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Officials with the City of New Orleans Office Of Emergency Preparedness make plans to deploy Regional Transit Authority buses and school buses to assist in the evacuation of the city’s estimated 134,000 residents who do not own cars. According to RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Cook, an RTA emergency plan would supply 64 buses and 10 lift vans to transport people, either out of town or to local shelters. Its largest buses hold about 60 people each. However, city officials emphasize that the city is overmatched: “It’s important to emphasize that we just don’t have the resources to take everybody out,” says New Orleans Emergency Preparedness Director Joseph Matthews. (Nolan 7/24/2005) In July 2005, Cook will warn officials that only 100 RTA buses will likely be available for a possible evacuation because the RTA will need to continue its regular operations until shut down by a city curfew. Bus availability will be further limited by the number of volunteer drivers who would agree to drive them away, she says. Moreover, even if the RTA’s entire 364-bus fleet is deployed, it could evacuate only about 22,000 people—less than one-fifth of those needing transportation. (Nolan 7/8/2005)
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. (Price and Callahan 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. (Myers 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) ; and
(c) fail to dispatch the number of buses necessary for the evacuation. (Dallas Morning News 8/29/2005; Millhollon 9/9/2005; O'Brien and Bender 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. (Myers 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.” (Myers 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.
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