President Barack Obama is in New Orleans today to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. According to prepared remarks, Obama will declare: “What started out as a natural disaster became a man-made one—a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.” In 2005, Democracy Now! was on the ground in the days following the storm that devastated the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people and forcing more than 1 million people to evacuate. We turn now to excerpts of Democracy Now!’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
AMY GOODMAN: President Barack Obama is heading back to New Orleans to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that devastated the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people, forcing more than a million people to evacuate. According to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House, Obama will say, quote, “What started out as a natural disaster became a man-made one—a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.”
Well, we spend the rest of the hour looking back at Hurricane Katrina, looking at where New Orleans is today. Later in the broadcast, we’ll speak with Malik Rahim, founder of Common Ground Relief, as well as the civil rights attorneys Tracie Washington and Bill Quigley. But first we turn back to some of our coverage of Katrina from 10 years ago. It begins with then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you, but we are facing a storm that most of us have feared. … Every person is hereby ordered to immediately evacuate the City of New Orleans, or, if no other alternative is available, to immediately move to one of the facilities within the city that will be designated as a refuge of last resort.
AMY GOODMAN: New Orleans and the Gulf region remain in a state of catastrophe following the devastating Hurricane Katrina. At least 80 percent of New Orleans is underwater. The city has no electricity and little drinkable water. Officials say New Orleans will be uninhabitable for weeks. On Tuesday, two levees broke, flooding areas of the city that had appeared to survive the storm.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans. That’s—they’re thinking small, man, and this is a major, major, major deal.
BILL QUIGLEY: You’re talking about tens of thousands of people who are left behind, and those are the sickest, the oldest, poorest, the youngest, the people with disabilities and the like. And the plan was that everybody should leave. Well, you can’t leave if you’re in a hospital. You can’t leave if you’re a nurse. You can’t leave if you’re a patient. You can’t leave if you’re in a nursing home. You can’t leave if you don’t have a car.
CROWD: Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: There are throngs of people, easily in the tens of thousands, maybe 40,000 to 50,000 people, in my estimation, standing on this plaza trying to get to a very narrow area where they’re being escorted to the buses. I haven’t seen one bus leave yet.
SURVIVOR 1: These babies. Six and eight months. The people just walking past us.
SURVIVOR 2: No food, no water, no nothing. Whatever we have, we’ve been taking it. That’s the only way we can survive.
SURVIVOR 3: We got the food right here. Let me show you, right here. All of it, look. Right here, look. City won’t give us nothing! Nothing!
SURVIVOR 4: Gotta help ourselves, right? Open the gate right there.
SURVIVOR 3: Look, look, look! Look, they won’t give us nothing! We ain’t drinking no ice water! Nothing!
SURVIVOR 5: It’s not about low income. It’s not about rich people, poor people. It’s about people! Nobody wants to hurt anybody in this city! Nobody wants to hurt these people who have these businesses! We want a little air and a little food and water, for God’s sake! That’s it!
SURVIVOR 6: There’s nobody in charge—the National Guard. There’s the police. There is nobody. Somebody needs to come take charge and put organization and get these people to safety, to get them clothes, the basic things that they need to live from day to day.
OLIVIA JOHNSON McQUEEN: Well, we’re hearing people been killed down here. People were saying that bodies was just lying out in the street. They were shooting each other. The military was shooting. One of my neighbors said the military guy shot at him. So that’s what made me not want to come down here.
AMY GOODMAN: Federal relief officials have played almost no role. The head of FEMA, Michael Brown, admitted on CNN last night his agency didn’t even know that thousands of hungry refugees were inside the Convention Center. Residents continue to break into stores in search of everything from food and water to guns, to luxury items.
HENRY ALEXANDER: Nobody here but us. And we just have to look out for one another. All your politicians, they want to get on TV, talking about they’re feeding this person, feeding that person. We ain’t seen nothing over here yet.
AMY GOODMAN: The White House announced it would have zero tolerance for looters, even for those taking essential items needed to stay alive.
DAMU SMITH: Well, I want zero tolerance for that kind of language being used by leaders of our government to discuss poor people, poor black people, who are trying to survive in the—under the most desperate, insane circumstances. I want zero tolerance for thousands of our troops being sent to Iraq when we need them here.
KANYE WEST: I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re looking for food. … George Bush doesn’t care about black people.
AMY GOODMAN: In Biloxi, Mississippi, the first federal aid arrived only yesterday, three full days after the storm wiped out entire sections of the city. In smaller towns in Mississippi, help has still not arrived.
TUTI SHEIBAN: We left for the hurricane and came back Monday night, hoping that we could help some people because, I don’t know, looking at the response to this storm, particularly initially, there wasn’t a lot of outside help. So we decided that really it was up to the people of Jefferson Parish to take the parish back.
JOHN HAMILTON: What I saw from the federal government was a grand total of three boats, Border Patrol agents on three boats: two airboats and one flat-bottom boat. And I saw far more of a response from citizens who had just taken it upon themselves to go and pluck people out of their homes. And they plucked about a dozen out on Saturday.
FLOYD SIMEON: We don’t have any government response here. Everything that’s taken place has taken place by volunteers and citizens in the area. Why aren’t there 50 inflatable boats in the water working a grid, making sure all these people are out of here? Why is it just volunteers? That’s the only people you see around.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: FEMA Director Mike Brown is in charge of all federal response and recovery efforts in the field.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!
REPORTER: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for your resignation, and I’m wondering if you have a response to that?
MICHAEL BROWN: The president’s in charge of that, not me.
JUDD LEGUM: Well, right at the top you have Michael Brown, and, as you mentioned, he was the commissioner of judges at the International Arabian Horse Association. To give you an idea of what he did there, he spent a year investigating whether a breeder performed liposuction on a horse’s rear end.
SCOTT McCLELLAN: This is an attempt by some in this room to engage in finger pointing and blame game, and I’m just not going to do that. I’ve made it very clear—I’ve made it very clear, and the president spoke about him last week. And his comments stand in terms of what he said about the great work that they’ve been doing around the clock, 24 hours a day, to help people on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the former spokesperson for George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, excerpts of Democracy Now!’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.