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Devastating:
Most people are aware that the post-Katrina situation in New Orleans and elsewhere is pretty bad, but it just seems to be getting worse and worse. The latest:
  New Orleans resembled a war zone more than a modern American metropolis on Tuesday, as Gulf Coast communities struggled to deal with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  Deteriorating conditions in New Orleans will force authorities to evacuate the tens of thousands of people at city shelters, including the Superdome, where a policeman told CNN unrest was escalating.
  The officer expressed concern that the situation could worsen overnight after three shootings, looting and a number of attempted carjackings during the afternoon.
  This video is also amazing, via Brian Leiter. As noted earlier, you can donate to the Red Cross relief efforts here.
cirby (mail):
I'm interested in how they're planning on keeping people out, once they've gotten them to leave. Some of the "let them in once only" suggestions seem sorta, well, not allowing for human nature...

Not to mention, of course, what sort of laws are going to be slammed through in order to help force reconstruction in various damaged areas - anyone want to bet on the status of riverboat gambling versus plain old buildings in the near future in Mississippi? Pretty much all of those lucrative casinos are gone, and the tax money will be really necessary.
8.30.2005 11:57pm
Justin Kee (mail):
I followed the news over the course of the weekend and it was not until Sunday afternoon that I first heard about the evacuation of New Orleans and the surrounding coastal areas. Watching the news tonight I am stunned by several things I have seen:

1) The apparent lack of overall preparedness by city, state and federal authorities for an event, such as this, that was statistically extremely likely to happen.

2) The apparent lack of urgency given to warnings proffered by weather forecasters. If a storm of this magnitude was in the gulf and had a decent probability of afflicting New Orleans directly, were the weather models capable of reasonably predicting this event on Saturday morning or Friday evening? And if so, would the earlier warning have had an effect upon the percentage of the city population that were present when the storm hit on Monday morning?

3) Where is the National Guard for the state of Louisiana? I supposed that the levees breaking this morning took everyone by surprise, but given that New Orleans is the states population center, would they not be out in force to provide rescue assistance and maintain order?

The people of this area are going to need substantial relief. Let's hope that the situation improves sooner rather than later.
8.30.2005 11:58pm
Dylan Alexander (mail) (www):
Justin:

1) The statistical predictions I saw were for a "high probability" (I forget the odds, but not more than 50%) sometime in the next 50 years. Is that "extremely likely to happen"? Furthermore, what preparation do you suggest? Extra strong levees? How high, how thick? The real concern was for a storm surge to overtop the levees and fill up the whole bowl, which would have required raising the levees by at least ten feet to "ensure" safety. What actually happened was broken levees that might (might) have been prevented by thicker levees. The estimated cost I saw for taller levees was several billion dollars. Given the not very "extreme" likelihood of this event, would that have been money well spent? By who? Shouldn't NO and LA pay for their own foolish location at the bottom of a leaky pit?

2) The weather forcasters' urgency was far greater than usual. The elected officials were slow in ordering an evacuation, and residents have warning fatigue: every hurricane is "the one" that's going to wipe them out. Plus, many, if not most, of those who did not evacuate cited no place to go or money/method to get there.

3). Only 30% of the National Guard was mobilized prior to the storm striking. Call ups are limited to what is known to be useful at that moment so that personnel not urgently needed can look after their own families. Shockingly, the Guard chose not to position much of this limited force in a city that if the worst happened would be a vast swimming pool. Nor is it obvious what they could do right now. They can't swim to those in need of rescue. There appears to be no political will to have them shoot looters. Setting up camps and food depots for the homeless would have been somewhat premature until the storm had passed, so that such things won't themselves be destroyed, and the Guard knows how much they need, and where.

The only thing that could have greatly improved the situation so far is some limited shooting of looters at the beginning and a more complete evacuation. Perhaps a review of last weekend will show that warnings were insufficient. I very much doubt it, however. Some couldn't move, and some are never going to believe the threat is big enough.
8.31.2005 12:20am
Rick Ballard (mail):
Dylan,

Another 24 hours or so and the looters begging for rescue will begin to understand that they are only going to be coming out with what they have stuffed in their pockets. If they wait a bit longer natural selection will prove efficacious. There is no real need to shoot them.
8.31.2005 1:31am
Dylan Alexander (mail) (www):
Perhaps. I certainly don't think the looting per se is bad enough to justify summary shootings, but today you got your fix (medicinial or emotional) knocking over all of the stores, might you not get tomorrows by robbing your neighbors?
8.31.2005 1:38am
GM (mail):
Dylan-
Since the forecasters seemed to agree that such devestation was possible, it would seem prudent for there to have been some way to evacuate those from the city that don't have the means; this is a huge oversight for a city with such a large bullseye on it. Let's hope the waters recede soon so help can get to the population that couldn't or wouldn't leave.
8.31.2005 2:46am
Frank Westhood (mail):
I wonder whether the international community in the spirit of multilateralism will pass the global test by sending humanitarian aid and funds to New Orleans.
8.31.2005 2:51am
Stephen Aslett (mail):
Cirby, the police are blocking I-10 east coming into the city. If you try to get in, they force to to exit. Even if you do get in, so many roads are impassable that I don't know what you'd do once you got there.

---

Actually, Justin, as a native who's had to evacuate almost half a dozen times, I can tell you that the city was as prepared as it has ever been.

Voluntary evacuations went into effect very early, and forecasters were encouraging people to leave the city even before then. Contraflow was implemented promptly, which allowed more people to evacuate than otherwise could have. Local relief agencies and the national guard were able to house nearly 30,000 people in the Superdome and keep them fed, watered, and safe. Early estimates are that about 75-80% of the city successfully evacuated. The coast guard has reported that over 3,000 people have been saved from being plucked off their roofs by helicopters and volunteer crews in boats. And even though all the major hospitals are shutting down, helicopters are shuttling people to Baton Rouge area hospitals as fast as they can.

While national guard strength is not what it could be given the Iraq War, my understanding is that at least 3,000 troops from several states are being deployed to the city. As Dylan said, it would have been foolish to have a huge national guard presence in the city had the worst case scenario actually occurred and the city was flooded with 25 feet of water.

Even with things as bad as they are, they could have been much worse. Looting is only really bad because the police and national guard are forced to largely ignore it. The first priority is to rescue people trapped on top of their houses and to evacuate people still in the Superdome and area hospitals.

Right now, the water is rising because there are several breaches in the 17th Street Canal levee causing water from Lake Ponchartrain to flood into the city. As the water rushes in, pumps that have been keeping the water out are starting to get overwhelmed and fail. The mayor has said that soon all the pumps will be out of commission and that the water will keep rising until it equalizes with the lake. That means that almost the entire eastbank--New Orleans and the suburbs of Metarie and Kenner--will see 9 feet of water within the next 12 hours. That assuredly means that any places on the eastbank that weren't flood until now will be soon. Things will get worse before they get better.

Anyway, your best source of information is not CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or any other national media outlet. The most up-to-date and accurate information comes from local news. I suggest you check out:

WWL's Katrina blog: http://www.wwltv.com/local/stories/WWLBLOG.ac3fcea.html

The Times-Picayune blog:

http://www.nola.com/newslogs/breakingtp/

And paper:

http://www.nola.com/hurricane/katrina/

If you need to orient yourself geographically, Kathryn Cramer has done an excellent job pointing out where the breach has occurred on her blog.

http://www.kathryncramer.com/
8.31.2005 2:55am
AppSocRes (mail):
Three comments: (1) As bad as things are, they could have been much worse: The worst case scenario would have been a category 5 storm hitting just west of New Orleans. As it turned out, Katerina hit east of the city and powerd down to a category 4 storm before hitting land. Within the last two years, the television show NOVA suggested that the worst case scenario was overdue in New Orleans and projected that it would result in about the damage we are seeing now. At the time, this seemed like a doomsday scenario. (2) As bad as things are now, they are going to get MUCH worse. The New Orleans Basin has trapped the excreta of human industry and habitation for three centuries. The flooding is going to result in a toxic stew that will breed epidemics and may be impossible to ever fully eradicate. It would not surprise me if ultimately the current site of New Orleans is deserted and a New New Orleans is built on a more rationally chosen site. (3) Allowing for the fact that New Orleans has a very large African-American population; that large segments of this population might have been unable to escape the city due to a lack of resources; and that camera crews might have had trouble under these circumstances filming white looters: Why is it that all the looting I have seen on television so far has involved only African-Americans? This is becoming a distressingly familiar pattern: Major disaster followed by looting that appears on the face of it to be largely done by African-Americans behaving in a way that would gladden the heart of the most vicious racist!
8.31.2005 9:23am
Eric Muller (mail) (www):
Do my eyes deceive me? Or have some commenters responded to Orin's very reasonable and compassionate post by opening up a debate on the merits of shooting looters?
8.31.2005 9:24am
Dylan Alexander (mail) (www):
GM,

There weren't means to evacuate all of those with cars. Blogger Ernie the Attorney tried to leave about noon on Sunday and abandoned the attempt after only making 15 miles in 4 hours. How would tens of thousands of the poor, hospitalized, and handicapped have been evacuated on those roads, even if proper transport could have been organized? Well, by starting earlier, sure. How early? Friday? What was the perceived threat then? Is New Orleans to organize a total evacuation at immense cost every time a hurricane is projected to maybe hit several days from then? How many times can this Chinese fire drill happen before people get bored and quit participating? How many hospital patients will die being moved in these false alarms?

The sad fact is that this is an insoluble problem. Even the clearest of warnings and most extreme danger can only convince most, not all to evacuate, and even then will come too late for others to be convinced while the opportunity for escape still exists. A full evactuation will involve not only a will that isn't there, but a massive mobilization of resources that will usually prove unecessary if done early enough to be effective.
8.31.2005 10:22am
Adam (mail) (www):
For what it's worth, Hugo Chavez and Venezuela have offered aid.
8.31.2005 10:56am
anonymous coward:
As far as the apparent racial makeup of "looters," Wonkette makes a relevant observation.
8.31.2005 10:57am
Ted F (www):
I think shooting looters is a compassionate way to protect the safety and well-being of law-abiding citizens. Time after time it has been shown that the way to prevent deadly anarchic riots is to take firm decisive action to prevent matters from getting to a tipping point.
8.31.2005 10:58am
NYCer:
Do my eyes deceive me? Or have some commenters responded to Orin's very reasonable and compassionate post by opening up a debate on the merits of shooting looters?

Eric, we have many here who plainly know best.

As for my own Monday morning quarterbacking, I find it odd that people are currently concerned with looters/finders at all, at this point. From what I can tell from the news, FEMA and the other emergency groups have it about right - they're trying to save lives. Arguing about protecting property in a situation like would be laughable, if it weren't depressing. (If you disagree, imagine you're trapped in a building with water rising around you. Would you rather the limited number of emergency response people on hand look for you, or scare people away from your grocery store?)

I would even argue that a limited amount of looting in a situation like this is not only moral, but economically efficient. Stealing potable water and food to save lives at a point like this is morally justified, I think. As for the economic argument, even put aside potential lives saved, if something is going to spoil anyway, the marginal utility of someone using it in an emergency situation rather than it being a complete loss would seem to weigh towards the use. This is similar to libertarian arguments about smashing a window in a cabin to escape from a bear, except that the cabin will fall over if you don't break the window.

In any case, my heart goes out to these people. Lord, what a mess. I'm probably going to throw more money at the Red Cross again today, for want of being able to do anything else. I'm glad I'm not responsible for making decisions here - prioritizing limited resources for an unknown but large number of people in a crisis situation and ~1M displaced people... Well, it puts my management responsibilities in perspective.
8.31.2005 11:32am
Arthur (mail):
When your children are hungry, and your baby is perhaps facing malnutrition, and your own refrigerator and pantry are under a few feet of water, and there's an unlocked and mostly dry Walmart with milk and bread that is sure to rot if you don't take it, and no one to take your money even if you have some, "looting" is the only morally just action. Declining to "loot" would arguably amount to criminal child abuse.

When the mayor and the President have ordered a mandatory evacuation of your city, but provided no suggestion of how to leave, and you don't have a car of your own or you have one but it's too flooded to move, so you start walking to higher ground, and you finally come upon a usable car, and it's takign it and hotwiring is the only way to comply with the legal requirement that you leave the community, and also the only way you can reasonably expect to find food for yourself and your family, it's tiem to hotwire the car.
8.31.2005 11:38am
Ted F (www):
I'm not talking about people taking food and water to survive; I'm talking about gun-toting criminals violently robbing houses and pharmacies with impunity--in one case, rescue officials were using food from a Wal-Mart to distribute to people, and looters overwhelmed the officials and took everything in the store. In such situations, it's not the starving frail, elderly, or children who are going to end up with needed food. And it's one thing to hotwire an abandoned car; it's another to carjack someone who is also trying to escape. I love all this misplaced compassion that makes the poor worse off.
8.31.2005 11:48am
Edward Hasbrouck (mail) (www):
I find the suggestion of shooting looters -- in a a blog supposedly focused on *law* -- disturbing on mnay levels, but not least because of the equation of looting (theft, property crime) with *personal* violence. (I have seen only relatively minimal reports of personal violence.) Even if you beliEve in summary execution, should its first use be to protect property?

But the debate that goes on longer may be one that hasn't yet begun: whether to try to rebuild New Orleans on its present site, or to use the opportunity to relocate the city to the natural main channel of the Mississippi River.

As readers of John McPhee's "The Control of Nature" will recall, the Atchafalaya would have "captured" the Mississippi several decades ago, had it not artificially been constrained by levees and flow control structures. Such shifts are a natural and ultimately inevitable part of the life cycle and distribution of sediment in a river delta.McPhee says this has happened about every 1000 years or so in the Mississippi delta.

The efforts of the Corps of Engineers to keep the lower Mississippi in its current channel (already 20-30 feet, sometimes more, higher than the Atchafalaya at their precariously-controlled junction, and 150 miles longer than the course of the Atchafalaya) are unsustainable.

The only question is how soon the Atchafalaya will capture the Mississippi. Natural processes make postponing that ever harder. From what I've read, it's likely to occur within at most a few decades, certainly a century, possibly sooner.

Relocating New Orleans will be difficult, expensive, and disruptive, but will inevitably be necessary -- relatively soon. It may well make more sense, and minimize the total cost and disruption, to allow the Mississippi to take its natural new course, in an at least partially controlled way, *before* rebuilding New Orleans on a new site, rather than rebuilding now on the present site, having to suffer a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled realignment of the river later, and having to rebuild the city again, likely within at most a few deacdes.
8.31.2005 11:48am
OrinKerr:
Ted,

Are you serious? As I understand it, the property owners have mostly evacuated, and this is less of a "riot" than an attempt to steal property in an environment that is already quite devastated. (That's my understanding, at least. I haven't been watching TV this morning.) Given that factual picture, I can understand the police arresting looters to try to deter other looting and generally to maintain order. But a police policy of "shooting looters" would seem to value property more than life itself. How could that possibly be justified?
8.31.2005 11:49am
CatCube (mail):
I can understand the police arresting looters to try to deter other looting and generally to maintain order. But a police policy of "shooting looters" would seem to value property more than life itself.

The authorities don't have the resources to arrest and collect looters, and manage a rescue effort at the same time. If they allow looting to continue, the whole place will turn into something out of The Lord of the Flies with the strong preying on the weak.

In this situation, I'd posit that maintaining order--even with lethal force--is about the most important thing that the police and National Guard can do. If the looting isn't shut down, I think we'll start to see looters interfering with rescue efforts.
8.31.2005 12:21pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Regarding looting: At this point, it appears that New Orleans may be totally inundated. Perhaps not legally, but probably morally, the principles of compelling necessity and salvage are reasonable justifications for taking food, clothes, abandoned vehicles, and other neccessities of life -- even other valuables that will otherwise be destroyed or likely lost forever. I think Mr. Hasbrouk is right that a much more serious issue is ultimately going to be the decision whether the current site of New Orleans should be abandoned and the city rebuilt on another site.
8.31.2005 12:25pm
RogerA (mail):
From my perspective as a local emergency response coordinator for a public health district in a rural county in Washington State, I dont see how the authorities of NO could have done anything much different than they did. Does anyone comprehend how difficult it is to evacuate a major American city in a limited amount of time in view of a fast moving natural phenomena? It simply cant be done in 24-48 hours. There is also the issue of citizen responsibility for their own safety: people without cars bear some responsibility for not making personal plans for their own evacuation. And for all of the posters on this list, how many of you have made plans to evacuate your home in the event of a natural disaster--I thought so.

The governing principle in emergency management is that all emergencies are local. In Washington State, for example, a home rule state, the state has almost no authority to respond unless asked by county commissioners-The feds can only respond to requests from the governor; the posse comitatus act makes employment of federal troops for certain functions illegal etc etc.

Emergency management is a complicated business, made more difficult by a patchwork federal system or interlocking relationships between national, state, county and cities. And the fact that it was able to evacuate approximately 80 percent of NO, and provide emergency shelter in a facility for 20 thousand people, is no mean accomplishment. The fact that naval forces are being dispatched to assist is remarkable (naval ships are floating cities capable of providing potable water and health care facilities, BTW). The fact that guardsmen and supplies were prepositioned demonstrates considerable foresight. In short, I think the preparation was quite remarkable and saved many many more lives than would have been possible say 30 years ago.
8.31.2005 1:03pm
Ted F (www):
Orin,

Our disagreement may simply stem from our differing perceptions of what's happening, but I'm hearing of shootings and carjackings and other events that sound indistinguishable from riot. And you may be right that, now that the police have let the rioting begin, clamping down late isn't going to serve any purpose; if one is going to clamp down, it needs to happen decisively and early.

Arresting looters isn't feasible in this kind of catastrophic disaster situation; as it is, law enforcement is apparently having trouble controlling the criminals they already have in custody. In such a situation, the options are to stand by and do nothing, or to take aggressive action to maintain order. In the former scenario, fence-sitting bystanders quickly realize that they can loot with impunity, social order completely breaks down, and hundreds die because the weak and unarmed are victimized. In the latter situation, a few bad actors suffer unjustly disproportionate punishment and everyone else is better off. Inaction in the face of evil is very much a conscious policy choice with consequences. If someone wishes to argue that shooting violent looters is inefficacious, that's one thing, but simply to argue that doing so will lead to loss of life seems to me to ignore the opportunity costs of permitting looting.

This isn't a property-protection argument. I think the police have the right to go into the Schweggmann's and Winn-Dixie and commandeer the food and water supplies for public use in this situation. But the reality is that property redistribution is going to occur by force, and I think it preferable that that force be exercised by accountable representatives of the existing democratically elected government than ad hoc by criminals. "Necessity" doesn't explain smashing an ATM or a carjacking or stealing sneakers and jeans and electronics and random drugs.
8.31.2005 1:22pm
Abe Delnore (mail):
A discussion of the practice of shooting post-disaster looters must not ignore the racial component. It is true that, historically, forces upholding law and order after hurricanes have been empowered to shoot looters. But it's also the case that such incidents happened in the Southern United States--that's where hurricanes strike, after all--and that the looters were almost all poor and black and the law enforcers almost all white. Which identities were most important in the decision to shoot looters? So I wonder both if it was necessary to shoot looters after past disasters, and if the conditions that existed then have changed enough to make such shooting not just unnecessary but intolerable.

The thing that leapt out at me from the aerial photos of the Mississippi coast was the damage caused by the floating casinos. Does anyone think their owners could face liability for failing to secure them properly? They could have been flooded and resting on the bottom, preventing the storm surge from carrying them inland. Surely at some point in the approach of the storm, what actually happened was foreseeable.

--Abe Delnore
8.31.2005 3:26pm
NickM (mail) (www):
As for Wonkette's "point", that Agence France Presse chooses to call something "finding" which most of us would call looting should not matter much. That is not an American press source, and holding Americans to blame for racial motivations of people in other countries is absurd. In one AP article, a person not pictured but identified as a 37 year old banker who is interviewed is described as having looted food from a local store (and as eating "purloined grapes" while talking to the reporter). With that occupation, most people will assume him to be white.

New Orleans is a heavily black city. Of course the vast majority of the looters will be black.

Looting also comes on several levels.

Taking foodstuffs (including water) that are perishable (or readily susceptible to damage) from a grocery store where they face inundation and being rendered unsafe to eat, as discussed before by several posters, does no harm to the property owner's interests, being akin to salvage, and is morally responsible under doctrines of necessity.

To a lesser extent, taking clothing, batteries, medications and first aid supplies, and other useful items is likely acceptable under salvage and/or necessity doctrines. Even taking a firearm and ammunition may well be acceptable under those doctrines (as long as the taker's subjective intent is to use the firearm only for defensive purposes). A rule of reason may need to be applied to these - passing up other kinds of clothing to selectively empty the Christian Dior rack, or taking the Vicodin and leaving everything else at the pharmacy behind indicates a lack of necessity and a mere intent to steal.

Even the emptying of cash registers can have moral justification of necessity - because the cash will continue to be accepted as a medium of exchange in the aftermath of the hurricane, the taker may reasonably believe that taking the cash will be necessary in order to have something to trade for necessities (food, water, gasoline, etc.).

The people looting the consumer electronics or jewelry store, however, are almost assuredly operating with the intent to self-aggrandize. Their actions should still be treated as criminal, and with the inability to arrest and hold in the normal fashion resulting from the hurricane and the danger of widespread public disorder and rioting that may be brought on by widespread looting for self-aggrandizement, I believe it acceptable to quell such a disturbance right away by authorizing the shooting of such looters.

Hotwiring a parked car raises an entirely different set of issues - that car may have its owners in the process of packing their emergency supplies to evacuate the city (or may even be helping ready an elderly or disabled person who will leave with them). Taking another individual's personal necessities for oneself raises a question about whether it is proper to transfer your burdens onto someone else, and in the abstract, the answer should be "no". Now, if it is clear that the owners have fled already, both salvage and necessity doctrines come into play (although there would still be a moral duty to return the car after the emergency has passed). I believe there is also a moral duty to share under the circumstances, such that, for example, the hotwirer might well be obligated to accept passengers if they also appeared in need and it appeared safe to do so.

As far as the looters who were trying to break into Children's Hospital last night go, if they are seeking more than shelter (which the news reports indicate was the case), they are affirmatively endangering others, and under the circumstances dserve to be shot. The same applies to looters who overrun the authorities at a food distribution center (including a commandeered store).

Nick
8.31.2005 3:48pm
frankcross (mail):
I see a couple of common things in this thread;

First, people assert facts that are unsupported as indubitably true, which enables them to reach the conclusion they wish. I.e., without shooting the riot will reach the tipping point and society will break down.

Second, people may ignore practicality. If you authorize the shooting of looters, you put discretion in the hands of the police or other authorities. They are not omniscient. They are going to shoot people who don't qualify under the standards (especially if we have them making judgments like, are these people breaking into the hospital for more than shelter?
8.31.2005 4:43pm
RogerA (mail):
You know, my JD friends? if looters could steal billable hours I bet you idiots would be singing a different tune. You people make me want to puke.
8.31.2005 7:57pm
Rick Ballard (mail):
RogerA,

The thin veneer will continue to peel tonight. Little gangs have already started armed robbery of some of those who stayed behind. They'll figure out pretty quick that burning the evidence makes very good sense if there is no chance that the fire department can respond. That's after they murder the victim, of course. No sense leaving any witnesses behind.

You don't shoot looters to protect property, you shoot looters to preserve order. Except on the planet where the bien pensants believe that there are no predators capable of a bit of foresight.
8.31.2005 9:14pm
NYCer:
I know this thread is a bit old, but once more into the breach: if looters are going to be shot, who exactly is authorized to shoot? [PDF]

I'm sure those arguing that civil order allows shooting looters would also say that shooting cops is not helping civil order. What happens when the cops are looters? Or are those DVDs somehow emergency provisions?
8.31.2005 10:33pm