Katrina vs the San Diego fires: Compare and contrast

Remember the fiasco that was NOLA after Katrina struck? The mayor running around calling for buses when he knew he had dozens of them within a mile of the Superdome? The police chief of a partially ghost police force spreading rumors of rapes and murders in the convention center and the dome that turned out to be unfounded? The state governor blocking Red Cross aid from entering the city while conferring with Clintonistas on how to politicize the whole deal?

California is dealing with an immense catastrophe right now. It’s not on the scale of Katrina and probably won’t get there, but it is a sizable disaster area. It’s the largest evacuation in state history. Are Californians running around blaming the world for the natural disaster and descending into madness?


Like Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years earlier in New Orleans, thousands of people rousted by natural disaster fled to the NFL stadium here, waiting out the calamity and worrying about their homes.

The similarities ended there, as an almost festive atmosphere reigned at Qualcomm Stadium.

Bands belted out rock ‘n’ roll, lavish buffets served gourmet entrees, and massage therapists helped relieve the stress for those forced to flee their homes because of wildfires.

“The people are happy. They have everything here,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Monday night after his second Qualcomm tour.

That quote has a bread and circuses quality about it, but it does seem that the governator is handling the situation well, and so are the people who’ve crowded into the stadium.

At Qualcomm, thousands of tents, many set up by relief organizations, provided temporary roofs, while hundreds of people slept on open-air cots. Some elderly evacuees were housed in stadium club boxes.

Aggressive efforts by disaster-response officials to bring supplies helped ensure civility. A heavy police contingent and National Guard troops with automatic weapons stood by just in case.

The New Orleans evacuees had dragged themselves through floodwaters to get to the Louisiana Superdome in 2005, and once there endured horrific conditions without food, sanitation or law enforcement.

The comparison isn’t entirely fair, since much of Katrina’s disaster zone was unreachable and that disaster unfolded so slowly that its full extent wasn’t really grasped immediately. But the difference between responses then and now seems to come down to leadership, starting at the local and state level and then up to the federal level.

In other words, while Bobby Jindal will probably make a great governor for Louisiana, there’s a very good reason that Kathleen Blanco didn’t run for another term. She would have lost, because she failed when her state needed her the most.

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