HOUSTON – Among Hurricane Katrina survivors, opinions on the government’s handling of the disaster relief remain mixed. Some applaud the relief effort’s leaders, while others have a more negative view on the official response.
With New Orleans in ruins and thousands feared dead, all levels of government have come under fire for their alleged lack of preparation before and after the hurricane struck a little more than two years ago.
Of the evacuees interviewed, many seemed split between showing gratitude for the aid they received from the government and resentment of being abandoned in a city that many survivors say resembles a war zone.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, just outside of the Reliant Center, a Houston evacuee shelter, an evacuee who appeared to be in his 20s thrust himself into the middle of a high-spirited crowd and started to chant “Fuck Bush, fuck Bush, fuck Bush.”
But the crowd protested, drowning out his cries.
“We ain’t here for that,” someone shouted. Seeing that the crowd did not share his anger, the man stopped chanting and walked away.
Meanwhile, inside the center, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco defended President Bush in a press conference Sunday.
“Help in those critical moments was slow in coming, but not by any fault of the President,” she said.
Blanco diminished the recent public outcry over the response to the disaster by saying “Everyone becomes a scapegoat.”
She also defended her own administration and herself by detailing their relief efforts and saying that the storm was so large and unexpected that it was almost impossible to adequately prepare for.
Some evacuees, including Deion Armstrong, disagreed.
“Louisiana was so unorganized,” he said. “Everyone knew this was eventually going to happen.”
He cited inadequate law enforcement, old pumps and the lackadaisical nature of New Orleans citizens as some of the problems.
“If people hadn’t had gone to help us, we wouldn’t have helped ourselves,” he said. “We try to party too much. That’s why they call it the Big Easy.”
He compared Houston’s response to New York’s four years ago after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers, adding that New Orleans was not as prepared.
Evacuee Ricky Hampton echoed Armstrong’s statement.
“The governor ain’t done her job,” he said. “A lot of kids should have been on buses a week before the storm. They’ve known what was going to happen for years.”
Evacuee Wilford Jones waited for three days on a bridge in News Orleans for someone to rescue him.
“No one ever came,” he said. “We all had to rescue ourselves.”
Some survivors, including Walter Davis, said they were just glad to be alive.
“I can’t ask for no more (from the government),” he said. “They’re just like us, they’re human. You can’t point your finger.”
About 15 people protested Bush’s slow response to the hurricane on Monday just outside of Reliant City, the nickname for the makeshift community of two shelters housing evacuees. The protesters criticized Bush’s alleged indifference to hurricane victims as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s oft-criticized job handling the crisis.
One passing evacuee yelled “George W. Bush is a criminal, he doesn’t give a damn about us, he stole our money and our homes.”
The main protester, evacuee Gloria Rubac, chanted “Get the troops out of Iraq – get the money to the people of New Orleans” and “Justice to New Orleans, justice to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
Other evacuees criticized FEMA’s ongoing recovery efforts.
Evacuee Lisa White said she blames FEMA for being unable to find her temporary housing. White said FEMA told her an apartment in Houston was available to her, free of charge for the next two months. But upon attempting to move into the apartment, White said the landlord wanted her to pay for the rent. With barely any money on her, White said she had no choice but to return her shelter in Reliant Center.
“FEMA is stealing my money,” she said.
Similar criticisms caused FEMA Director Mike Brown to step down Monday. He had already been stripped of his duties to supervise the rescue efforts in New Orleans the week before.
Most of the evacuees The Michigan Daily interviewed described a difference between the government relief available in Houston and those in News Orleans. Many applauded Houston’s hospitality. But there were some exceptions.
Thea Elder, who is black, carried a sign at the Sunday protest that read “Impeach Bush, Race Matters.”
Elder said she and her fiancee Nicholas Miller, who is of mixed ethnicity, had been given “No apartment, no help” despite promises that they would receive housing since they evacuated New Orleans when authorities told them to do so. Elder said she believes the reasons they have received little aid are because of racism.
On Monday in New Orleans, Bush denied that poor black victims of the hurricane were ignored because of their skin color and economic situation, the Associated Press reported.