Red Cross is not in New Orleans for Katrina, Guard raced it to Superdome

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The American Red Cross is not lending its usual assistance in New Orleans, because the Louisiana National Guard acted first. After Saturday September 3, it was agreed with state officials the Red Cross was not needed because the large-scale evacuation of the city was under way.

The organization explains on its web site:

  • Access to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
  • The Red Cross does not conduct search and rescue operations. We are an organization of civilian volunteers and cannot get relief aid into any location until the local authorities say it is safe and provide us with security and access.
  • The original plan was to evacuate all the residents of New Orleans to safe places outside the city. With the hurricane bearing down, the city government decided to open a shelter of last resort in the Superdome downtown. We applaud this decision and believe it saved a significant number of lives.

On September 1, the Red Cross offered to Louisiana state officials to enter New Orleans, who rejected the offer due to logistical difficulties. Making the offer the next day to Col. Jay Mayeaux, the deputy director of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Red Cross was asked to wait 24 hours while preparations were made. By the next day, Saturday September 3rd, the National Guard had arrived in the city, felt they had adequate supplies and did not need the Red Cross.

Superdome: refuge of last resort

Superdome roof, 2 days after Katrina struck

The American Red Cross is often involved in emergency situations, and the term applied to the Superdome, "refuge of last resort", is based on Red Cross shelter standards. It is the minimal type of shelter, defined primarily by not meeting shelter standards:

  1. May or may not meet any of the ARC criteria for a shelter and has not been approved for use as a shelter by the ARC.
  2. May be located either inside or outside of the Hurricane Risk Area.
  3. Physical features required:
    Located outside of the flood zone or ability to locate on floors elevated above flood potential area and hurricane wind resistant structure.

Ticking clock

Despite the Superdome being a minimal shelter, it was reported there were 26,000 people there. As the Times-Picayune reported on Sunday, August 28, Col. Mayeaux was involved in preparations:

"To help keep them fed and hydrated, the Louisiana National Guard delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MREs — short for "meals ready to eat." That's enough to supply 15,000 people for three days, according to Col. Jay Mayeaux, deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Preparedness."

The National Guard delivered enough food for 15,000 people for 3 days, to a place which may have had 26,000 people. Four days later, National Guardsmen accompanied by buses (475 in all) and supply trucks arrived at the Superdome on September 1.