Waiting for Katrina

It had to happen sooner or later. A natural disaster was destined to hit a town in another state led by a Democrat governor who was willing to feed the waiting media activists with a swipe against President Bush and the War in Iraq. Such a tragedy happened over the weekend when a category five tornado hit Greensburg, Kansas and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius immediately blamed the war in Iraq for a lack of response by depleted National Guard units. The situation was so politically opportunistic that even Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated while on a campaign stop that 10,000 residents had been killed in the devastation.

Fortunately neither of those contrived claims were true. The death count is up to 12 and the guard did respond as expected. This led both politicians to retract their statements but it didn't stop the New York Times from running with a pre-packaged screed about how this tornado has renewed debate about the use of National Guard Troops in war.

CHICAGO, May 8 — For months, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and other governors have warned that their state National Guards are ill-prepared for the next local disaster, be it a tornado a flash flood or a terrorist’s threat, because of large deployments of their soldiers and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, last Friday night, a deadly tornado all but cleared the small town of Greensburg off the Kansas map. With 80 square blocks of the small farming town destroyed, Ms. Sebelius said her fears had come true: The emergency response was too slow, she said, and there was only one reason.

“As you travel around Greensburg, you’ll see that city and county trucks have been destroyed,” Ms. Sebelius, a Democrat, said Monday. “The National Guard is one of our first responders. They don’t have the equipment they need to come in, and it just makes it that much slower.”

For nearly two days after the storm, there was an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders. By Sunday afternoon, more than a day and a half after the tornado, only about half of the Guard troops who would ultimately respond were in place.

It was not until Sunday night that significant numbers of military vehicles started to arrive, many streaming in a long caravan from Wichita about 100 miles away. - NY Times, Kansas Tornado Renews Debate on Guard at War

Of course this was the initial story. As the political storm brewed stories changed and assessments were redefined. The Kansas City Star reported that politicians on both sides had backed down, praising each other for their efforts.

Later, the governor and the White House tried to defuse the situation. Corcoran said Sebelius had praised the White House’s immediate response and told administration officials that Kansas had what it needed “right now, today.”

“The administration is definitely reaching out,” Corcoran said. “They are paying attention to what’s going on in Greensburg, Kansas. The governor greatly appreciates that. There is no dispute.”

And by his midday briefing, Snow had softened his tone. He accused reporters of “trying to pick a fight.”

Fox News expanded on the comments by Tony Snow.

Snow said that FEMA began moving in resources quickly into the region before federal disaster paperwork was solidified. "This is a success story in the sense that people were moving very quickly to get assets there," Snow said.

He also said that White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend on Tuesday spoke with Sebelius, who seemed satisfied with the amount of help she was getting, even after repeated questions.

"And Fran again said, 'Is there anything you need to respond effectively to this disaster?' The governor responded, 'No, we could not have asked for a faster response. [FEMA Administrator] Dave Paulison was terrific yesterday.' ... The governor said, 'We've got to get power and water running. I've got what I need. I've got your number. I won't be shy. We'll call if I need anything,' " Snow said, explaining he was not on the phone call but was repeating notes he'd seen.

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican White House hopeful and Iraq war supporter, also strongly defended the Guard force levels in the state, saying local officials have told him the forces are capable of responding to natural disasters at their current equipment and staffing levels.

"That's what really got me, is her saying that," Brownback said of Sebelius. "Everybody there said no, we have the equipment we needed."

Which is exactly right. Media activists are quick to employ opportunistic precedent with unfounded claims in an effort to contort a disaster into fitting their cause and the Kansas tornado follow up is the latest such example. Had the New York Times even bothered to check the facts they would have known that there was more than enough support available to handle this 80 block area. They would have also found out that Kansas has 88% of its guard forces available to help combined with an extra 83,000 guardsmen at their disposal from neighboring states according to sources cited in the Fox news report.

But the New York Times wouldn't have even had to wait for other more reputable news agencies such as Fox news to gather and report on these statistics. They could have looked up a Kiowa county web site to get detailed information about the recovery operations as early as April 6th which is 2 days prior to the canned NY Times report. The report details rescue operations from all available resources that paints a stark contradiction to the NY Times portrayal of "an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg".

Sun May 06, 2007, 04:49 PM CDT

GREENSBURG, KS -

State and local agencies and volunteer organizations continue to respond to the devastation in Greensburg, caused by a tornado that struck the community Friday.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius declared a State of Disaster Emergency for Kiowa County.

[snip]

The American Red Cross has established two shelters in Haviland. Approximately 300 people were sheltered during the night. Red Cross officials are advising people concerned about the safety of friends and family to go American Red Cross website (www.redcross.org) and click on the ?Safe and Well? link to enter information about the person being sought.

The Salvation Army is establishing a donations center, a social services center and a distribution center in Haviland. They are requesting donations of cash only at this time.

The Salvation Army has also established three canteens in Greensburg to feed storm victims and rescue workers.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management is coordinating response and recovery operations. Soldiers and airmen from the Kansas National Guard are assisting with security, communications and shelter missions.

The Guardsmen are from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, 891st Engineer Battalion and 184th Air Refueling Wing. The 134th Air Control Squadron is supplying two 120 kW generators to assist in search and rescue operations and 1,500 gallons of water.

Eighteen light sets from the 184th ARW have also been sent to Greensburg to provide light for response and recovery operations. The Pratt Kansas National Guard armory has been opened as a staging area for logistic support.

The Kansas Highway Patrol is also assisting with reestablishing communications and public safety issues.

The Kansas Department of Transportation has provided roadblocks and signage to keep out authorized persons from entering the area. KDOT is also involved in clearing debris from highways to so rescue vehicles can get into the affected areas. The State Fire Marshal is checking into any reported hazardous materials.

Wichita Search and Rescue has dispatched several teams to assist with search and rescue operations and Sedgwick County Public Health Emergency Team has been sent to the area with staff, consumable supplies and durable equipment, including two generators.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has contacted all major property insurance companies in Kansas. Claims agents will be making damage assessments as soon as it is deemed safe to return to the area, probably Monday.

Power outages have been reported throughout Kiowa and surrounding counties. Cell phones and land line communications were also severely impacted. The Kansas National Guard mobile incident command vehicle is on site, as well as the Kansas Department of Transportation communications-on-wheels vehicle and the Kansas Highway Patrol sent its command and communications vehicle to assist in restoration of communication systems.

911 communications have been restored by the KDOT vehicle.

Sedgwick County sent a search and rescue crew to the city to assist in evacuation efforts at the local hospital, which was damaged by the tornado. Approximately 30 people were rescued from the hospital with minor injuries.

Emergency crews from surrounding counties are also assisting with medical response. Two quadrants have been searched and two are still being searched.

The City of Hutchinson sent four police officers, two patrol cars and three pick-up trucks with portable generators to Greensburg.

The Civil Air Patrol conducted several air reconnaissance flights to survey damages in coordination with flights by the Kansas Highway Patrol.

There is no doubt in my mind that the devastation was horrendous. But that doesn't absolve the news reporters in the mainstream media from their obligation to report the news instead of making it up. This is a ridiculous example of the New York Times displaying their lack of journalistic standards by trying to create news in the hopes that activists will suddenly sprout out of the woodwork and boost their flagging circulation. Perhaps they'd be better off by doing their own rescue operation and gutting the paper from activists who appear to know little about journalism and much about disaster baiting.

Terry Trippany is the editor of Webloggin