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New Orleans mayor slams laws that slowed Katrina response

[JURIST] New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin [City Mayors profile] Sunday slammed what he called "goofy laws" for slowing down federal and state response to the disaster that unfolded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast last week and flooded the the city, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes, he said many had died because of:

[l]ack of coordination and some goofy laws that basically say there's not a clear distinction of when the federal government stops and when the state government starts. And if you have federal - if the federal government takes over, then you're giving up some powers. Or if the governor don't ask the president and the president don't ask the governor, and it was just b.s.
Press reports over the weekend highlighted a legal tug-of-war between federal and state authorities [JURIST report] that left victims of the hurricane caught in the middle with little or no relief. Asked whether "bureaucracy" was behind the Katrina failure, Nagin replied "Bull-crap. When people are dying, bureaucracy should be thrown out of the water." CBS offers a video clip from the interview. CBS News has more.

Is Nagin right? Are existing laws an obstacle in emergencies or are they just being interpreted in the wrong way? E-mail us at JURIST@law.pitt.edu.
  • Mayor Nagin has a right to be annoyed and disgusted by the wrangling between the State of Louisiana and the Federal Government...I think the world has been appalled at the ineptitude of all concerned, especially given the fact that while the extent of the damage might not have been forseen, the fact that a major force 4 hurricane was headed straight for that section of the Gulf Coast and the evacuation order was issued 24 hours in advance, so many people were unable to leave, even if they wanted to. Instead of asking where the buses were after the event, perhaps Mayor Nagin should have lined them up beforehand to evacuate the poor and the homeless who had no transportation out of the city. The damage to property would not have been mitigated in any way, but the human cost would have been significantly lessened.

    C. Anne Crocker
    Law Librarian
    Gerard V. La Forest Law Library
    University of New Brunswick, CANADA

  • Here’s one I’ve heard: the governor and other local authorities didn’t properly ask the federal government for help. That’s a farce. If the federal official waiting for that request in the face of what was going on wasn’t on the phone to the governor telling her he’s sending the help and expects x, y, and z from her immediately because that’s what the law requires for that help to be sent, then he wasn’t doing his job.

    Peter Friedman
    Case School of Law
    Cleveland, OH

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