Never Flooded New Orleans Buses Not Used For Evacuation

Remember this gut-wrenching picture?

(AP Photo/Phil Coale)
(AP Photo/Phil Coale)

It was a picture of what was left of the Orleans Parish school systems bus fleet that was supposed to be used to evacuate the citizens of the parish BEFORE the hurricane. That picture was especially poignant because there were thousands of people trapped in the Superdome and the buses that could have saved them were ruined.

But last night I found a picture even more tragic in Google Maps.

On the left is the Superdome. On the right is the OTHER Orleans Parish bus barn (the Algiers Bus Barn at 801 Patterson Ave. [Document Link]), less than 5 miles from the Superdome. These buses never flooded and the route from there to the Convention Center and the Superdome was open the whole time. The hurricane blew in Monday morning and this picture was not taken until Wednesday. They did not finish evacuating the Superdome until Saturday.

To put a fine point on it… These were not private buses. They did not belong to a neighboring parish. These buses belonged to Mayor Ray Nagin. He could have used them at any time. He didn’t.

Here’s a close up:

algiers_bus_barn_close.jpg

Your count may vary, but I counted roughly 60 buses in the yard and presumably they filled the bus barns with buses to protect as many as possible. The 2 buildings could have held probably another 50 buses. But for the sake of argument let’s say both buildings were empty. 60 buses X 75 people per bus is 4500 people per load. (you could put 100 per bus, but I’ll be generous)

From the Superdome to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge is about an hour with no traffic. They could have moved 4500 people every 3 hours. (time to load and unload) Or in other words, they could have had the Dome empty by sundown the day after the storm.

Once at Tiger Stadium they would have had water and sewerage and food would have been much easier to get to them.

Mayor Nagin didn’t need to wait for the Feds to “get off their asses.” All he needed to do was use the resources available to him.

~ And kudos for the fancy graphics go to Kevin~

Update (by Kevin): Generic Confusion extends the bloggers as fact checkers metaphor.

Thank you, Paul, for once again proving that we can fact-check your ass from orbit.

Indeed…

Update 2 (by Kevin): Two issues with the story have been raised via comment and trackback. Ironically one objection negates the only salient fact contained in the first. Let’s address them in order received.

First, this Media Matters report obsesses on cable news talking heads wildly misstating the number of school buses available in New Orleans. Given the over estimates on everything from casualties to murders and rapes at the Superdome (all of which seem to be off the mark by a factor of 10X the actual number), misreporting on the number of buses seems like a triviality. The number Media Matters presents that IS of interest is the estimate of the number of out of service school buses in the Orleans Parish fleet. They report that according to a September 5, 2003, article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “The [Orleans Parish school] district owns 324 buses but 70 are broken down.” So it is (theoretically) possible that all of the buses in the picture above are broken down, except that the picture below contradicts that theory.

The second objection is from The Jawa Report, where Rusty Shackleford notes that NOAA images taken the same day (original), show the same lot in use:

Google has widely reported that their images were taken at 10AM local time Wednesday August 31, 2005 – a time at which our previous graphics indicates the buses were not moving. It’s nice to know we were right in assuming that those were buses were in good working order, even if they were sitting unused Wednesday morning.

We don’t know what time the NOAA image as taken, but visual inspection of the NOAA image indicates that is was taken later in the day (notice the shadows on taller buildings), probably between 4-5PM. We were aware that, as of today, the buses are still not back in the Algiers Bus Barn, and planned on getting a picture of the empty lot to prove that the buses were in fact fully operational. The fact that they rolled out Wednesday afternoon does not address the issue of why they were not used before, during, or immediately after Katrina (and the flooding) hit.

The other significant story from Wednesday is that, thanks to total media saturation, everyone knew that the Superdome was filled with miserable people, desperate to get out . It’s probably more than just coincidence then that at just about the same time the NOAA picture was taken Governor Blanco announced that the evacuation of the Superdome would begin Wednesday evening. She also issued an Executive Order (PDF) allowing the National Guard to seize school busses in order to help in the evacuation, so it is possible the drivers in the NOAA picture are Guardsmen. We still have no evidence that Mayor Nagin ever mobilized these buses.

All of which returns us to the whole point of the story.

Why didn’t Mayor Nagin use these readily available assets to empty the Superdome for over 48 hours?

Update 3 (by Paul): Someone over at the llama school took a nose dive into the bizarre trying to make the case that Gretna officials (Jefferson Parish) blocked access to the busses. In a fit of irony that can only be produced in the blogosphere, he calls my conclusion that the mayor did not use the busses “absurd.”

OK… He bases his conclusion on the unrelated fact that Gretna officials turned back New Orleans residents after Mayor Nagin gave up and urged his people to WALK into a neighboring parish who had no facilities to support them AND Nagin never even called the neighboring parish to tell them he was sending thousands of hungy/thirsty people over. (what a nice guy) While Gretna officials did turn back people on foot, there is absolutely no evidence to support the notion there was a blockade of Orleans Parish vehicles.

You can go read the whole bizarre illogical conclusion the llama student drew, but I’ll save you the time and offer you the obvious debunking. If Nagin found time to whine to the media about Gretna sending his people back… And Nagin found time to whine to the media that the Feds did not send buses… How on earth could it be that a neighboring parish blocked Orleans from using their own busses and Nagin never said a word?

Get real. To believe this bizarre conclusion, you’d have to believe that the Mayor was calling for the busses the whole time but Gretna set up road blocks to stop the busses. Then 48 hours later Gretna let the busses roll (see above) and Nagin never said a word to anyone about another parish blocking his busses. You’d also have to believe that Gretna also made sure their magical school bus blockade never made it to any of the media. Yeah, right. Now you know why that llama is still in school.

Confessions of a nerd
Katrina a Category 1 When it Hit New Orleans?!?

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