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9.21.2005

My Brother - A Firsthand Account of the Failures of FEMA 

Just got off the phone with my brother who is a medical supervisor at a hospital in the southern coastal area of Louisiana. He sounded tired and told me he has been getting an average of 2 -3 hours of sleep since August 28 (the day Katrina hit).

He just evacuated his entire hospital in preparation for Rita and is standing by awaiting final evacuation orders to shut down the only hospital in a 50 mile radius of where he lives.

This is literally the first time I have spoken to him since Katrina. He told me several stories about what has happened and is happening there now.

A little background on my brother. He was part of a task force that worked with the state OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness) to develop emergency plans for terrorist attacks and natural disasters. He adamantly stands by the plans that were made saying what that team developed was a good system to handle these types of disasters.

I asked him where they system failed. He said that from the city level on up to the federal level was supposed to rely on each other to help but as soon as the actual disaster hit, there was an every man or organization for itself mentality that immediately took over.

FEMA took over the relief operations on day 3 and he was relieved when it happened. He thought that help would be forthcoming. His hospital received 43 evacuees from New Orleans and immediately began tending to their needs. The evacuees, were predominantly elderly but not all poor. He said there were many professionals in the group.

He asked one elderly lady why she didn't leave and she told him she had been using public transportation for 50 years, she had never owned a car, and the television news said busses would be available to transport people who needed it, out of New Orleans. She packed and waited but no bus ever came.

As they used their medicinal supplies to treat these additional patients, representatives of FEMA came to his hospital and went through the procedures to provide them with more supplies and equipment. As they left they assured him, help was on the way. Nothing came. A few days later the scene was repeated with different reps from FEMA and again he was told help was coming. Nothing came. He said they have been visited ten times by FEMA officials and as of today, 20 days later, not one piece of equipment, medical supply, food item or money has filtered down to their hospital.

He got a call today from a yet another FEMA official and told him they would be sending supplies. He told them to send them to another hospital because he had evacuated the patients out of the path of Rita.

Red Cross visited his hospital 3 times and assured him they where on the case. Red Cross performed better than FEMA, they sent 43 $20 vouchers for clothes at a Goodwill store, I kid you not, in New Orleans. Only good at that location, only valid for three weeks. My brother is saving one of those as a memento.

He told me of the call for aluminum flat hull boats immediately after the levees in New Orleans broke and 500 civilians responding to the call only to be turned away by FEMA, A group of doctors and nurses showing up in his city with a tractor trailer full of medical supplies and food ready to relieve the overworked professionals treating the evacuees were unceremoniously turned away by the Red Cross and told they did not accept any contributions except money and authorized corporate donations. They were not needed said the Red Cross as my brother and his staff worked up to 50 hours straight until they nearly collapsed from exhaustion.

There are many more stories to tell, he said and when he had more time he would "write a book".

Do you have faith the government will be able to handle a major terrorist attack or another natural disaster I asked him. He paused a moment and simply said, "No".

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