The Wood Shed

You never know what you're going to find in the pile.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Unreported Side of Katrina

Remember the mainstream media reports in the days following Katrina? According to the MSM it was days before help arrived. It may have been days before FEMA showed but the National Guard and Coast Guard mounted the largest search and rescue mission ever managed as soon as the winds allowed rotors to turn. Lou Dolinar over at RCP has a heart-warming article on what the MSM missed/ignored in their slanted coverage of the aftermath. It's long but well worth the read. For those of you with ADD, here are some highlights:

From the Dome, the Louisiana Guard's main command ran at least 2,500 troops who rode out the storm inside the city, a dozen emergency shelters, 200-plus boats, dozens of high-water vehicles, 150 helicopters, and a triage and medical center that handled up to 5,000 patients (and delivered 7 babies). The Guard command headquarters also coordinated efforts of the police, firefighters and scores of volunteers after the storm knocked out local radio, as well as other regular military and other state Guard units.


Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia, cited "10,244 sorties flown, 88,181 passengers moved, 18,834 cargo tons hauled, 17,411 saves" by air. Unlike the politicians, they had a working chain of command that commandeered more relief aid from other Guard units outside the state. From day one.

Meanwhile, late Monday, Louisiana National Guard HQ moved its high tech "unified command suite" and tents to the upper parking deck of the Superdome. This degraded communications for about four hours but ultimately gave them satellite dishes for phone and Internet connections to the outside world, Wi-fi, plus radios that were the only talk of the town. Helicopters and boats, as we noted, were already bringing in survivors there. About fifty men and women, black and white, worked per shift, equipped with maps, laptops, phone and radios to coordinate the rescue operation. The rescuers called it the "eagles' nest".

The operation was impossible to hide or ignore and some news outlets may have mentioned it in passing. Still, I haven't seen anything reported that sounded like what the two Majors described Tuesday morning: helicopters landing every minute; big ones, like the National Guard Chinooks, literally shaking the decking of the rooftop parking lot; little ones like the ubiquitous Coast Guard Dolphins; Black Hawks everywhere, many with their regular seats torn out so they could accommodate more passengers, standing. Private air ambulance services evacuating patients from flood-threatened hospitals. Owners of private helicopters who showed up to volunteer, and were sent on their way with impromptu briefings on basic rescue needs. Overhead, helicopters stacked in a holding pattern.
By the end of the week 150 National Guard aircraft were operating, plus regular military and Coast Guard units who also dropped off survivors. The biggest problem rescuers faced, according to crew members I've interviewed, was the danger of aerial collisions.

In all this time, Dressler said, "We didn't see a single camera crew or reporter on the scene. Maybe someone was there with a cell phone or a digital camera but I didn't see anyone." This was in the headquarters area. Maj. Ed Bush, meanwhile, did start seeing reporters on Tuesday and Wednesday, but inside the Dome, most were interested in confirming the stacks of bodies in the freezers, interviews with rape victims, he said, and other mayhem that never happened. He pitched the rescue angle and no one was interested. A few reporters and film crews did hitch rides on helicopters, came back, and produced stories of people stuck on rooftops, not stories about rescues, he said.

Neither Maj. Bush nor Dressler saw TV until the end of the week. They were aghast. Apart from sporadic mentions, the most significant note taken of this gigantic operation was widespread reporting of the rumor that a sniper had fired on a helicopter. What were termed evacuations in some cases, rescue operations in others, were said to have been halted as a result. "I never knew how badly we were being killed in the media," Maj. Ed Bush says. In reality, the only shots fired at the Guard were purely metaphorical and originated with the media. Rescues continued 24/7 at a furious pace.

Why did we not see coverage of such a massive operation? I remember seeing reporters wading through the streets of New Orleans. It is virtually impossible that they failed to notice the scale of flight operations being conducted over their heads. Where were the video clips of the holding pattern over the dome? Someone decided that the largest search and rescue mission in history was not the story. Bad media, as usual. Congratulations to the National Guard and Coast Guard for a job well done.

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