The Brancatelli File



September 1, 2005 -- Some random thoughts about this tragedy…

Millennia from now, when some other species is master of this domain, Hurricane Katrina will be one of their Old Testament stories. A great flood destroys the "wicked" city of New Orleans. And a wrathful God destroys the gambling dens--all of the gambling dens--in Mississippi. Our tragedy will be their Sodom and Gomorrah.

Where are we going to house a million displaced residents of Louisiana for months, maybe years? What about the victims in Mississippi and Alabama? It seems there is an opportunity to repopulate our rust-belt, Midwestern and Southern mill towns. A new Homestead Act is in order. Anyone made homeless by this nightmare can have any empty old house if they agree to fix the place and live there for a number of years. I read a few years ago that Ralph, Iowa, was paying people a bounty to move to the dying town. America is full of Ralph, Iowas. We need to utilize this resource.

If ever you needed a reminder that the lives we lead as business travelers are built on sand, this storm was it. A wind comes and down go the cell-phone lines. Airports close, hotels are flooded or jammed with refugees. Food and water disappear. ATMs are useless. PDAs and Blackberries are dead. What a peculiar life we lead.

I heard the aviation director of New Orleans Airport say earlier this week that he thought it would be three months before the first commercial flights return. But other than to shuttle people out of the city and its surrounding areas, what good will commercial flights be? The major hotel chains say that many of their properties will be closed through the end of the year. Others will surely be pressed into service as shelters. The Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center, pressed into service as shelters of last resort, may take years to repair.

When I saw the pictures of the flooding in Mobile, Alabama, I thought about Luther's. It was the first place a white ethnic kid from New York ever had barbecue. I wonder what's become of Luther's…

You'll forgive me for saying so, but President Bush came up awfully small yesterday in his rose-garden address. Where was the call for national sacrifice? Where was the call for a day of national prayer and reflection? Regardless of what you think of any president's politics, we look to him and his bully pulpit in times of crisis. The last thing I wanted from my president yesterday was to be the front man for his Cabinet and a speech full of meaningless and incomprehensible statistics. I fervently hope he does better tomorrow.

This is much worse than 9/11 in terms of rescue, recovery and rebuilding. Devastating as the attack on the World Trade Center was, almost all of the rest of New York was working outside the immediate Ground Zero area. People could walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and find food, water, shelter and communications. A 20- or 30-block walk uptown brought the same. Nothing like that has been possible in New Orleans or in many communities in Mississippi.

I live about 1,200 miles from the Gulf Coast, but I have two guest rooms in my house that victims of this storm can use for as long as they need it. Newburgh/Stewart International Airport is just a few miles away. What group will step forward to mobilize the American people to open up their doors? How can we compensate the airlines so they can fly these people to where rooms and food are available?

I'm no logistics expert, but why aren't we air-dropping food, water and supplies into New Orleans and Mississippi? And why weren't we doing it yesterday?

Now is not the time, but soon we'll have to discuss why New Orleans didn't stock the Superdome and its Convention Center with huge supplies of food, rations and portable toilets. Demanding an evacuation before a storm is one thing. Realizing that tens of thousands of people can't or won't go is another. There was time, days, to prepare. It's clear New Orleans didn't do it.

The saddest thing I have heard in five days: Some people in Mississippi died because they couldn't evacuate. Why? It was the end of the month, they lived paycheck to paycheck and they didn't have the ready cash to gas up the car.

I understand the natural reflex to shake our fists at the wind and pledge to rebuild New Orleans bigger and better than ever. But someone explain to me why we should rebuild a town that is located in the geographic equivalent of a soup bowl surrounded by water? This will happen again. Maybe not in our generation, but some time. Wouldn't it be better to leave what's left of New Orleans as a huge monument to man's folly in taking on nature?

Okay, now do we understand the folly of letting the Department of Homeland Security run our disaster-response agencies? There is a difference between responding to terrorism and responding to a natural disaster and it's clear DHS doesn't get it.

Pray if you got 'em.

Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.