FEMA Cut Emergency Communication Lines- Witnesses
FEMA Turned Away Aid, Rescue Crews, Cut Emergency Communication
Agency draws ire of frustrated volunteers and donors
by Dru Oja Jay
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, several witnesses have alleged
that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) turned away
volunteers who were ready to help New Orleans residents people
trapped in their flooded homes. Other witnesses have said that FEMA
turned away offers of aid, prevented water and fuel from reaching
people on the ground, and cut emergency communications lines.
The agency has cited security and safety concerns.
On September first, Sheriff's deputies and emergency personnel from
Loudon County , Virginia , responded to a request from Jefferson
Parrish in Louisiana for aid and set off towards the disaster area on
the Gulf Coast . According to the Loudon Times-Mirror, "Sheriff Steve
Simpson and his staff spent 12 hours trying to get the Federal
Emergency Management Agency and the State of Louisiana Emergency
Operations Center to act."
"They didn't, and the 20 deputies and six emergency medical
technicians–all volunteers–turned around and came back to Loudoun."
According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, "up to 500 airboat
pilots" who volunteered to help rescue flood victims. "We cannot get
deployed to save our behinds," Robert Dummett, state coordinator of
the Florida Airboat Association, was quoted as saying. He added that
the boaters, who spent thousands of dollars stocking their boats to
help in the rescue effort, "are physically sick, watching the New
Orleans coverage and knowing that the resources to help these poor
people is sitting right in our driveways."
However, the report said, "[FEMA] will not authorize the airboaters
to enter New Orleans . Without that permission, they would be subject
to arrest and would not receive security and support services."
According to a FEMA official, it's a matter of security. "Right now,
private citizens trying to go into those impacted areas are more
hindrance than help."
For other eyewitness reports, however, explanations are not
forthcoming. In a televised interview with CNN's Meet the Press, for
example, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said that "we had
1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my
parish. The Coast Guard said, 'Come get the fuel right away.' When we
got there with our trucks, they got a word. 'FEMA says don't give you
Broussard also said that FEMA cut "all of our emergency communication
"They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in,
he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and
says, 'No one is getting near these lines.'"
According to another eyewitness account, a lieutenant with a local
Sheriff's office tried to turn away a group of 100 boaters who were
attempting to rescue people trapped in buildings.
But the boaters prevailed upon the lieutenant to let them in. "We
explained to the guy how this was going to look, and he finally
"FEMA, while certainly able to do more than us, didn't get in the
water until around noon," the report continues.
"It turned out to be a good thing we didn't leave, because pretty
soon some other FEMA guys were asking us to take their teams out.
Which seemed to work out well." The author, who works for Atchafalaya
Paddle Trails but signed her or his report "atchafalya", estimated
that 1800 people were rescued by the group of boaters that day.
"From what I've seen, almost none of the organizations get in the
water before noon. They stop at dusk."
FEMA also attracted fire from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. The
Chicago Sun-Times reported that the city of Chicago is "ready to
provide more help than they have requested."
"We are just waiting for their call," Daley was quoted as saying.
They mayor said he was "shocked" that no one seemed to want the help.
According to Daley, the city offered "36 members of the firefighters'
technical rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-
and-rescue equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police
vehicles and two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health
workers, a mobile clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and
Sanitation workers and 29 trucks, plus other supplies."
The Sun-Times reported that FEMA only wanted "a single tank truck."
The truck was said to be en route.