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Hurricane Katrina: Blaming the Victims

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Some members of the Bush administration, Congress, and their media flacks are blaming the victims for their own fate after Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005.

  • "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did," 10-term Baton Rouge Republican Representative Richard H. Baker was overheard telling lobbyists.
  • "'The powerful winds of this storm have torn away the mask that has hidden from our debates the many Americans who are left out and left behind,' Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a Senate speech" September 7, 2005.
  • "'The truth is the people who suffer the most from Katrina are the very people who suffer the most every day,'" former Senator John Edwards "said in a speech in North Carolina on [September 7, 2005], according to a transcript provided by his office."

Homeland Security & FEMA: Chertoff & Brown

First among those blaming the victims were Michael Chertoff, the Director of the Department of Homeland Security, and Michael D. Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"The public did not learn that the levee breach meant New Orleans would drown, but we learned that our gas prices would go up. We did not learn that the breaches guaranteed a catastrophic death toll, but we heard that losing the casino tax revenue would be devastating.

"The people who remained in the city were referred to as looters more often than victims. Instead of pondering why there was no emergency evacuation for those without means, the [news] anchors pontificated about why people would be so foolish and stubborn as to stay." [1]

On September 1, 2005, Chertoff said on NBC's Today program:

"The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster, ... Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part."

Brown told CNN on September 2, 2005:

"Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don't make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.
"But, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart wrenching to me because the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. And so we've got to figure out some way to convince people that when evacuation warnings go out, it's for their own good."

However, it was reported on August 27, 2005, with the information then at hand, New Orleans' Mayor C. Ray Nagin had already expressed concern about those who could not evacuate before the hurricane struck:

"Making matters worse, at least 100,000 people in the city lack the transportation to get out of town. Nagin said the Superdome might be used as a shelter of last resort for people who have no cars, with city bus pick-up points around New Orleans."

On September 2, 2005, "Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's 'low-mobility' population - the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people."

Congress: Santorum & Kyl

Senator Rick Santorum, while "criticizing the government's emergency response to hurricane victims" on September 4, 2005, was "also criticizing the ones who chose to ride out the storm." --Video, WTAE-TV CH 4 (ABC) Pittsburgh.

"I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."

Arizona talk show host Barry Young was "on the air with U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl talking about the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina about the exact moment the Big Easy was drowning under 20 feet of water. Young was in favor of a strong national response to help the disaster-stricken area, ... [2]

Kyl: "Because the question is if people know year after year after year a natural disaster occurs in a particular place and people continue to build there and want to live there, should they bear the responsibility of buying insurance or should everyone else bear the responsibility?"

Divine Reminders: God's punishment?

A Reuters story reported that some Christian fundamentalists were interpreting the devastating impact on New Orleans as God's retribution on a sinful city.

Michael Marcavage, the director of the Philadelphia-based group Repent America said "we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long. May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits." [3]

One participant in an online discussion on the Christian Broadcasting Network website attributed the hurricane to U.S. support for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza settlements. "Whenever this country encourages Israel to give up any part of their rightful God-given land we have suffered the consequences," they wrote. [4]

"Rick Scarborough of Vision America and the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration has stepped up to the plate, blaming Katrina on gay marriage, man-on-horse sex, and Israel for evacuating a portion of the Messiah's planned landing strip," Max Blumenthal reported September 5, 2005, in the Huffington Post.

Media Matters for America has documented statements from three "religious conservative media figures" who "claim Katrina was God's omen, punishment for the United States."

  • On his September 12, 2005, Christian Broadcasting Network 700 Club program, Pat Robertson, "founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a former Republican presidential candidate, linked Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks to legalized abortion." Additionally, on his September 1, 2005, broadcast, Robertson said that President Bush's Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, Jr. "can 'be thankful that a tragedy has brought him some good,' inasmuch as Democratic senators may be less likely to question him aggressively." [5]
  • On the September 9, 2005, broadcast of the Trinity Broadcasting Network's International Intelligence Briefing, Hal Lindsey said "It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been expecting for decades have finally arrived. And even worse, it appears that the judgment of America has begun." [6]
  • "On the September 12 [2005] broadcast of his BreakPoint radio program, former Nixon special counsel-turned-Christian radio commentator Charles Colson speculated that God allowed Hurricane Katrina as a reminder to the United States of the importance of winning the 'war on terror'." [7]

Former First Lady Bush: Evacuees in Houston

In a fine example of the prejudice inherent within privilege, First Mom and Former First Lady Barbara Bush, while "[a]ccompanying her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston," said September 5, 2005, "referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, 'This is working very well for them.'"

"In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: 'Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston.
"Then she added: 'What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.
"'And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.'"

Racial Profiling

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Related SourceWatch Resources: Hurricane Katrina: List of related pages

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Articles & Commentary

Hurricane is God's work: Christian extremists]", Sydney Morning Herald, September 3, 2005. (This is a Reuters story).