Thank you. Now before I swear Judge Thomas, I ask the police officer to go to the front of that door. While Judge Thomas is speaking do not let anyone in or anyone out. He is entitled to absolute quiet in this room, no matter who it is that comes in.
Judge, would you stand to be sworn?
(Judge Thomas is sworn.)
Judge, you have an opening statement, please proceed.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Thurmond, members of the committee. As excruciatingly difficult as the last two weeks have been, I welcome the opportunity to clear my name today. No one other than my wife and Senator Danforth, to whom I read this statement at 6:30 a.m. has seen or heard this statement. No handlers, no advisors.
The first I learned of the allegations by Professor Anita Hill was on September 25, 1991, when the FBI came to my home to investigate her allegations. When informed by the FBI agent of the nature of the allegations and the person making them, I was shocked, surprised, hurt and enormously saddened. I have not been the same since that day.
For almost a decade my responsibilities included enforcing the rights of victims of sexual harassment. As a boss, as a friend, and as a human being I was proud that I had never had such an allegation leveled against me, even as I sought to promote women and minorities into non-traditional jobs.
In addition, several of my friends who are women have confided in me about the horror of harassment on the job or elsewhere. I thought I really understood the anguish, the fears, the doubts, the seriousness of the matter. But since September 25th, I have suffered immensely as these very serious charges were leveled against me. I have been racking my brains and eating my insides out trying to think of what I could have said or done to Anita Hill to lead her to allege that I was interested in her in more than a professional way and that I talked with her about pornographic or X-rated films.
Contrary to some press reports, I categorically denied all of the allegations and denied that I ever attempted to date Anita Hill when first interviewed by the FBI. I strongly reaffirm that denial.
Let me describe my relationship with Anita Hill. In 1981, after I went to the Department of Education as an assistant secretary in the office of civil rights, one of my closest friends from both college and law school, Gil Hardy (sp), brought Anita Hill to my attention. As I remember, he indicated that she was dissatisfied with her law firm and wanted to work in government. Based primarily if not solely on Gil's recommendation, I hired Anita Hill.
During my tenure at the Department of Education, Anita Hill was an attorney advisor who worked directly with me. She worked on special projects, as well as day-to-day matters. As I recall, she was one of two professionals working directly with me at the time. As a result, we worked closely on numerous matters. I recall being pleased with her work product and the professional but cordial relationship which we enjoyed at work. I also recall engaging in discussions about politics and current events.
Upon my nomination to become chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Anita Hill, to the best of my recollection, assisted me in the nomination and confirmation process. After my confirmation, she and Diane Holt, then my secretary, joined me at EEOC. I do not recall that there was any question or doubt that she would become a special assistant to me at EEOC, although as a career employee she retained the option of remaining at the Department of Education.
At EEOC, our relationship was more distant and our contacts less frequent as a result of the increased size of my personal staff and the dramatic increase and diversity of my day-to-day responsibilities. Upon reflection, I recall that she seemed to have had some difficulty adjusting to this change in her role. In any case, our relationship remained both cordial and professional.
At no time did I become aware, either directly or indirectly, that she felt I had said or done anything to change the cordial nature of our relationship. I detected nothing from her or from my staff, or from Gil Hardy (sp), our mutual friend, with whom I maintained regular contact. I am certain that had any statement or conduct on my part been brought to my attention I would remember it clearly because of the nature and seriousness of such conduct, as well as my adamant opposition to sex discrimination and sexual harassment. But there were no such statements.
In the spring of 1983, Mr. Charles Kothe contacted me to speak at the Law School at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Anita Hill, who is from Oklahoma, accompanied me on that trip. It was not unusual that individuals on my staff would travel with me occasionally. Anita Hill accompanied me on that trip primarily because this was an opportunity to combine business and a visit to her home.
As I recall, during our visit at Oral Roberts University, Mr. Kothe mentioned to me the possibility of approaching Anita Hill to join the faculty at Oral Roberts University Law School. I encouraged him to do so and noted to him, as I recall, that Anita Hill would do well in teaching. I recommended her highly and she eventually was offered a teaching position.
Although I did not see Anita Hill often after she left EEOC, I did see her on one or two subsequent visits to Tulsa, Oklahoma. And on one visit I believe she drove me to the airport. I also occasionally received telephone calls from her. She would speak directly with me or with my secretary, Diane Holt. Since Anita Hill and Diane Holt had been with me at the Department of Education, they were fairly close personally and I believe they occasionally socialized together. I would also hear about her through Linda Jackson, then Linda Lambert (sp), whom both Anita Hill and I met at the Department of Education, and I would hear of her from my friend, Gil (sp).
Throughout the time that Anita Hill worked with me I treated her as I treated my other special assistants. I tried to treat them all cordially, professionally, and respectfully and I tried to support them in their endeavors and be interested in and supportive of their success. I had no reason or basis to believe my relationship with Anita Hill was anything but this way until the FBI visited me a little more than two weeks ago.
I find it particularly troubling that she never raised any hint that she was uncomfortable with me. She did not raise or mention it when considering moving with me to EEOC from the Department of Education, and she'd never raised it with me when she left EEOC and was moving on in her life. And, to my fullest knowledge, she did not speak to any other women working with or around me who would feel comfortable enough to raise it with me, especially Diane Holt, to whom she seemed closest on my personal staff. Nor did she raise it with mutual friends such as Linda Jackson and Gil Hardy (sp).
This is a person I have helped at every turn in the road since we met. She seemed to appreciate the continued cordial relationship we had since day one. She sought my advice and counsel, as did virtually all of the members of my personal staff.
During my tenure in the executive branch as a manager, as a policymaker, and as a person, I have adamantly condemned sex harassment. There is no member of this Committee or this Senate who feels stronger about sex harassment than I do. As a manager, I made every effort to take swift and decisive action when sex harassment raised or reared its ugly head. The fact that I feel so very strongly about sex harassment and spoke loudly at EEOC has made these allegations doubly hard on me. I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment.
But with that said, if there is anything that I have said that has been misconstrued by Anita Hill or anyone else to be sexual harassment, then I can say that I am so very sorry and I wish I had known. If I did know, I would have stopped immediately and I would not, as I've done over the past two weeks, have to tear away at myself, trying to think of what I could possibly have done. But I have not said or done the things that Anita Hill has alleged. God has gotten me through the days since September 25th, and he is my judge.
Mr. Chairman, something has happened to me in the dark days that have followed since the FBI agents informed me about these allegations. And the days have grown darker as this very serious, very explosive, and very sensitive allegation -- or these sensitive allegations were selectively leaked in a distorted way to the media over the past weekend. As if the confidential allegations themselves were not enough, this apparently calculated public disclosure has caused me, my family, and my friends enormous pain and great harm. I have never in all my life felt such hurt, such pain, such agony. My family and I have been done a grave and irreparable injustice.
During the past two weeks, I lost the belief that if I did my best all would work out. I called upon the strength that helped me get here from Pin Point, and it was all sapped out of me. It was sapped out of me because Anita Hill was a person I considered a friend whom I admired and thought I had treated fairly and with the utmost respect. Perhaps I could have been -- better weathered this if it was from someone else. But here was someone I truly felt I had done my best with. Though I am by no means a perfect person, no means, I have not done what she has alleged, and I still don't know what I could possibly have done to cause her to make these allegations.
When I stood next to the President in Kennebunkport being nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, that was a high honor; but as I sit here before you 103 days later, that honor has been crushed. From the very beginning, charges were leveled against me from the shadows, charges of drug abuse, antisemitism, wife beating, drug use by family members, that I was a quota appointment, confirmation conversion, and much, much more. And now, this.
I have complied with the rules. I responded to a document request that produced over 30,000 pages of documents, and I have testified for five full days under oath. I have endured this ordeal for 103 days. Reporters sneaking into my garage to examine books I read. Reporters and interest groups swarming over divorce papers looking for dirt. Unnamed people starting preposterous and damaging rumors. Calls all over the country specifically requesting dirt.
This is not American; this is Kafkaesque. It has got to stop. It must stop for the benefit of future nominees and our country. Enough is enough.
I'm not going to allow myself to be further humiliated in order to be confirmed. I am here specifically to respond to allegations of sex harassment in the workplace. I am not here to be further humiliated by this committee or anyone else, or to put my private life on display for prurient interests or other reasons. I will not allow this committee or anyone else to probe into my private life. This is not what America is all about. To ask me to do that would be to ask me to go beyond fundamental fairness.
Yesterday I called my mother. She was confined to her bed, unable to work and unable to stop crying. Enough is enough.
Mr. Chairman, in my 43 years on this earth I have been able with the help of others and with the help of God to defy poverty, avoid prison, overcome segregation, bigotry, racism and obtain one of the finest educations available in this country, but I have not been able to overcome this process. This is worse that any obstacle or anything that I have ever faced.
Throughout my life I have been energized by the expectation and the hope that in this country I would be treated fairly in all endeavors. When there was segregation I hoped there would be fairness one day or some day. When there was bigotry and prejudice, I hope that there would be tolerance and understanding some day.
Mr. Chairman, I am proud of my life, proud of what I have done and what I have accomplished, proud of my family and this process, this process is trying to destroy it all. No job is worth what I have been through, no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don't confirm me if you are so led, but let this process end. Let me and my family regain our lives.
I never asked to be nominated. It was an honor. Little did I know the price, but it is too high.
I enjoy and appreciate my current position and I am comfortable with the prospect of returning to my work as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and to my friends there. Each of these positions is public service and I have given at the office. I want my life and my family's life back, and I want them returned expeditiously.
I have experienced the exhilaration of new heights from the moment I was called to Kennebunkport by the President to have lunch and he nominated me. That was the high point. At that time, I was told eye-to-eye that, "Clarence, you made it this far on merit. The rest is going to be politics." And it surely has been.
There have been other highs. The outpouring of support from my friends of long standing; a bonding like I have never experienced with my old boss, Senator Danforth; the wonderful support of those who have worked with me. There have been prayers said for my family and me by people I know and people I will never meet, prayers that were heard and that sustained not only me, but also my wife and my entire family.
Instead of understanding and appreciating the great honor bestowed upon me, I find myself here today defending my name, my integrity, because somehow select portions of confidential documents dealing with this matter were leaked to the public.
Mr. Chairman, I am a victim of this process. My name has been harmed. My integrity has been harmed. My character has been harmed. My family has been harmed. My friends have been harmed. There is nothing this committee, this body, or this country can do to give me my good name back. Nothing.
I will not provide the rope for my own lynching or for further humiliation. I am not going to engage in discussions nor will I submit to roving questions of what goes on in the most intimate parts of my private life or the sanctity of my bedroom. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private.
Thank you, Judge. You will not be asked to.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Phillips Philes Phlashback: Judge Clarence Thomas of Georgia - Confirmation Opening Speech - October 11, 1991
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/15/2005 11:28:00 PM
Monday, September 12, 2005
On May 31, 1889, a neglected dam and a phenomenal storm led to a catastrophe in which 2,209 people died. It's a story of great tragedy, but also of triumphant recovery. Visit the Johnstown Flood Museum, which is operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, to find out more about this shocking episode in American history.
The following narrative about the 1889 flood is by Edwin Hutcheson, excerpted from "Floods of Johnstown: 1889-1936 -1977," published in 1989 by the Cambria County Tourist Council. It is one of many books about the 1889 flood available in JAHA's online store.
By the morning of May 31, 1889, there was water in the streets. Business people were moving their wares to the upper stories of their buildings. Families moved furnishings and supplies they would need to wait out the deluge.
Johnstown had been built into a river valley on the Appalachian Plateau. The Little Conemaugh and the Stony Creek Rivers, which ran along the peripheral of the town and merged to form the Conemaugh River at the western end, drained a 657 square mile watershed which dropped in the rivers from mountains 500 feet above (Click here for a map of the area, published shortly after the flood). At least once a year, one or both of the rivers overflowed into the streets sending the town's residents into a scurry to protect what they could of their homes and belongings.
Some of these floods were caused when heavy snows melted too quickly in the spring. And others, at any season of the year, when a heavy rain fell over the area. Whichever, floods were a fact of life to the nineteenth century resident of this industrial community in southwestern Pennsylvania. And, in the late afternoon of May 31, 1889, people were gathered in the upper stories of their homes, waiting out the worst of it, just as they had done many times before.
Even as the residents of Johnstown prepared for their long wait, activity at the South Fork dam, just 14 miles above the city was frantic. The South Fork dam held back Lake Conemaugh, the pleasure lake of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a prestigious club which included such famed entrepreneurs as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick on its membership rolls. (Click here for more information about the club and the dam; a list of club members is also available there). Officials there feared the dam would fail. Since midmorning, they'd worked to avoid this, because they feared the consequences. The lake was a little over two miles long, a little over a mile wide at its widest spot, and 60 feet deep at the dam itself.
Among the attempts were efforts to add height to the dam, then to dig a second spillway to relieve pressure from the breast, and finally to release the heavy screens placed on the overflows to keep the stocked fish from escaping into the streams below. By a little after 3 p.m., when most people in Johnstown were settling in to be marooned for the evening, club officials and the laborers they recruited, as well as a good sized audience from the little community of South Fork just below the dam, watched in dumbfounded horror as the dam "just moved away. "
Within the hour, a body of water which engineers at the time estimated moved into the valley with the force of Niagara Falls, rolled into Johnstown with 14 miles of accumulated debris, which included houses, barns, animals and people, dead and alive.
Those who saw it coming described it as a rolling hill of debris about 40 feet high and a halfamile wide. But most only heard the thunderous rumble as it swept into the city to add Johnstown to a wake that already included bits and pieces of the communities of South Fork, Mineral Point, Woodvale and East Conemaugh.
Some continued to wait out the disaster in their houses, others were picked up by the flood wave for a wild ride through the town to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company's Stone Bridge where debris piled 40 feet high and over 30 acres, then caught fire. Still others were shot down the Conemaugh River to die or be rescued at Nineveh, Bolivar or other communities downstream.
Six-year-old Gertrude Quinn Slattery was one of those caught in the flood wave. Years later she would write about her experience as she was hurled through the torrents on what she describes as a "raft with a wet muddy mattress and bedding.''
"I had great faith that I would not be abandoned," she wrote. "While my thoughts were thus engaged, a large roof came floating toward me with about twenty people on it. I cried and called across the water to them to help me. This, of course they could not do. The roof was big, and they were all holding on for dear life, feeling every minute that they would be tossed to death. While I watched I kept praying, calling, and begging someone to save me. Then I saw a man come to the edge, the others holding him and talking excitedly. I could see they were trying to restrain him but he kept pulling to get away which he finally did, and plunged into the swirling waters and disappeared.
Then his head appeared and I could see he was looking in my direction and I called, cried, and begged him to come to me. He kept going down and coming up, sometimes lost to my sight entirely, only to come up next time much closer to my raft. The water was now between fifteen and twenty feet deep.
"As I sat watching this man struggling in the water my mind was firmly fixed on the fact that he was my saviour. At last he reached me, drew himself up and over the side of the mattress and lifted me up. I put both arms around his neck and held on to him like grim death. Together we went downstream with the ebb and flow of the reflex to the accompaniment of crunching, grinding, gurgling, splashing and crying and moaning of many. After drifting about we saw a little white building, standing at the edge of the water, apparently where the hill began. At the window were two men with poles helping to rescue people floating by. I was too far out for the poles, so the men called:
'Throw that baby over here to us.'
"My hero said: 'Do you think you can catch her?'
"They said: 'We can try.'"
"So Maxwell McAchren threw me across the water (some say twenty feet, others fifteen. I could never find out, so I leave it to your imagination. It was considered a great feat in the town, I know.)"
The response to the disaster was immediate as over 100 newspapers and magazines sent writers and illustrators to Johnstown to recount the story for the world.
Although not noted for their accuracy, the reports touched the hearts of the readers. People sent money, clothing, and food. Medical societies and doctors and hospitals sent medicines and bandages. Doctors left their practices and hurried to Johnstown to assist. Lumber was sent for rebuilding houses and businesses.
The dead were lined up in morgues throughout the city and in communities further down the Conemaugh River until some survivor in search of a loved one came to identify them. Although damaged itself, the Presbyterian Church on Main Street was the site of one of the morgues. A reporter from the New York Evening Post described the scene there.
"The first floor has been washed out completely and the second, while submerged, was badly damaged, but not ruined. The walls, floors, and pews were drenched and the mud has collected on the mattings and carpets an inch deep. Walking is attended with much difficulty, and the undertakers and attendants, with arms bared, slide about the slippery surface at a tremendous rate. The chancel is filled with coffins, strips of muslin, boards and all undertaking accessories. Lying across the top of the pews are a dozen pine boxes each containing a victim of the flood. Printed cards are tacked to each. Upon them the sex and full description of the enclosed body is written with the name of the known." (Click here for a list of flood victims, their addresses, ages and burial places).
The living set up tents, often near to the places their former homes had been located and began what must of been perceived of as the impossible task of cleaning up and starting life again. Clara Barton and her Washington, D . C . contingent of the Red Cross built hotels for people to live in and warehouses to store the many supplies the community received (click here for more on the Red Cross in Johnstown). By July 1, stores opened on the Main Street for business. The Cambria Iron Company reopened on June 6. Five years later, an observer would have been hard pressed to imagine the destruction in the valley on May 31, 1889.
Yet no city, county, or state legislation was enacted to protect people from similar disasters in the future. Suits were filed against the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, but in keeping with the times, the courts viewed the dam break as an act of God, and no legal compensation was made to the survivors.
The city would continue to suffer nuisance floods, with water in the streets and in people's basements especially in the spring of the year. It would be another 47 years, and not until more property was destroyed and more lives lost, until some constructive efforts were made to control the waters that flowed through Johnstown.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/12/2005 10:12:00 PM
"It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow," Pittsburgh Press-Gazette national security writer Jack Kelly says.
"?'Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency,' wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom.
"But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth," Mr. Kelly writes.
"Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that: 'The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support ... was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.'
"For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three [days].
"Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.
"So they libel as a 'national disgrace' the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history."
Source: Washington Times - Inside Politics by Greg Pierce - September 12, 2005
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/12/2005 09:49:00 PM
From columnist Chris Rose of The Times-Picayune www.nola.com
I suppose we should introduce ourselves: We're South Louisiana.
We have arrived on your doorstep on short notice and we apologize for that, but we never were much for waiting around for invitations. We're not much on formalities like that.
And we might be staying around your town for a while, enrolling in your schools and looking for jobs, so we wanted to tell you a few things about us. We know you didn't ask for this and neither did we, so we're just going to have to make the best of it.
First of all, we thank you. For your money, your water, your food, your prayers, your boats and buses and the men and women of your National Guards, fire departments, hospitals and everyone else who has come to our rescue.
We're a fiercely proud and independent people, and we don't cotton much to outside interference, but we're not ashamed to accept help when we need it. And right now, we need it.
Just don't get carried away. For instance, once we get around to fishing again, don't try to tell us what kind of lures work best in your waters.
We're not going to listen. We're stubborn that way.
You probably already know that we talk funny and listen to strange music and eat things you'd probably hire an exterminator to get out of your yard.
We dance even if there's no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we're suspicious of others who don't.
But we'll try not to judge you while we're in your town.
Everybody loves their home, we know that. But we love South Louisiana with a ferocity that borders on the pathological. Sometimes we bury our dead in LSU sweatshirts.
Often we don't make sense. You may wonder why, for instance - if we could only carry one small bag of belongings with us on our journey to your state - why in God's name did we bring a pair of shrimp boots?
We can't really explain that. It is what it is.
You've probably heard that many of us stayed behind. As bad as it is, many of us cannot fathom a life outside of our border, out in that place we call Elsewhere.
The only way you could understand that is if you have been there, and so many of you have. So you realize that when you strip away all the craziness and bars and parades and music and architecture and all that hooey, really, the best thing about where we come from is us.
We are what made this place a national treasure. We're good people. And don't be afraid to ask us how to pronounce our names. It happens all the time.
When you meet us now and you look into our eyes, you will see the saddest story ever told. Our hearts are broken into a thousand pieces.
But don't pity us. We're gonna make it. We're resilient. After all, we've been rooting for the Saints for 35 years. That's got to count for something.
OK, maybe something else you should know is that we make jokes at inappropriate times.
But what the hell.
And one more thing: In our part of the country, we're used to having visitors. It's our way of life.
So when all this is over and we move back home, we will repay to you the hospitality and generosity of spirit you offer to us in this season of our despair.
That is our promise. That is our faith.
Chris Rose can be reached at email@example.com
Posted by Craig Giesecke at September 6, 2005 06:21 AM
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/12/2005 09:42:00 PM
Definition of good ole boy network: An informal, exclusive system of mutual assistance and friendship through which men belonging to a particular group, exchange favors and connections, as in politics or business.
In House Bill 1, there were some 300 budget requests and all but 17 were approved by the Governor. In all she approved $36 million out of the $37 million in HB 1 projects, only vetoing a few, mostly in the districts of her political opponents. One request that was vetoed was for a well respected organization in St. Tammany Parish. In her victory over Bobby Jindal in 2003, Blanco lost St. Tammany Parish by a 70-30% margin. Recently, many well-heeled Northshore GOP business leaders contributed big bucks to a Blanco fundraiser in St. Tammany Parish hoping to cultivate a good relationship with the Democratic Governor. I wonder how they feel now because it was money wasted. Blanco vetoed an $89,000 budget request for the St. Tammany Art Association’s education center, which would have used the money to make the “Art House”
Does this ring a bell? Blanco has given Saints owner Tom Benson a tough time in negotiations ever since she was elected. Could it be because Benson supported Bobby Jindal in the 2003 race? How about New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, another Jindal supporter? Nagin asked Blanco to supply $8 million to cover fire, police, health and other services the city is providing at Harrah’s Casino. This is money owed to
Blanco also vetoed several key projects in
What projects passed muster with the Governor? Well, the Red River Film Festival received a nice grant and the Red River Parish Police Jury received $60,000 for equipment acquisitions. Who represents lucky Red River Parish with a booming population of 9,622? Lo and behold, it is none other than Blanco lieutenant and Speaker of the House Joe Salter (D-Florien). Also, Blanco handsomely rewarded her
Other Blanco budget busters included obscure groups such as Riz Up Louisiana and Making Great Strides, which each pocketed $100,000. The “legendary” organization, Just Willing Foundation, which was chartered the day before the session ended received more taxpayer largesse, $25,000, thanks to Governor Blanco.
What is truly sad is that the Governor said we needed more taxes to give teachers a pay raise. Yet, the money was clearly available after the Revenue Estimating Conference located an extra $361 million and with a state budget of almost $19 billion. The level of waste in our state government is almost unimaginable. In addition to $36 million in HB 1 requests, of which many were clearly dubious, there is legislative “slush” funds of $16 million, which remain 100% funded.
By her partisan and punitive vetoes, Blanco has clearly shown all political observers that although she is governing, she is not delivering good government. As Earl Long said, “Someday
Jeff Crouere is a native of
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/12/2005 08:44:00 PM
05:09 PM CDT on Sunday, September 19, 2004
Those who had the money to flee Hurricane Ivan ran into hours-long traffic jams. Those too poor to leave the city had to find their own shelter - a policy that was eventually reversed, but only a few hours before the deadly storm struck land.
New Orleans dodged the knockout punch many feared from the hurricane, but the storm exposed what some say are significant flaws in the Big Easy's civil disaster plans.
Much of New Orleans is below sea level, kept dry by a system of pumps and levees. As Ivan charged through the Gulf of Mexico, more than a million people were urged to flee. Forecasters warned that a direct hit on the city could send torrents of Mississippi River backwash over the city's levees, creating a 20-foot-deep cesspool of human and industrial waste.
Residents with cars took to the highways. Others wondered what to do.
"They say evacuate, but they don't say how I'm supposed to do that," Latonya Hill, 57, said at the time. "If I can't walk it or get there on the bus, I don't go. I don't got a car. My daughter don't either."
Advocates for the poor were indignant.
"If the government asks people to evacuate, the government has some responsibility to provide an option for those people who can't evacuate and are at the whim of Mother Nature," said Joe Cook of the New Orleans ACLU.
It's always been a problem, but the situation is worse now that the Red Cross has stopped providing shelters in New Orleans for hurricanes rated above Category 2. Stronger hurricanes are too dangerous, and Ivan was a much more powerful Category 4.
In this case, city officials first said they would provide no shelter, then agreed that the state-owned Louisiana Superdome would open to those with special medical needs. Only Wednesday afternoon, with Ivan just hours away, did the city open the 20-story-high domed stadium to the public.
Mayor Ray Nagin's spokeswoman, Tanzie Jones, insisted that there was no reluctance at City Hall to open the Superdome, but said the evacuation was the top priority.
"Our main focus is to get the people out of the city," she said.
Callers to talk radio complained about the late decision to open up the dome, but the mayor said he would do nothing different.
"We did the compassionate thing by opening the shelter," Nagin said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't have a repeat performance of what happened before. We didn't want to see people cooped up in the Superdome for days."
When another dangerous hurricane, Georges, appeared headed for the city in 1998, the Superdome was opened as a shelter and an estimated 14,000 people poured in. But there were problems, including theft and vandalism.
This time far fewer took refuge from the storm - an estimated 1,100 - at the Superdome and there was far greater security: 300 National Guardsmen.
The main safety measure - getting people out of town - raised its own problems.
More than 1 million people tried to leave the city and surrounding suburbs on Tuesday, creating a traffic jam as bad as or worse than the evacuation that followed Georges. In the afternoon, state police took action, reversing inbound lanes on southeastern Louisiana interstates to provide more escape routes. Bottlenecks persisted, however.
Col. Henry Whitehorn, head of state police, said he believes his agency acted appropriately, but also acknowledged he never expected a seven-hour-long crawl for the 60 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
It was so bad that some broadcasters were telling people to stay home, that they had missed their window of opportunity to leave. They claimed the interstates had turned into parking lots where trapped people could die in a storm surge.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Nagin both acknowledged the need to improve traffic flow and said state police should consider reversing highway lanes earlier. They also promised meetings with governments in neighboring localities and state transportation officials to improve evacuation plans.
But Blanco and other state officials stressed that, while irritating, the clogged escape routes got people out of the most vulnerable areas.
"We were able to get people out," state Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc said. "It was successful. There was frustration, yes. But we got people out of harm's way."
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/12/2005 08:12:00 PM
Sunday, September 11, 2005
New Orleans District
|A weather satellite photo shows the classic shape|
as well as the size and power of hurricane Elena in 1985. The hurricane ravaged the Gulf states and caused severe coastal erosion. The LAke
Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project in New Orleans is designed to reduce such damage in the future (Photo courtesy of NASA)
|New Orleans District recently began rebuilding bridges to improve hurricane|
protection in New Orleans' Lakeview section. This will permit vital roadways,
now sandbagged during a storm, to remain open.
The London Avenue Canal Bridge is being replaced as a flood-proofing
(Photo by Michael Maples, New Orleans District)
It is being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and four levee boards in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and St. Charles parishes.
In floodproofing, the original bridge is demolished. Each replacement bridge will have steep, concrete sides to continue the floodwall from one side of the canal to the other. Two of the Lakeview bridges, on Filmore and Harrison Avenue, span the Orleans Avenue Canal, which lies between Lakeview and City Park. Angelo Iafrate Construction has a $2.36 million contract for the two-lane bridges.
"We're asked why we are replacing these bridges, just four blocks apart, at the same time," said Col. William Conner, New Orleans District commander. "The answer is that we have coordinated this work with the neighborhoods and City Hall. They don't want to go through any more hurricane seasons than they have to without floodproofing. This is an encouraging sign that people are taking the hurricane threat seriously."
Floodproofing is vital, said Al Naomi, New Orleans District's senior project manager for the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity project. "The new bridges are final links in the chain of protection provided by hurricane levees and floodwalls. Besides keeping water out, we want to keep roadways open. The roadways' value becomes clear when evacuation is required as a hurricane is approaching."
The Orleans Levee District and the East Jefferson Levee District are the local sponsors with the Corps for floodproofing the bridges.
Demolishing existing bridges is required for floodproofing in order to deal with hurricane storm surges, said Kevin Wagner, the Corps' project manager for the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity project.
"There's a buoyancy problem," Wagner said. "We want to keep these bridges from popping out if the water rises around them, so we're providing new pilings with the strength to anchor them properly."
Once construction is complete, the levee districts take over operation and maintenance of the hurricane-protection projects. The levee districts must begin sandbagging and closing floodgates about 36 hours before a hurricane's arrival. Floodproofing the bridges will allow the levee districts to shift their work forces, always stretched thin during storms, to other essential tasks.
The cost of floodproofing varies with each bridge. C.R. Pittman has a $3.33 million contract for a four-lane bridge now under construction, on Gentilly Boulevard over the London Avenue Canal in New Orleans. Last summer, work began on the four-lane Leon C. Simon Boulevard bridge over the London Canal in New Orleans. Miller Excavating has the $3.86 million contract.
All four bridges begun in 1999 are expected to be finished in a few months. A fifth bridge has already been complete, leaving five to go.
Construction is expected to begin this year on four more bridges. One will increase the capacity of a busy roadway linking New Orleans and Metairie at Lake Ponchartrain. A four-lane bridge will replace the two-lane bridge on Old Hammond Highway over the 17th Street Canal.
Posted by Joyce Kavitsky at 9/11/2005 04:14:00 PM
Highlights By Joyce Kavitsky
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