Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Evacuation Of New Orleans (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS - The remarkable news is almost buried as the Gulf Coast continues to reel from a disaster so pervasive that we not only don't yet have an official death count, we don't even have a reliable estimate.

Yet after the news conference of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco this afternoon, it seems inevitable that this country will - for the first time in living memory - try to complete a mandatory evacuation of one of its major cities.

New Orleans proper is usually listed as the 35th biggest city - the 30th or 31st largest Metropolitan area. If a million people left before or during Hurricane Katrina's arrival, that still means getting 300,000 out of the area - with the causeways that lead to the northeast, knocked down like pieces of a child's toy car racing track.

How are we going to do this?

Eight years ago, flooding and fires led to the evacuation of Grand Forks, North Dakota. That was just 50,000 people, and it was a logistical tour de force (here's a first person account).

But we probably haven't seen something like this - a forced depopulation of a major American residential center - since the Civil War. And even those examples are up for semantical debate: did the Confederacy evacuate Atlanta and Richmond, or did the residents just flee?

As we watch this story unfold, it is imperative to consider the history being made. Even when San Francisco was flattened and burned in 1906, large sections of the city were untouched. There were relocations across the bay to Oakland. Nobody said "everybody's leaving San Francisco."

What happens when that message is delivered in a New Orleans, devoid of power, food, passable roads - and personal vehicles?

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August 30, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET


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