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Profile: Ray Nagin
Positions that Ray Nagin has held:
Ray Nagin was a participant or observer in the following events:
As part of the program, “Preparing for the Big One,” aimed at ensuring that none of New Orleans residents are left behind during a mandatory hurricane evacuation, the city contracts Total Community Action, a community faith-based network, to produce 70,000 30-minute DVDs. The DVD is meant to serve as a guide for the city’s poorest residents, many of whom do not own cars and live in the city’s lowest, most flood-prone, areas. At one point during the video, Rev. Marshall Truehill, who heads Total Community Action, warns, “Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross.” He tells the viewers, “It’s your personal responsibility” to escape before a hurricane. Other guests appearing on the video—including Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas—reiterate the same message. “You’re responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you,” Wilkins says. “If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you.… But we don’t have the transportation.” The Los Angeles Times says that one of the video’s central message is that those without cars would not be able to rely on the city to evacuate them and that they would need to devise their own evacuation strategies. The video suggests that residents without cars should prearrange rides with other residents who do have cars. “Everybody needs to have their own plans,” New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin says on the video. “Check with your neighbors, check with your relatives.” Nagin also warns that public schools are no longer considered safe shelters. Other parts of the program provide advice on how to clear storm drains, pack an evacuation kit and medical supplies, and keep pets safe. [Times-Picayune, 7/24/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]
Today’s Times-Picayune reports that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin may ask voters to approve a special tax to improve public safety in the city. Increasingly frustrated with the city’s rising murder rate, Nagin wants to “ask voters to tax themselves to help pay for several items aimed at curbing violent crime in the city: additional police officers, higher salaries for cops, better computer systems, more crime cameras and enhanced recreational and youth programs.”
“I think this is kind of a put-up-or-shut-up moment,” Nagin said. “How concerned are you, City of New Orleans, about fixing this problem?” Nagin, who seemed poised for unchallenged reelection, acknowledged that some might question the sanity of proposing a big idea that could invite a challenger into the race. “At the end of the day, I may go down as the craziest man that’s ever run for public office in the City of New Orleans’ history,” he said. [Times-Picayune, 8/29/2005]
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells the Times-Picayune that he is alarmed with Hurricane Katrina’s potential path and the lack of time available to prepare for such a large storm. “This storm really scares me,” he says. The state’s new Contraflow Plan calls for evacuation plans to be implemented 50 hours before a storm hits.
“That’s why I’m trying to stress to everyone now to get prepared,” Nagin says. City officials will not make a decision regarding emergency measures or evacuations until Saturday, which will not give residents much time to prepare. Officials from Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and Plaquemines Parish also encourage residents to prepare for the storm. [Times-Picayune, 8/27/2005]
St. Charles Parish issues a mandatory evacuation at 9:00 am. Around the same time, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin encourages Jefferson Parish officials to follow the state evacuation plan, which calls for low-lying coastal areas to evacuate first, warning that: “The problem with this storm is that it’s going to compress everything. We have a shorter window to deal with this storm and we’ve got to get people to start evacuating.” Jefferson Parish declares a voluntarily evacuation for most of the parish and a mandatory evacuation for the coastal areas of Grand isle, Crown Point, Lafitte and Barataria. Plaquemines Parish declares a mandatory evacuation and begins evacuating special-needs residents by mid-day. St. Bernard Parish officials recommend that all residents evacuate, although Larry Ingargiola, Emergency Management Director, states that the parish will not declare a mandatory evacuation because it will not offer shelters. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005 Sources: Jefferson Parish]
Louisiana Governor Blanco and local officials from Southeastern Louisiana parishes hold a special press conference to urge residents to evacuate. Blanco reports that the parishes are cooperating in following the evacuation plan, and encourages residents to listen to their parish leaders regarding when they should leave their area. Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, then outlines the particulars of the evacuations, noting that residents of low-lying regions need to leave immediately, so that other residents can follow. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warns residents that Hurricane Katrina poses a grave danger to the city: “This is not a test. This is the real deal. Things could change, but as of right now, New Orleans is definitely the target for this hurricane.” Nagin says that New Orleans will follow the state’s evacuation plan, and thus, he will not officially order evacuations until 30 hours before expected landfall, to allow those residents in low-lying surrounding areas to leave first. However, he recommends that residents in low-lying areas of the city, such as Algiers and the 9th Ward, get a head start, noting: “We want you to take this a little more seriously and start moving—right now, as a matter of fact.” Acknowledging that many residents have no independent means of transportation, Nagin says that the city might open the Superdome as a shelter of last resort for evacuees with special needs, but advises evacuees who plan to stay there to bring their own food, drinks, and other comforts necessary. Police Chief Eddie Compass states that New Orleans likely will issue a curfew at some point, and the police department will station police officers at shopping centers to prevent looting. Blanco sums up the situation: “We have been very blessed so far. We’ve escaped the brunt of most of the hurricanes that have been generated. But now it looks like we’re going to have to bear some of the brunt of this storm.”
[CNN, 8/27/2005; Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005; Associated Press, 8/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
Officials at New Orleans’ police headquarters, who are receiving reports of the pending storm, remain calm this afternoon, according to later reports. The general feeling is that the 1,600-officer force could handle the storm just as it has handled storms in the past, Deputy Chief Steve Nicholas of the New Orleans Police Department will later recall. The Police department is prepared to lose some radio communication (though not for days on end), and they expect some flooding (though not the massive flooding that will occur). Police officials believe that if their resources prove insufficient, state and federal officials that (they assume) are pre-deployed outside of the city, will step in to meet the need. [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] According to the Boston Globe, the department has four boats at its disposal, and believes that this will be sufficient. However, the Times-Picayune will report that, according to Mayor Nagin, the city has 30 boats at its disposal, “but may need far more, depending on the water level in the city after the storm.”
This afternoon, New Orleans officials meet in a closed-door session. Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Superintendent Eddie Compass, the city’s department heads, and several City Council members attend. The atmosphere is “calm, routine,” according to Jasmine Haralson, council member Jay Batt’s chief of staff, who attended the meeting. City officials assume that state and federal resources will assist the city in responding to the storm’s aftermath, according to Batt, who will later recall: “I expected State Police.… I expected the National Guard. I expected the Marines. I expected federal support, bringing in Black Hawk helicopters, basically locking down parts of the city in turmoil.”
[Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells local WWLTV that, “Come the first break of light in the morning, you may have the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.” Nagin states that that his legal staff is researching whether he can order a mandatory evacuation of the city, a step he’s been hesitant to do because of potential liability on the part of the city for closing hotels and other businesses. [Times-Picayune, 8/28/2005]
NHC Director Max Mayfield personally calls Louisiana Governor Blanco and Mississippi Governor Barbour. Mayfield tells Barbour that Katrina may be a “Camille-like storm.” He tells Blanco that this one will be a “big, big deal.”
“I wanted to be able to go to sleep that night,” he will later recall. According to Mayfield, Blanco is unsure that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has fully grasped the situation and urges Mayfield to call him. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
NHC Director Max Mayfield calls New Orleans Mayor Nagin: “This is going to be a defining moment for a lot of people.”
[Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Washington Post, 9/11/2005] Nagin will tell City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning, “Max Mayfield has scared me to death.”
[Newsweek, 9/19/2005] Nagin will later recall that Mayfled’s message “scared the crap out of me.”
“I immediately said, ‘My God, I have to call a mandatory evacuation,’” according to a later Knight Ridder report. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] Nagin will call for the evacuation Sunday morning at 9:30 am (see (9:30 am) August 28, 2005).
The last Amtrak train leaves New Orleans, with equipment—but no passengers. Earlier, Amtrak decided to run a nonscheduled train from New Orleans to Macomb Mississippi to move equipment out of harm’s way. Amtrak representative Cliff Black will later assert that Amtrak offered to take New Orleans evacuees on the train, which has room for several hundred passengers, but the city declined the offer. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] Mayor Ray Nagin, however, denies this claim, asserting, “Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I’d like to see that report.… I would love to have had that call. But it never happened.”
[MSNBC, 9/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times will later report that Total Community Action, a non-profit community based agency serving disadvantaged New Orleans residents, had previously secured a commitment from Amtrak to transport residents without cars to safety in the event of an evacuation (see (Spring-Summer 2005)). Most reports indicate that no such transport occurred, although the Los Angeles Times article references “reports that at least one Amtrak train got out of the city with evacuees.”
[Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]
Although Mayor Nagin will not officially announce the mandatory evacuation for another hour, the Louisiana Police issues a news release at 8:17 am this morning, announcing that that New Orleans is now under a mandatory evacuation order, along with several other nearby parishes. [Louisiana State Police, 8/28/2005] CNN announces the mandatory evacuation around this time as well, reporting that Mayor Nagin will make the official announcement within the hour. [CNN, 8/28/2005]
According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that by this time, he has grown so frustrated with Mayor Nagin’s apparent refusal to order a mandatory evacuation that he calls President Bush to ask for help. “‘Mike, you want me to call the mayor?’ the president responds in surprise,” according to Brown. [New York Times, 9/15/2005]
President Bush telephones Governor Blanco (apparently in response to FEMA Director Michael Brown’s request to call New Orleans Mayor Nagin (see Before 9:30am August 28, 2005), to urge a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, according to later reports. Blanco responds that Mayor Nagin has already decided to do so, and will make the announcement shortly. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
At 9:30 am this morning, Mayor Nagin announces the first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. After reading the official declaration, Nagin states: “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you. But we are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic. But I do want the residents to understand that this is very serious, and it’s of the highest nature. And that’s why we are taking this unprecedented move. The storm is now a Cat 5… with sustained winds of 150 miles an hour, with wind gusts of 190 miles per hour. The storm surge most likely will topple our levy system. So we are preparing to deal with that also. So that’s why we’re ordering a mandatory evacuation.” Acknowledging that many people will be unable to obtain transportation, Nagin announces that the city has established ten pickup areas for residents without transportation. City buses will transport residents from the pickup areas to the city’s shelters. The Superdome will open as a shelter of last resort, although Nagin states that, “I want to emphasize, the first choice of every resident should be to leave the city.” The Superdome is likely to be without power for days—and possibly weeks—after the storm fits, and it will not be a comfortable place. Hotels and their patrons are exempted from the order. Police and firefighters will spread out throughout the city sounding sirens and using bullhorns to tell residents to get out. Police may commandeer any vehicle or building that could be used for evacuation or shelter. Nagin concludes his announcement as follows: “This is an opportunity in New Orleans for us to come together in the way that we’ve never come together before. This is a threat that we’ve never faced before. And if we galvanize and rally around each other, I am sure that we will get through this. God bless us.”
[CNN, 8/28/2005; Russell, 8/28/2005; City of New Orleans, 8/28/2005]
Note 1 - Various sources have reported that Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation later than 9:30. [Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] However, according to the contemporaneous CNN transcript, Nagin makes this announcement only minutes after 9:23 am CDT.
Note 2 - The Washington Post will later report, incorrectly, that Nagin never mentioned the estimated 100,000 residents who had no personal means of transportation. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] In fact, Nagin acknowledged this issue as early as Saturday (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005). State and federal officials also acknowledge this problem, and are seeking buses to evacuate these residents. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005; Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005]
Louisiana Governor Blanco takes the podium to reinforce the need for evacuation: “I want to reiterate what the mayor has said (see (9:30 am) August 28, 2005). This is a very dangerous time. Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called (see Shortly before 9:30 am August 28, 2005) and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the residents. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please ensure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. The leaders at the highest ranks of our nation have recognized the destructive forces and the possible awesome danger that we are in. And I just want to say, we need to get as many people out as possible. The shelters will end up probably without electricity or with minimum electricity from generators in the end. There may be intense flooding that will be not in our control, which would be ultimately the most dangerous situation that many of our people could face. Waters could be as high as 15 to 20 feet.… That would probably be ultimately the worst situation. We’re hoping that it does not happen that way. We need to pray, of course, very strongly, that the hurricane force would diminish.” Blanco then describes the gridlock on roads leading out of New Orleans, and urges residents to take alternate routes. [CNN, 8/28/2005; WWLTV 4 (New Orleans), 8/28/2005; KATC News (Lafayette, LA), 8/30/2005]
Throughout this afternoon and evening, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and some school buses will run between the designated pick-up areas and the Superdome throughout the afternoon and evening. “They’re using school buses and about everything they can find to get people out of here,” reports French Quarter resident Rob Ramsey. [Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 8/29/2005; Times-Picayune, 8/29/2005 ] Nagin will later explain that the plan is to get people to higher ground: “Get them out of their homes, which—most people are under sea level—Get them to a higher ground and then depending upon our state and federal officials to move them out of harm’s way after the storm has hit.”
[MSNBC, 9/11/2005] Neither the number of buses deployed by the city, nor the number of people successfully evacuated on city buses, is known at this time. In the days to come, after publication of a photo showing hundreds of flooded buses, many will question why the city failed to use these buses to evacuate more people. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005] However, as Mayor Nagin will later note, “Sure, there was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can’t find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren’t available.”
[MSNBC, 9/11/2005] In fact, officials at all levels of government:
(a) know that that many residents will need transportation (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005)
(see Between 7:00-8:00 am August 28, 2005)
(see Morning August 28, 2005)
(b) know that local officials do not have sufficient resources to evacuate all residents who lack transportation
(see (Spring 2004))
(see July 19-23, 2004)
(c) fail to dispatch the number of buses necessary for the evacuation. [Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005; Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
In short, officials at all levels of government are seeking buses; and officials at all levels of government fail to use the fleet of buses in the city that will be flooded during the hurricane. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005]
Note 1 - MSBNC will later report that it has obtained a draft emergency plan prepared by FEMA, which calls for “400 buses to… evacuate victims.”
[MSNBC, 9/6/2005] More details regarding this plan are not yet known.
Note 2 - It is unclear whether Passey’s post-hurricane statement refers to buses requested before the hurricane or after. However, his report that FEMA is scrambling for buses occurs sometime prior to August 29, when it is reported in the Dallas Morning News. Regardless of which bus request (i.e., pre- or post-hurricane) Passey is referencing, it is undisputed that, along with the city and state, FEMA was scrambling for buses pre-hurricane, and that, along with the city and state, FEMA failed to deploy the many city school buses that will be flooded due to the hurricane.
Note 3 - Although not yet clear, it may be that officials elect to stage people at the Superdome because of their inability to deploy sufficient buses, in order to maximize the number of people that can be evacuated from low-lying neighborhoods in the hours leading up to the storm. Had officials used the available buses to transport people out of the city via the clogged interstates, the total number of people evacuated necessarily would have been much smaller. Each bus likely could make only a single run. Instead, the buses can make multiple trips from pickup areas to the Superdome.
Water is spilling over the floodwall (part of the levee system) in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, especially in the Florida Avenue area, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin reports, in an early morning interview with a local radio station. According to Nagin, the Florida Avenue pumping station is not working, and there are unconfirmed reports of people standing on their roofs. “There is a significant amount of water in the 9th Ward.” Other residents have reported flooding in the 9th Ward. According to one resident, houses near the Claiborne Avenue Bridge are taking on water. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/26/2005]
In an early morning interview with NBC’s Today Show, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells Matt Lauer that the city has “everything planned for them to be in there four to five days. And then if it has to extend beyond that, we’re going to—we’re basically counting on the federal government to supply us with what we need.”
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells NBC’s Today Show that his city is “still not out of the woods as it relates to that worst-case scenario.” Already he has received reports that water is overtopping the levee systems, and in the Lower 9th Ward, a pumping station has filed. “So we will have some significant flooding, it’s just a question of how much.”
Around this time, Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA spokesman, who has spent the day at the Superdome before surveying the damage from a Coast Guard helicopter, briefs New Orleans Mayor Nagin on the extent of the damage. Bahamonde describes the surge of water flowing through the city as “surprising in its intensity.” Mayor Nagin is devastated, Bahamonde will later recall. Others attending the briefing begin to cry. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] According to a later Newsweek report, Bahamonde asks for a phone. “I need to call Washington,” he says. “Do you have a conference-call line?” He seems a little taken aback when the answer is no, according to a Mayor’s aide. Bahamonde manages to find a phone that works, but he has trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally gets someone on the line, the city officials hear him repeating, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand.”
[Newsweek, 9/19/2005] According to Knight Ridder, Bahamonde also calls the FEMA team at Louisiana’s Emergency Command Center in Baton Rouge to brief them on the situation. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005]
Mayor Nagin appears on WWLTV to provide viewers with a “status report” on the city: “My heart is heavy. I don’t have any good news to really share. Other than at some point in time the federal government will be coming in here in mass. But, the city is in a state of devastation. Eighty percent of it is under water, as much as 20 feet in some places. There’s an incredible amount of water in the city. Residents are on roofs and trapped in attics, awaiting rescue. Fire, Police, and National Guard personnel are out rescuing those trapped right now. Both airports are under water. Twin spans in New Orleans East are totally destroyed. Three huge boats have run aground. An oil tanker has run aground and is leaking oil. There is a serious [floodwall-levee] break at 17th Street Canal,” and the water continues to rise. Houses have been picked up off their foundation and moved. The Yacht Club has burned; it’s totally destroyed. A barge has hit one of the main structures of High Rise (a bridge/span) and we’re not sure that the High Rise is structurally sound. All of Slidell is under water. Most of Metaraie is under water. “The list just goes on and on.” There are gas leaks throughout the city. It’s not a pretty picture. On the somewhat good news side, many people have survived. Uptown is pretty dry. The French Quarter and Central Business District is dry, but they also have buildings that look like a bazooka was shot through. There is no clear path in or out of the city, whether east or west. I-10 West is still full of water.… The water system has been contaminated except for the Central Business District and Algiers. We have no electricity and they expect electricity to be out about 4-6 weeks. “And the list goes on and on.” Nagin reports that flooding is worst in New Orleans East and in the Lower 9th Ward, but it’s “coming from everywhere.” Nagin is basing his information on a briefing he received, apparently from Marty Evans, President of the Red Cross. Nagin states that he is reading from a briefing provided by a FEMA official (later identified as Marty Bahamonde). “The FEMA guy here is saying that 80 percent of New Orleans is under water and a significant portion of Metaraie and Kenner—everything north of I-10 is under water.” Nagin also reports that St. Bernard is in even worse shape: “There is total devastation in St. Bernard alone.” (WWLTV reporter notes earlier Associated Press report that 40,000 houses in that parish are under water.) [WWLTV 4 (New Orleans), 8/29/2005]
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