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Government Tells the Red Cross to Stay Out of New Orleans

The American Red Cross — an exemplary voluntary disaster-relief organization with almost 125 years of experience — was told by the National Guard and local authorities not to go to Katrina-devastated New Orleans.

According to the Disaster FAQs section of the American Red Cross’s website:

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

    • Access to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
    • The state Homeland Security Department had requested–and continues to request–that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
    • The Red Cross has been meeting the needs of thousands of New Orleans residents in some 90 shelters throughout the state of Louisiana and elsewhere since before landfall. All told, the Red Cross is today operating 149 shelters for almost 93,000 residents.

Digest this: government turned away one of the world’s most skilled and experienced agencies from bringing relief to starving, thristy, dying New Orleanians.  Why?  Why?  Why???

Judging from the Red Cross’s explanation (above), government apparently feared that the Red Cross would deliver relief with too much success.  Why else would people choose not to leave a destroyed city, and even want to return to it?

So, government decided that letting people die was a better course than risking any success that the Red Cross would likely have at providing disaster relief.

Yesterday, E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post that major disaster relief cannot be done without government.  The truth is that, at the same time the government was proving itself to be utterly incompetent at providing disaster relief, it was doing what it does with unparalleled skill: f*&King things up.

(Thanks to Ed Grass for the tip on this outrage.)

UPDATE: According to this Knight-Ridder report, the Red Cross isn’t alone among well-respected private relief organizations kept, by government, from saving lives in New Orleans.  The Salvation Army was stopped from carrying out a planned rescue operation.  Here’s the key part of the report:

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that inhibited private relief organizations’ efforts.

"We’ve tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army facility. They’ve been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate the embattled city grid by grid – and the Salvation Army’s facility didn’t fall in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson, Miss.

"No, it doesn’t make sense," he said.

Russ Nelson posts this chart that reveals part of the reason for government’s chronic ineptitude.