New Orleans: Voices in the Storm

New Orleans: Voices in the Storm

The chronicle of an unfolding catastrophe, as told by the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the bureaucrats, the rescuers, the journalists and the politicians.


This is the chronicle of an unfolding catastrophe, as told by the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the bureaucrats, the rescuers and, of course, the politicians.

“It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.” –Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, quoted in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

“I want the folks there on our Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes.” –President Bush, Monday, August 29

“It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.” –House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Wednesday, August 31

“Flood control has been a priority of this Administration from day one.” –White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Thursday, September 1

“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” –President Bush, Thursday, September 1

“The good news is…that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast…. Out of the rubble of Trent Lott’s house–he’s lost his entire house–there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.” –President Bush, Friday, September 2

“CATASTROPHIC: Storm Surge Swamps 9th Ward, St. Bernard; Lakeview Levee Breach Threatens to Inundate City” –Banner headline, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Tuesday, August 30

“I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, ‘New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.'” –Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Sunday, September 4

“The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management…his mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home. And every day she called him and said, ‘Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama. Somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.’ And she drowned Friday night. [Crying] And she drowned Friday night.” –Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, Sunday, September 4

“Some people chose not to obey that [mandatory evacuation] order. That was a mistake on their part.” –Michael Chertoff, Friday, September 2

“The federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today…. Now is not the time to be blaming.” –FEMA director Michael Brown, Thursday, September 1, twenty-four hours after news reports that 20,000 people were stranded at the convention center

“I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don’t have food and water.” –Michael Chertoff, Thursday, September 1

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” –President Bush, referring to FEMA director Michael Brown, Friday, September 2

“This place is going to look like Little Somalia. We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.” –Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, Friday, September 2

“That Americans would somehow in a color-affected way decide who to help and who not to help, I just don’t believe it.” –Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Friday, September 2

“As for the tragic piggism that is taking place on the streets of New Orleans, it is not unbelievable but it is unforgivable, and I hope the looters are shot.” –Peggy Noonan, Thursday, September 1

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” –Rapper Kanye West, Friday, September 2

“People are now beginning to voice what we’ve all been seeing with our own eyes — the majority of people left in New Orleans are black, they are poor, they are the underbelly of society. When you look at this, what does this say about where we are as a country and where our government is in terms of how it views the people of this country?” –Lester Holt of MSNBC, to House majority leader Tom DeLay, Friday, September 2. DeLay’s response: “What it tells me is we’re doing a wonderful job and we are an incredibly compassionate people.”

“New Orleans now is abortion-free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras-free. New Orleans now is free of Southern decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion–it’s free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there–and now we’re going to start over again.” –The Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, Friday, September 2

“So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this–this is working very well for them.” –Barbara Bush, Monday, September 5

“[Bush] is a strong president…but he has never really focused on the importance of good execution.” –William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, in theWashington Post, Monday, September 5

“Perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than twenty-four hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity.” –Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Saturday, September 3

“We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.” –Open letter to Bush from theNew Orleans Times-Picayune editorial board, Sunday, September 4

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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