ANALYSIS - The Road to Hell 

SuperdomeEveryone is familiar with the quip, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."  The metaphor for hell on this page is The Louisiana Superdome. 

Before Katrina, some people went to the Superdome on purpose.  After the storm many people went there because they had no choice.  Rescued persons not in need of immediate medical attention were brought to the Superdome because that was the staging area to get them out.  Of course, that took longer than anybody wanted. 

My neighbor Tony had evacuated in his usual way - he checked in to one of the high-rise hotels in New Orleans.  This is actually a pretty good plan for smaller storms and disasters - if you have the funds.  They are capable of withstanding the storm, all services are provided, and you aren't far from home home after it's all over.  This time that didn't work out so well, but we'll tell that story in its due time.  There are other people in the hotels too.  Reporters, thrill seekers, tourists who didn't manage to get out, and other people who for whatever reason decided that being at ground zero for a category 5 hurricane was a good idea.  What kind of dumbass do you have to be, to be in a place that you *know* will be a disaster area in 24 hours if you don't absolutely have to be there?

In our timeline, Katrina, as a weather event, is over.  She passed in 12 hours, and did what she did.  There is almost no need to ever mention the weather event again.  Katrina was just the finger that tipped a very large, complex row of dominoes - and those dominoes have started to fall.

There are many people in New Orleans that should have gotten out, but didn't.  All of these people are on their way to the same destination: The Louisiana Superdome.  Some of them, trapped in dark attics, will gladly take the ride.  Others still have no idea that their fate is sealed.  Their streets are dry now, but New Orleans has become a giant water clock, and that clock is ticking.

Why would you stay?  Why would anybody stay?  Well, let's talk about that.  As we do so, I want to be clear that it is not my intention to mock, deride, or otherwise throw metaphorical stones at these people.  They are part of the story, so let's listen to them.

Late in the evening of August 29, 2005, sitting dry and comfortable in Sugar Land, Texas, I found an online copy of The Times-Picayune - the local New Orleans newspaper.  You can still find it online here: The strange thing about newspapers is that a newspaper dated today is about what happened yesterday.  Since I couldn't make much sense out of the media stream from today, I figured I might have better luck with the data stream from yesterday so I read it.

Back on the page called What's it Worth? I postulated that the people who ended up in the Superdome had one common denominator:  They all made bad choices.  While a lot of those folks were poor, there were also a lot of poor folks who did manage to leave.  It may surprise you to know that there were a lot of people who ended up at the Superdome (and later the Convention center) who were not poor by any stretch of the imagination.  In order to appreciate the situation in the Superdome, and to discuss a few things from a preparedness and survival standpoint, it is a good idea to analyze what happened there.  Who was there?  Why were they there?  What can we learn from that?  The first thing to understand is that there were two groups of people at the dome.  The first group went there on purpose.  They made the active choice to go to a government camp where they were told two things:

1.  You will not be provided for.
2.  There is a category 5 hurricane coming this way.

Even so, people made the choice to go to the dome.  Why?  Times-Picayune has a nice article about this on page 1.  The article starts, "A 2-year-old girl, clutching a bottle and ignoring her knock-off Barbie doll, running in circles around her mother. Homeless men trying to doze on the sidewalk, using backpacks as pillows. People without cars. People with cars but nowhere to go."

"More than 10,000 of them."

"These are the people without enough money or luck to leave town as Hurricane Katrina was poised to have its way with New Orleans. With a mandatory evacuation hanging over the city Sunday morning, they were left with no other choice but to assemble outside the Louisiana Superdome, waiting in an unorganized line to take refuge in a sprawling building meant more for touchdowns than for emergencies."

The article goes on to interview people who give their reasons. 

1.  No funds. 
2.  No car.
3.  Car, but nowhere to go.
4.  Didn't want to ride with the kids in the car for hours.
5.  Decided not to fight traffic.
6.  Too ill, too old, or otherwise too infirm to travel.
7.  Looking for food.

The article notes that, "About 150 National Guard soldiers, New Orleans police and civil sheriff’s deputies were patrolling the facility. Some weapons were confiscated."  (Which is a reason in and of itself never to end up in a government camp.)

The article concludes with, 'Geraldine Johnson, 67, has no car. So she and her 41-year-old daughter and three grandchildren, ages 8, 10 and 12, caught the bus from Algiers early Sunday and landed at the Dome after 11 a.m. “This is my last resort,” Johnson said, seated and surrounded by her family. The children had their suitcases and snacks. “They may provide food,” Johnson said. “But it would take so long to wait in that line. You can’t depend on people to give you everything.”' 

Dan FullerThe people who initially go to the Superdome aren't the lowest dregs of the poor.  They aren't bad people either.  Geraldine, at least, has the proper attitude.  They aren't all black, despite what some of the hate sites will tell you.  There are people of all kinds.  They're just folks who have made a very bad choice.  Sometimes, however, the choice is made for them out of bad luck.  Bad preparation frequently seems to lead to bad luck.

On the last page of the paper there is a picture of Dan Fuller. 

The caption says, "Dan Fuller, who lives in Mid-City, walks down Canal Street after trying unsuccessfully to hitchhike out of town. He caught an RTA bus that was headed to the Superdome."

USA Today took a photo of Dan as he walked back off the interstate a little while before the Times-Picayune found him. 

Dan Fuller, of New Orleans, gives up trying to hitch a ride on Interstate 10 as he heads to the Superdome for shelter.Dan isn't a person you would typically think of when you think of people who went to the Superdome.  His bio goes like this:

Dan is an artist who grew up in Central Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River.  1962, Dan started to paint and became active in the Rochester art community, where soon he became known for his landscapes, figurative paintings and his portraits. In 1970 while painting a portrait, his subject told him about the art colony on Jackson Square in New Orleans and urged him to look into it as the artists there were well known for their excellence. So the first week of 1971 he took a bus there, and found it was an ideal place to paint and market his results among them. Although he has made occasional forays to other places since then to paint portraits, Dan has long been a well recognized fixture in the New Orleans art community. In 2001 he was selected to be the first to have a one man show, and the second to have an artist in residency at the Degas House. Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist was the first. He joined the artist’s co op in the Dutch Alley Gallery just one week before Katrina struck. 

Dan is a successful artist.  I like his work.  You can see some of it at his website.  He is most famously known for his Treehouse Collection.  Like so many others, he isn't someone you'd expect to find in a government camp.  He doesn't own a car, and couldn't get a ride.  We'll chalk that up to bad luck - but bad luck brought on by bad planning.  If you live in a hurricane zone, you really do need a car.  I'm willing to bet that Dan would be willing to pay $1,000 not to have to go to the Superdome - and he could buy a car that would get him 100 miles for $1,000 easy.  We can add bad luck and/or bad planning to the list.

1.  No funds. 
2.  No car.
3.  Car, but nowhere to go.
4.  Didn't want to ride with the kids in the car for hours.
5.  Decided not to fight traffic.
6.  Too ill, too old, or otherwise too infirm to travel.
7.  Looking for food or other relief.
8.  Bad luck and/or bad planning.

We have to account for the people who did not go to the Superdome, but who stayed in their homes.  Why did they stay?  After talking to several hundred, they give many reasons, including some of the above.  They also add several others:

9.  Didn't think it would be too bad.  This is usually a poverty of imagination fueled by denial.  Also in this number are the people who had experienced other hurricanes and had a false expectation that Katrina would be no worse.
10.  Didn't want to leave pets.  (Some people have so many pets that they cannot move all of them.)
11.  Didn't want to leave (or move) someone with special needs.  (Elderly parents seem to top the list.)
12.  Wanted to stay in order to protect and defend property. 
13.  Knew they should leave, but didn't want to.  "Didn't feel like it."  (This is either denial or laziness.)

Let's break the list down.

1.  No funds.  =  BAD PLANNING
2.  No car. = BAD PLANNING
3.  Car, but nowhere to go. = BAD PLANNING
4.  Didn't want to ride with the kids in the car for hours. = LAZY
5.  Decided not to fight traffic. = LAZY
6.  Too ill, too old, or otherwise too infirm to travel. = BAD LUCK AND/OR BAD PLANNING
7.  Looking for food or other relief. = BAD PLANNING
8.  Bad luck and/or bad planning. = BAD LUCK AND/OR BAD PLANNING
9.  Didn't think it would be too bad.  = LAZY
10.  Didn't want to leave pets. = BAD PLANNING
11.  Didn't want to leave (or move) someone with special needs. = BAD LUCK AND/OR BAD PLANNING
12.  Wanted to stay in order to protect and defend property.  = BAD PLANNING
13.  Knew they should leave, but didn't want to. = LAZY

No matter what the excuse, it really breaks down in to three reasons.  Bad Planning, Bad Luck, or Lazy.  Bad Luck frequently follows bad planning (or no planning!), and bad planning is usually a result of lazy - and we already know that LAZY PEOPLE DO NOT PROSPER. 

Sometimes even good plans backfire or unforeseen circumstances overtake us.  If we invented a time machine and went back a few months and told Dan all about his ordeal in the Superdome, I bet he'd have sold some extra art and bought a car.  His choice not to have a car was a BAD choice - but only in hindsight.  In a cosmopolitan city like New Orleans, owning a car is optional in many ways.  Until it comes time to flee...

I have a case story to tell you later about a friend of mine who was actually very well prepared, and did very well after the storm - until his house filled up with 8 feet of water.

Sometimes bad luck is honest.  If you come down with the puking disease right when you really need to be evacuating, then that's just bad luck. Barometer Bob told me the story of how his wife was on crutches when they had to evacuate for one hurricane.  Nothing to do for it but to do what you can with what you have.  If you are old, infirm, or otherwise unable to travel when you need to escape or evacuate, then you very well may become a statistic.  We are going to examine such cases later.

We come down to a bottom line.  If you live in a hurricane zone, then you absolutely need to HYST and have the funds or whatever else it is that you need to escape when a monster comes calling.  I know what it's like to live hand to mouth, and I'm not clueless when it comes to class issues.  Even so, you don't have to prepare all at once.  We all know the story of the grasshopper and the ants attributed to Aesop.  Remember the ants admonition in the end?

    Idleness brings want.
    To work today is to eat tomorrow.
    It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

In the original story - before Disney got hold of it - the ants didn't give the grasshopper anything.  Saving a little something aside is not impossible except for a very tiny fraction of people.  We all make choices.  Sometimes it's better to make the choice to put something aside for days of necessity than to buy that luxury item, no matter how small.

The majority of these people fall into the 'bad luck caused by bad planning caused by laziness' classification.  That isn't to say that everyone who went to the Superdome was lazy.  Failure to prepare and other bad planning mistakes are also made by people who do not appreciate the magnitude of the situation.  Even so, the people who went to the Superdome early did do one thing right. They saved their own lives.  Their road was paved with good intentions. 

For everyone who came after, the road was paved with water.



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