The NY Times makes nice with HoustonI just watched the President's speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, which I thought was really well done. ABC went right to evacuee interviews at Reliant Park to get their reaction. Despite clear baiting by the reporter trying to get them to be negative on the President, they were remarkably positive about the President, the speech, and the recovery plan, and surprisingly hostile towards their own state and local officials (one woman singled out Mayor Nagin specifically). Evidently the stories of the unused buses in New Orleans have made the rounds among the evacuees, and they are not happy about it. When they went back to Ted Koppel in the studio, he commented along the lines of, "if that reaction is reflective of the rest of the country, then this is a big win for the President."
I actually want to cover two items in this post. The first is the NY Times conversation with the former head of FEMA, which you have to take with a grain of salt because it's a one-sided view, but seems to confirm my earlier suspicion that the real weak link was at the state level:
Another way of reading that: FEMA was lulled into a sense of complacency by the competence of Florida. Maybe everybody's blaming the wrong Bush?
Mr. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he told the officials in Washington that the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation.
FEMA, he said, had no helicopters and only a few communications trucks. The agency typically depends on state resources, a system he said worked well in the other Gulf Coast states and in Florida last year.
In other news, it looks like the New York Times may have been feeling a bit guilty about their earlier characterization of Houston as an economic vulture feeding on Katrina, so they made up for it with a really nice piece earlier this week:
The whole article is well done, and I highly recommend reading the whole thing. I am not, however, recommending "Shock Absorber City" as another in a long list of city nicknames...
If any city in the country was ready for the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, it was Houston.
When the catastrophic storm set off the largest mass migration in modern American history, this subtropical-oiltown-turned-energy-capital of two million people, itself no stranger to severe weather, quickly set an extra 200,000 places for dinner.
Now Houstonians, steeped in accolades for their hospitality, are grappling with questions of how the crisis will change their hometown, America's fourth-most populous city, and how it already has.
The mood is clearly upbeat. "We're a bigger community today just in terms of our heart," said Judge Robert Eckels, Harris County's top official, who has led the local effort with Mayor Bill White of Houston as a kind of Rudy Giuliani rallying duo.
If Houston became "the shock absorber of the nation," in the judge's phrase, it was partly because of its size; Chicago and Philadelphia would fit nicely inside Houston's 630 square miles, with room left over for Baltimore and Detroit.
It also boasts the nation's largest medical center, with 13 hospitals and 11 educational institutions employing more than 65,000 people. There were so many volunteers last week that 300 doctors from the Baylor College of Medicine were put on a waiting list.
And Houston is a city of big givers. A leftover doughnut auctioned off by a radio station last week drew up to $15,300 for hurricane survivors.
(thanks to reader Bob Sanborn for the article pointer)