Help Hurricane Victims with Modest Needs

Modest Needs, a charity that helps people with short-term emergencies, has begun a relief program for two groups that are being overlooked after Hurricane Katrina: Gulf Coast residents who evacuated themselves and the people who took them in.

"While FEMA might eventually be able to help persons who evacuated on their own, that help is going to be some time coming," Modest Needs founder Keith Taylor told me in e-mail. "We're receiving applications from families across the country who've taken in as many -- no kidding -- 25 refugees from this storm."

The organization works like a charitable EBay, matching up individuals seeking help with people who want to help them. They verify applicants and often pay bills and other expenses directly. Taylor shares the details of one recent application from a family in Ruston, Louisiana:

My wife and I are housing and feeding four adults, one toddler and four cats who were evacuated from their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Red Cross has yet to issue food vouchers to evacuees in the state of Louisiana, so they cannot buy food or clothing. In our efforts to assist them, our electric, gas and grocery bills have increased (we opened our home to them on Sunday August 28, 2005). We are currently unsure of the amount of time the evacuees will need to stay with us; we are estimating one month. We will appreciate any assistance you may be able to provide.

Donors can fund an application like this directly or donate to the charity.

Modest Needs is a small organization with low expenses that are covered by a private grant, so 100 percent of the money donated to hurricane relief is being given to recipients. The charity, which took off in popularity after being linked on MetaFilter in 2002, doesn't spend any money on self-promotion, so it's utterly dependent on bloggers to get the word out.

The United States of Emergency

Will Ferrell as President Bush

Our Nation is prepared, as never before, to deal quickly and capably with the consequences of disasters and other domestic incidents. -- FEMA Chief Michael Brown, Senate testimony, March 9, 2005

Now that the initial shock of the disaster in New Orleans has worn off, Republicans have mobilized to defend President Bush, who appears to have replaced "I'll keep you safe" with a more nuanced slogan:

I'll protect you -- unless of course your local officials fail you, in which case I'll let you die a horrible death on national TV.

I don't understand Americans who are more concerned about damage to President Bush than damage to the Gulf. He's a lame duck in six months, 12 tops, so politicians who have aspirations beyond Jan. 20, 2009, will soon be abandoning him in droves. Burning your credibility in his defense is like working to rehabilitate the reputation of Michael Dukakis.

Clearly the local and state authorities share the blame for deaths after the storm passed New Orleans, but the whole reason to fund the multi-billion dollar FEMA is because there will be disasters far beyond the scope of states to handle on their own. A category 4 hurricane that devastated 90,000 square miles of three high-poverty states is one of those times.

It should have been mind-numbingly obvious to the federal government by Tuesday morning that huge resources must be marshalled to provide relief, restore order, and rescue survivors. President Bush issued an emergency disaster declaration before Katrina struck, according to Brown in a FEMA press release published two days before the storm:

FEMA will mobilize equipment and resources necessary to protect public health and safety by assisting law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters, supporting emergency medical needs, meeting immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining human needs and protecting property, in addition to other emergency protective measures.

This didn't happen, to such a spectacular degree that five days after the storm made landfall, Fox News anchors were reduced to live on-air begging for thousands trapped in misery at the Convention Center and Superdome.

When you hear Bush say "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" and Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff claim newspapers reported "New Orleans dodged the bullet" and Brown assign relief workers to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials" and send 1,000 firefighters to sex-harassment courses, it's clear that our government is totally incompetent at the mission it assumed after 9/11, the task that became the entire centerpiece of Bush's re-election campaign: We will protect the country and be ready for the next major attack.

Throw the bums out, in any order you like -- either from Bush all the way down to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin or from Nagin all the way up to Bush.

At a minimum, Bush should fire FEMA Chief Mike Brown and the two people below him on the ladder. None of the three had emergency management experience prior to joining the agency under President Bush, and it shows.

Shortly after Bush won on a tiebreaker in 2000, Saturday Night Live opened with A Glimpse Into Our Possible Future:

President Bush: Hey, America! So, how we all doing out there, huh? Yeah, not so good. I broke the Hoover Dam ... we had that war thing happen. But I mean, who ever heard of a Civil War, anyway? ... the Great Lakes are on fire -- even I know that's not good.

I think we may have reached a point where any other presidential candidate, past or future, would be better at the job. I'm trying to think of a nationally ambitious politician I wouldn't prefer over Bush at this point -- Alan Keyes, Leonard Peltier, even Ralph Nader. Is Lyndon LaRouche thinking of running again?

Cindy Sheehan and the Veterans for Peace Bus have rerouted their tour to Louisiana, setting up a Camp Casey in Covington with food and supplies collected in Crawford, Texas:

We have set up a permanent Camp Casey at the Pine View Middle School, 1115 West 28th Avenue, Covington, LA. We are using the school to support Veterans For Peace hurricane relief efforts for the people of the region. We are supporting The Red Cross with power, medical supplies, kitchen service, food bank and distribution, internet communications and trained medical personnel.

They're looking for donations of relief supplies like baby food and sterile gloves and equipment for a mobile Internet center to "communicate needs and direct displaced people to services."

If we could get John Roberts and Kanye West on that bus, we'd have a harmonic news convergence.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superuser

The Detroit Free Times covers Michael Barnett, the network admin barricaded in downtown New Orleans who's been publishing a post-hurricane journal called The Interdictor.

Barnett, an unabashed libertarian with a military background, has covered the disaster with his blog and streaming webcam while remaining online, which is both a journalistic and technological feat. To my knowledge, his connection never went down.

Last night, some of the troops stationed in the city found them:

Sometime around midnight, a squad of 82nd Airborne guys accompanied by a US Marshall busted into our Data Center with their M4-A1s to investigate the lights and movement. Personally, I know they were just bored -- there's no way they honestly thought there was some kind of threat up here just yards away from several huge military and police presences.

A friend lives in Baton Rouge in a house that fared well in the hurricane, so he's taken in around a dozen relatives as they decide what to do next.

One is an architect for a small firm based in New Orleans who has a wife, eight-month-old, and father living with him. Since his company may be out of business, he's looking for a job, primarily in the Baton Rouge or Lafayette areas of central Louisiana, but might consider other locations.

"He's a bit of a jack of all trades and I think he could be a contractor or a key guy for a contractor," according to my friend. If anyone has any job possibilities or advice for the suddenly unemployed, let me know.

Barbara Bush's Texas Hospitality

As Presidents Clinton and Bush toured the Astrodome yesterday, an NPR reporter recorded an amazing comment from First Lady Barbara Bush:

Almost everyone I've talked to says we're going to move to Houston. ... What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them.

Indeed. Losing your home, possessions, and loved ones is a small price to pay for the chance to live like a zombie in a strange place with thousands of people, on constant guard to protect your children, clothes, and cot.

On Air America, Al Franken retold the infamous story of his meeting on a plane with Barbara Bush, which I've attached as an eight-minute podcast. The story's hilarious, if you don't mind a little name-calling:

I told people this story the next day. And this is people who are Republicans, there were Democrats there -- this was just a journalistic thing ... Everyone laughed at the story, but what they laughed at the most was that I thought Barbara Bush was kidding. And they went oh no, no, no, no, no, she's horrible.

radio · politics · podcasts · hurricane-katrina · 2005/09/06 · 71 COMMENTS · Link

The Road Trip blog in St. Augustine reports that several gas stations in the area ran out of fuel this weekend:

... both gas stations in my neighborhood were out of fuel today. One (a Chevron affiliate) was completely out and another (a BP outlet) was out of regular. In fact, half the gas stations between here and Jacksonville on US 1 were dry Saturday night.

I haven't seen this myself, paying around $3 per gallon when I fueled up on Thursday. The Florida Times-Union reports current prices in Jacksonville ranging from $3.20 to $3.60.

Katrina.Com Owner Responds to Storm

A web designer whose personal site has been published for years at katrina.com has turned it into a Hurricane Katrina relief site in response to the huge traffic from victims, their loved ones, and others seeking information on the disaster.

Katrina Blankenship told ComputerWorld that the site has received 400,000 hits the past week, a twenty-fold increase on the normal monthly traffic.

... it wasn't until Monday morning -- when she saw her e-mail in-box full of messages -- that Blankenship realized how many worried Internet users had gravitated to her site for help. "They were scared to death," she said. "They still are now -- the calls that are coming in with the stories that they have. One caller asked, 'Please, can you help me find my husband?' -- things like that."

In less heartwarming news, a Jacksonville-area man who registered several Katrina-related domains has been sued for deceptive trade practices by Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Robert E. Moneyhan of Nassau County is accused of registering katrinadonations.com, katrinahelp.com, katrinarelief.com and katrinarelieffund.com with the intent of pocketing donations.

Moneyhan, who registered the domains under the name Demon Moon, told the Florida Times-Union he registered them to keep them out of the hands of cybersquatters. "As people were watching the storm, I knew that other people were going to be snatching up domain names and making a profit."

He removed donation links from the sites and replaced them with a for-sale offer, according to the attorney general's office. The domains appear to have been sold or tranferred on Saturday to Kevin Caruso of Chula Vista, Calif., the owner of tsunamis.com and preventsuicidenow.com.

Though I was tempted earlier this year by the process the World Meteorological Institute uses to select tropical storm names, I did not become a hurricanesquatter. The word "hurricane" followed by every scheduled name from 2005 to 2010 is owned by DisasterResistant.Com, which uses the sites to sell the Elder Valve, a $70 pipe valve that prevents human waste from returning to its creator during flooding:

Sewage finds the path of least resistance. All sewage at that pressure can go up one service line, sewage pressured up from over 100 or 1000 or 10,000 homes at higher elevations than yours. Sewage from that many homes could rocket up your line when no ground water is anywhere near your residence. Your yard could be dry, with raw sewage half way up your interior windows.

New Homes for New Orleans

Habitat for Humanity is beginning a home in a box program to quickly assemble, ship, and build new housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina:

Habitat's plan is to assemble the materials needed to build a house -- either purchased or donated -- and then, working with affiliates, churches, corporations and others in communities all over the country, volunteers, working with building specialists, will "pre-build" the frame of a home over a few days. The house will be tacked together to ensure a rock-solid fit, then the frame will be taken apart and the components placed, along with other necessary construction materials, in a container and shipped to an area along the Gulf Coast or New Orleans where families, volunteers and builders will rebuild the home.

These 1,100- to 1,300-square-foot homes will meet local housing codes at a cost to the charity of around $67,000 per home, if the 1,500-home, $100 million figure in the announcement is correct. You can donate online to support the effort.

More on charity efforts: The Liberal Blogs for Hurricane Relief campaign passed $150,000 this afternoon towards a goal of $1 million, and author John Grisham gave $5 million to help Mississippi residents rebuild.

'Abandoned By Our Own Country'

The president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, Aaron Broussard, appeared on Meet the Press this morning in an interview you can watch on Crooks and Liars.

Broussard reported FEMA officials who refused entry to shipments of water, turned back diesel fuel, and cut emergency phone lines:

We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history.

In disconsolate grief, Broussard broke down at the end of the interview while telling Russert a personal story about the head of emergency management for his parish. Watch it and you'll be crying too.

In the same show, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the federal government didn't realize the situation was bad Tuesday because newspapers said New Orleans had "dodged a bullet."

We're now witnessing our second mass evacuation in a week, as government officials try desperately to escape blame.

The man-made disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina rises from the local officials in New Orleans to the parish officials in southeast Louisiana to the state officials in Baton Rouge to the Louisiana Congressional delegation to FEMA to the Department of Homeland Security to Chertoff to President Bush, who now has the distinction of being the first president to lose a major American city on his watch since Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.

And if we don't demand real accountability from our leaders when all the rescue efforts are over and rebuilding has begun, the blame lies with us.

Broadcasting live from the New Orleans Convention Center on Hannity and Colmes last night, Fox News anchor Geraldo Rivera cried, holding a 10-month-old child as he discussed the extremely inhumane conditions 15,000 evacuees have been forced to live under.

Outside, a visibly despondent Shepard Smith pointed out locked exit doors on the center and road checkpoints that prevented the exit of people housed for six days without food, shelter, sanitation, and medicine.

"Let them go," Rivera begged.

View the 8-minute clip on Crooks and Liars.

When did the road to New Orleans go through the rabbit hole?

Pastor: God Destroyed New Orleans

Agape Press, the publishing division of the American Family Association, issued a press release Friday quoting a New Orleans pastor who celebrates the devastation in New Orleans for wiping out "much of the rampant sin common to the city."

Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans in Metairie, said that he warned for years God would pass judgment on the city:

New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again. ...

It's time for us to stand up against wickedness so that God won't have to deal with that wickedness.

More than 10,000 people are feared dead in Louisiana after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina and six days of severe privation in the flooded city of New Orleans.

Southern Decadence, a yearly gay pride event expected to bring 100,000 people to the French Quarter this year, had been scheduled to occur from Aug. 30 through Sept. 5.

Shanks, who has protested at abortion clinics, the ACLU, and Southern Decadence, told Associated Press in 2004 that legalization of same-sex marriage would doom the city:

One Category 5 hurricane coming up the river will take care of all Sodomite marriages ... I believe this will open the floodgate for God to bring judgment on our land.

He also prophesied an end to murder in New Orleans during a 2004 gathering of Operation Rescue if abortion clinics shut down.

Shanks and some members of his church evacuated to the High Place Campsite in Florence, Miss., according to an Operation Rescue web site affiliated with the pastor.

Kaye Trammell, an assistant professor of communication at LSU, began a Hurricane Katrina weblog as she rode out the approaching storm last weekend in Baton Rouge.

She writes in this morning's Washington Post about the experience:

We on-the-scene citizens don't mean to replace journalism. We don't have the resources. But we can provide first-person accounts in our own voices of what is happening.

Because blogs are so easy to create, they will only grow in number, and many will be covering crises in this personal way. Now that bloggers have figured out how to use the medium, it's time for government officials to do the same.

Dying of Thirst in New Orleans

As thousands of evacuees languished in the New Orleans Convention Center for four days, only one authority came to reassure them, according to NBC photographer Tony Zumbado:

I went back with Harry Connick Jr. He spoke to them and told them he would do anything he can to help them. They seemed to appreciate that. He's the only person of authority -- believe it or not, a musician -- to go in there and tell them that things are going to be ok.

Connick's upholding a fine tradition of entertainers keeping their heads in disaster, following the legendary Titanic Band and Robin Boltman, the magician who stayed on the sinking cruise ship Oceanos after the captain and crew left for the lifeboats.

Zumbado told NBC Nightly News he saw things so horrific inside the center he wouldn't film them, knowing the network wouldn't broadcast the footage. They found unbelievable stench from human waste and numerous dead bodies, including two babies who had died of dehydration and a teen dead in a freezer, her throat slashed after a rape.

Harry Connick and a journalist were able to get from Baton Rouge to these 15,000 desperate people, as he described on the Today Show. Until late night Thursday, when food and water was brought for the first time since the storm, no one else could manage it.

Connick:

It's easy to get to the convention center, we got there with no problem ... how hard is it to take a truck with water or food for these people? I don't understand. They told these people to go to the convention center for help and it's been five days. It's unbearable

There's a backlash against anyone who expresses anger about this disaster, as if it's just political gamesmanship to angle for the congressional mid-term elections next year. If anger isn't the proper response to babies dying for lack of water in the U.S., I don't know what is.