneffected by the fires wereas in NO everything was destroyed at once including, Electricity, Pluming, Access to Food, Supplies, Living Arrangments, the ability to walk let alone drive down a street.

The circumstances of these disasters were so different...I think we need to look at all of it but instead of yapping about racism and political issues we should study all aspects that will help save lives and property in the future...

Sent by Jay | 6:24 PM | 10-25-2007

Has anybody ever considered that San Diego learned a lesson from the Ceder fire in 2003? Maybe we experienced something terrible and were prepared? We didn't have this kind of response 2003. Then it was slower, the military couldn't communicate with the civilian fire fighters, there were problems. Our local government handled this situation the best they could. The air support was here, but because of the high winds they were not able to fly.

Anybody that is not in the local area and hasn't been here to experience the out pouring of support from local and national officials (as well as residents) should just shut it! We are not New Orleans, this was not Katrina! We are a community that has pulled together to support each other. Color means nothing to us at this point.

I am extremely proud to be a resident of San Diego after seeing this local support. The rest of the nation is just looking for a reason to bash us. Get the facts, do your research, and keep quiet until you understand the full magnitude of what has happened.

Sent by T. Rush | 6:26 PM | 10-25-2007

I am floored by Bush's cheap shot at Gov. Blanco (to the effect of what a difference good leadership makes, in reference to the CA fires). The lack of good leadership in New Orleans is ultimately his, regardless of what happened at the local level. For the president to not take responsibility for a national disgrace is appalling. Great presidents said "the buck stops here". Bush passed the buck.

Sent by cheryl cox | 12:41 AM | 10-26-2007

San Diego currently tops the best in the nation in preparedness and response during an incident from local level. There's no doubt that money played a big role in their success. Due to its location, they must be prepared for any incident that they can easily encounter from the Mexican-US border as well as the ports accepting ships from different parts of the world. At the local level, the city of San Diego alone has its own Office of Homeland Security-separate but linked from its Federal counterpart. Any incident such as this will have to start in the local level. The coordination continues up to the county, state, then federal level if it cannot sustain the problem at the local level. With this in placed, there is no confusion on who's in charge. We have to take into account that not only the money made it a succesful coordination, but training and dedication of these officials involve in response and preparedness. I am proud of the officials within San Diego County. Without their prior training in this matter, handwork and quick thinking, coordination between agencies is difficult to obtain and the county would've experienced an unfortunate and unnecessary numbers of deaths much like New Orleans experienced during Katrina.

Sent by Graduate student in Homeland Security-SDSU | 12:50 AM | 10-26-2007

I caught part of this show tonight. I am a current resident of Southern California, and a native of New Orleans. I don't think it's fair to compare Katrina and the wildfires. The scale of Katrina was so much bigger. At last count, six people had died in the fires. More than a thousand died in Katrina. At most, a few thousand homes will be lost in the fires, compared to 250,000+ in Katrina. All the communication systems went down, and the roads were impassable. I'm also tired of hearing federal officials passing blame to locals. Local officials did not have the resources to deal with a disaster of that magnitude.

Sent by Rachel | 12:57 AM | 10-26-2007

I think the difference is in the rate of change. A hurricane is faster then a fire. I believe the Governator would have an equally tough time dealing with a situation like New Orleans.

Sent by Terry | 4:18 AM | 10-26-2007

It doesn't seem like anyone has addressed an obvious potential reason for a discrepancy between the responses. Katrina happened first, the wild fires happened second. I would hope that we as a nation, and response entities in particular, learned something from Katrina, which modified the response in the California case. The tragedy of Katrina must certainly be a guiding force in the aptness of national and state responses to the disaster in California.

Sent by Jason Pierce | 10:00 AM | 10-26-2007

San Diego in fact acted immediately after 9-11. It was not because of Katrina... We may have learned the lesson in Katrina, but the response and preparedness has been proliferated in San Diego since the creation of the Homeland Security Department in 2001.

With this in mind, the Homeland Security department helped push for training and improvise FEMA and its training capabilities. The creation came about many agencies in San Diego at the county level. For instance we have the OES (Office of Emergency Services) which can easily coordinate and activate the EOC (Emergency Operations Center). Even before Katrina, preparedness and response of the officials and coordination these agencies already showed success in San Diego during the Cedar fire in 2003.

Sent by Graduate student in Homeland Security-SDSU | 11:16 AM | 10-26-2007

Why is it so hard for people to undestand that the Federal govenment can only help when the state ask for it. Individuals and local government can not ask for Federal help, only the state government can do that.

Sent by Jerry C. | 11:19 AM | 10-26-2007

The Californians affected by the current wildfires had electric power, communications, intact usable roadway infrastructure, and experience with prior wildfires. The people required or encouraged to evacuate generally had their own cars and a relatively easy drive to places and areas that were unaffected by the fires, where all normal services and infrastructure were available. The authorities had been through this before, and it was easy for people at the unaffected places and areas to prepare for the evacuees and respond to their needs. The current wildfires will probably have a major impact on only a few thousand people, distributed over a large area. The rest will be able to go home in a few days or weeks. There aren't any plans to bus residents of the San Diego area to other parts of the country for permanent relocation.

Many of the New Orleans residents affected by Katrina were without transportation. Their roads and highways were flooded, preventing them from leaving in any case. They were trapped in a region that was essentially without transportation, power, communications, etc. The people who might help were in the same predicament as the people needing help the most, and people in a better situation could not get to the people needing help. Although many believed in the inevitability of flooding, they had not seen it at anything approaching the scale of Katrina before, so plans were not in place or rehearsed.

However, this does not excuse the miserable performance of the city, state, and federal governments in dealing with the Katrina situation.

Sent by Al Williams | 3:00 PM | 10-26-2007

To Cheryl Cox,

It is obvious that you do not understand how the government works. President Bush had EVERY right to blame Gov Blanco because she is the one that sets everything in motion. It is the city, county, state, and then federal government that responds to ANY disaster. It would have been different if she had asked for federal help prior to the hurricane (they were warned 3-5 days before it hit)and the President did not respond to her request. It is not the President of the United States job to run a state. That is why the citizens of the state elect their officials.

Sent by Patricia | 5:16 PM | 10-26-2007

Its about race. Always will be.

Sent by Michael Tom | 5:50 PM | 10-26-2007

To Wright Gregson re: the Vietnamese story in Katrina. You're right, I know nothing about the Vietnamese experience in the storm nor do I know if/how they rebuilt. How about it, NPR? Enlighten us about the Vietnamese community in New Orleans post-Katrina

Sent by kathryn | 9:34 AM | 10-28-2007

Think about this: in California only 2,000 homes caught fire, while in New Orleans over 110,000 homes flooded. The two disasters are of a complete different magnitude and there is no evidence that the Feds are capable of assisting during an event of Katrina's magnitude.

Sent by Ezra | 5:31 PM | 10-29-2007

I am a resident of San Diego's City Heights neighborhood. I live in an area with fewer affluent people. Many of the people in my neighborhood do not have a car and depend on public transportation. For everyday matters, we generally have to wait longer for the city government to respond to our concerns. There was one instance where I reported the presence of a dead kitten at a bus stop for school children. It took nearly two weeks for the city to dispose of the animal. Currently, there is a mountain of trash behind an abandoned house near my house. The city has been contacted, but nothing has been done since the beginning of this year, and the heap is growing by the week. Judged on the response to concerns of those in my neighborhood, I can't help but wonder if the response would have been as favorable had the fires affected us. Some folks, especially those in the East County, are not well-to-do and live in remote areas so they can afford housing; however, for the most part, there seems to be a definite disparity between how the government responds to disasters affecting the rich and how it responds to disasters affecting the less affluent.

Sent by BW | 6:21 PM | 10-30-2007

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