The Three Faces Of Mayor Nagin

Trapped: French Quarter tourists to ride out storm

07:37 AM CDT on Sunday, August 28, 2005

The bands were blaring on Bourbon Street, the bar tables were packed and the drinks were flowing.

“The only dangerous hurricanes so far are the ones we’ve been drinking,” said Fred Wilson of San Francisco, as he sipped on the famous drink at Pat O’Brien’s Bar. “We can’t get out, so we might as well have fun.”

As Hurricane Katrina whipped its way through the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans, some tourists were forced to stay put because flights and rental cars were booked up. Others were lucky enough to change reservations early and get out of town.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin called for a voluntary evacuation of the city at 5 p.m. Saturday. He said he would most likely be more forceful about making people leave Sunday. For the tourists stuck in town, he had some different advice.

“The only thing I can say to them is I hope they have a hotel room, and it’s a hotel room that’s at least on the third floor and up,” Nagin said. “Unfortunately, unless they can rent a car to get out of town, which I doubt they can at this point, they’re probably in the position of riding the storm out.” In the French Quarter, the revelers, street musicians, tarot card readers and fortune tellers carried on like it was any other Saturday.

“I’ll be here tomorrow, I’m not leaving,” said trombonist Eddie “Doc” Lewis. “I’ve been through typhoons, monsoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and every other phoon, soon or storm. I’m not worried.”

Down the street, psychic Jackie Wilson waited for customers at a card table, advertising “Free sample readings.”

“I’m not leaving, we live in a 100-year-old building a block away,” she said. “It’s survived all that time. But I tell you, this is ground-X right here. This storm is heading right for us. Get ready.” — by Mary Foster, AP

Three points:

One, it seems Mayor Nagin was much more cavalier and casual about those remaining behind and disregarding evacuation orders. He could have commandeered local school buses and gotten everyone out. He could have instituted a mandatory evacuation order earlier. Big Dog was correct that the local government abandoned them. If you note, this story was filed less than 24 hours before Katrina hit. Nagin seemed to be unconcerned by the plight of tourists unable to leave. If a mayor acts cavalier about evacuations, why should the populace feel compelled to comply?

Two, these were the same tourists that Shepard Smith of Fox News reported — was an eyewitness to — Mayor Nagin intervening to have them evacuated in the first wave of buses on Friday, September 2. These people were living in the relative comfort of the posh W Hotel, not the absolute squalor of the Superdome.

And, three, this “psychic” should have been giving free readings as she was obviously clueless about the future.

NAGIN: I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain’t talking about — you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here.

I’m like, “You got to be kidding me. 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. And I can’t emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy.

I’ve got 15,000 to 20,000 people over at the convention center. It’s bursting at the seams. The poor people in Plaquemines Parish. … We don’t have anything, and we’re sharing with our brothers in Plaquemines Parish.

It’s awful down here, man. — from a transcript of WWL Garland Robinette’s interview with Nagin on Thursday night(9/01/05).

Obviously, Nagin had a very different take on the disaster after the fact. Perhaps he had forgotten the glib interview he had given to the Associated Press just prior to Katrina’s landfall. The very next day, Nagin had the following to say:

“Today was a turning point, I think,” he said. “My philosophy is never get too high, never get too low. … I always try to keep my emotions in check and yesterday I kind of went off a little bit. I was worried about that, but it maybe worked out. I don’t know. If the CIA slips me something and next week you don’t see me, you’ll all know what happened.”

Nagin said evacuation has been hampered by officials’ difficulty grasping where state authority ends and federal authority begins and he said he very frankly urged Bush and Gov. Kathleen Blanco to get a clear chain of command straightened out immediately. — interview on 9/2/05 with KATC TV

Wow! Never get to high or to low. Nagin should read all his press from the past week. He needs to revisit history. He’s also more than willing to “pass the buck” to the state and federal officials when his city, although not directly hit by Katrina, will probably end up being the biggest story of human suffering from this disaster. Maybe a good, hard look at his own actions during this event will help him realize he, too, maintains culpability for the fate of his city.

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3 Responses to “The Three Faces Of Mayor Nagin”

  1. N. Mallory says:

    “living in the relative comfort of the posh W Hotel”

    I can’t imagine that the “W” was very posh by then. No electricity, no a/c (in New Orleans heat and humidity), no food, no water. Plus pictures taken of the buildings in that area look like everything took a big hit.

    I don’t think Nagin was glib at all. I saw his press conference the day before Katrina hit and he was quite serious. Having lived through many a hurricane in New Orleans, I know that at that point, it was too late to get most of the people out of New Orleans. The people who showed up at the Superdome had as much of a chance to leave as anyone though. Some who were interviewed waiting in line were people who figured they’d be there overnight and then could go home. One woman said she just didn’t want to go through the effort of driving out of town.

    In some cases, the people who showed up at the Superdome were people who have no means of transportation. In some cases, it was people who didn’t want to go anywhere.

    People who stay are always given the suggestion of weathering it out in the Superdome or hotels on upper floors. It doesn’t matter who’s mayor. It’s the standard MO.

    It’s always the case. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong; I’m just saying that they didn’t treat this hurricane any different than any other.

  2. Surfside says:

    Well, that’s why I used the word “relative.” Everyone at the W had a bed. No one was being raped or murdered. I’m going to guess that there weren’t corpses and human waste strewn throughout the building. And, if they weren’t entirely morons, they had food from the kitchens, vending machines and honor bars. The ice machines could have provided enough water from the melted ice, if anyone had had the smarts to think of it. Tourists in the W had a better chance of filling their basic needs and sleeping in an actual bed. The Superdomers were sleeping in stadium chairs. The Red Cross couldn’t even bring in cots.

    You don’t think Nagin’s remark about the tourist that couldn’t get out of town was glib? I think it’s the definition of glib. To be honest, I think Nagin has a lot more on the ball and cares more about his people than Blanco. That doesn’t change the fact that the poor, indigent and stranded where not given a mode of transportation out of town — even with the city buses parked close by and needing their own evacuation plan. And, here the Dems are blaming Bush for not rescuing them soon enough! They shouldn’t have been there to be rescued.

    I agree with you that they didn’t treat this hurricane any differently than others. But, they should have. They knew about 24 hours before it hit that it was a Cat 4 and quite possibly could become a Cat 5. They knew hours before it hit it had become a Cat 5. And, they knew the levees were only rated to withstand a Cat 3. So, I think treating this hurricane differently should have been more than obvious to even the most naive of politicians.

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