Hurricane Katrina Disaster - A Monumental Leadership Failure


By Rev. K. Chima Ekeke

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 16, 2005


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Natural disasters, ethnic strife, religious wars and violence have been more frequent ever since the beginning of this century. Many of us have vivid memories of the unprecedented disasters and rash of tragedies that have occurred since 2001. In September 11, 2001, there was a terrorist attacks in New York that destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city with hundreds of businesses, taking the lives of more than 3000 people and left many jobless; also, ethnic and religious war decimated most of the Christian population in Senegal and created the worst global refugee camps in our modern time. Hurricane Ivan devastated the coastlines of Florida; the Tsunami devastated more than six countries in the continent of Asia and Africa and drowned thousands; massive earthquakes killed hundreds in Japan; plane crashes and now the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina too, devastated, displaced, and ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast and killed thousands in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi leaving nearly half a million fleeing to other parts of the States for shelter, food, sanitation and medical needs.

It is true that most natural disasters are beyond human powers to predict or control with precision. However, specific actions could have been taken to lessen the impact of the calamity during the Hurricane Katrina. For instance the city of St. Louis escaped much of the damage of the 1993 Mid-west floods because it had built a good system of seawalls in the wake of previous floods. The city of New Orleans suffered similar flood in 1969 in which 600 were drowned yet at the predictions of Hurricane Katrina, the city and state government ignored the warnings and did not make any adequate preparation whatever.

Preparation has always been the greatest action of any kind and level of leadership, whether it is in the home, workplace or city operations. The best leadership policy action is preparedness. But sometimes people and those in leadership positions are not prepared for the unexpected. It can be seen from the devastation and slow response to Hurricane Katrina that Louisiana State and New Orleans city government unfortunately were not prepared and equipped to handle the devastation. In fact, they should take the blame for the enormous loss of lives, properties and businesses. The US government should also be blamed for its inability to respond quickly to this horrendous Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast that devastated and displaced thousands of people. This is a national disaster and should be treated like a national emergency. This is not a time to play politics and give flimsy excuses of lawlessness in the city when hungry people have to scrounge for food to eat and water to quench their thirst.

I am not in any way condoning theft and robbery in times of tragedy and confusion but if the US army can overthrow Saddam Hussein and overcome the 4th military power in the world, what would it take the US national guard and military personnel to overcome devastated and hungry people in New Orleans who were looking for food and water to feed themselves and their families. During the Tsunami disaster, it took the US National Guard and military personnel only two days to drop packaged food and water for Tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and other places. The slow response of the US government and federal agencies do not portray good image. Terry Ebbert, homeland security chief in New Orleans called the slow response of the federal government and its effort “a national disgrace”. I have never seen anything like this; the horrible images of thousands of people fleeing for shelter, corpses in the streets and flooded areas of the city are an eye soar in the most powerful and richest country in the world. This is absolutely a national opprobrium. “This is the worst in US history and worse than any thing I have seen even in Asia, Africa or elsewhere,” quipped by one international volunteer.

Without any doubt Louisiana State governor, Kathleen Bianco and New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin were absolutely unprepared and incapable of handling such monumental disaster and devastation. Hurricane Katrina hit mostly poor black residents and their communities. The mayor of New Orleans is black. If this disaster had happened mostly in the white neighborhoods of the city, Mayor Ray Nagin should be tendering his resignation by now. Why blame others when he the mayor was in charge and yet could not protect his own. I understand the anger and frustrations of the civil right organizations like the NAACP and rap artists like Kanye West, but they should understand that the mayor of this unique and admirable city is a black man and yet he could not put in place any mechanism to protect and assist his own people in times of terrible tragedy like Hurricane Katrina. That is absolutely inept leadership and a shame. No doubt the State and Federal government should have responded much quicker because of the magnitude of the flood; however the city mayor should not wait for them in the face of such monumental disaster

Again, this is not the right time to portion blames, but to find ways to rebuild lives of these victims and reconstruct the lovely city of New Orleans. This brings me to the next issue why Hurricane Katrina victims are referred to as “refugees.” The labeling of Hurricane Katrina victims as refugees irritated me so much that I decided to write this article. I called several radio stations, sent emails to many TV and radio stations asking why Hurricane Katrina’s victims are referred as refugees. The last time I looked up the word refugee in the dictionary, here is what I found:

1. Random House Dictionary defines refugee as a person who flees for refuge or safety especially to a foreign country, as in a time of war.

2. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines refugee as one that flees especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution

3. Google search defines refugee as a person seeking refuge (or asylum). In common usage, the word refers to a person seeking asylum in a foreign country in order to escape persecution. Those who seek refugee status are sometimes known as asylum seekers and the practice of accepting such refugees is that of offering political asylum. The most common asylum claims are based upon political and religious grounds.

These victims of Hurricane Katrina were not invloved in any war. They have not fled to any foreign country. They were not being persecuted. Why on earth should they be called refugees. Even the Tsunami victims were not called refugees despite that thousands fled to Hong Kong, China and other neigboring countries. Rightly, certain immigrants who flee to other countries in times of war, religious and political reasons can be appripriatelely labelled refugees but to call Americans who fled to Houston and other parts of United States refugees because of natural disaster is a loose way of describing these victims.

Now that all those who survived have been evacutated, there seems to be a grim task of cleaning, restoring and rebuilding this unique citiy in the US. The New Orleans city leadership should now focus on rebuilding as well as how to prevent this from happening again. The season of hurrican is not over yet. The weather channel is citing that Hurricane Maria is making its way to Florida, Cuba and Bermuda. How can the leadership prepare or prevent another disaster like Hurricane Katrina happening in the future. What kind of emergency plans and city wide strategy should be implemented? Every State in the Union should brorrow from the State of Texas and in particular the city of Houston. Without the efficient and effective leadership of the city and the compassionate hearts of the people of Houston, it would have been a much bigger national disaster and disgrace.

Just the other day, our neigborhood organized a community-wide plan for preventing and helping residents in case of catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina. Recently in our neighbrohood, we have seen a lot of thrunsderstorms and flooding because of the mountians and lakes surrounding the community. One of my neighbors told me the reason why she relocated from Orlando, Florida to Atlanta after having suffered four hurricanes back-to-back. It cost her family lots of money. Evacuations are not always feasible and sometimes, it can be terrifying to be in such situation. Hurricanes disrupt a person’s life completely and any semblance of normalcy can be very difficult. She narrated how FEMA, the Small Business Administration and the Red Cross do not cover all of the person’s assets and the insurance companies will not either. Up till now, many people in Florida who lost their homes completely, are still in FEMA trailers or in a tool shed in the back yard of what used to be their homes without plumbing, electricity, airconditioning, space, or refrigerators, etc.

Rebuilding lives after tragedies like this can be a daunting task. For many’ it would take years to recover form the loss – loss of lives, homes, properties, emotional and pyschological problems. This is why everyone who did not suffer this must contribute money, blood and donate items especially children’s items to assist these unfortunate victims. I believe that the compassionate and courageous heart of people in this country and the support that is pouring in around the world will help these victims to overcome this tragedy. It may take years but people will overcome it because God has given us inert power within to overcome tragedies, hardships and sufferings. That power is to anchor our faith and hope in God and let Him be the source of our strength and hope. We have to trust God for all of our hardships and unspeakable circumstances and know that we are still in the center of His Will. For every human tragedy and suffering there is a purpose and later it produces wisdom, humility and faith in God (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-19). Be encouraged my brothers and sisters, this too shall pass!

About the Author: Rev. Ekeke is a consultant with a major fortune 500. He is a theologian, a technologist and a leadership student. He is the founder and President of Mcking Consulting & Technology services Inc., Kingdom Leadership Center and Center for Supernatural Leadership. He has written several articles on the subject of Theology and Leadership. He is the co-author of Oracle Discoverer, a business intelligence-training handbook. He is in the process of completing his first book on the subject of - Leadership Wisdom - Insights and ingredients for Supernatural Leadership, which is expected to be published by the end of the year. Rev. Ekeke is also working on his doctoral dissertation in leadership. He can be contacted at: