Katrina: Privatized bus contractor screws the pooch, while FEMA turns down volunteers!
Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, as images of devastation along the Gulf Coast and despair in New Orleans flickered across television screens, the head of one of the nation's largest bus associations repeatedly called federal disaster officials to offer help.
Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association said he spent much of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, trying to find someone at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who could tell him how many buses were needed for an evacuation, where they should be sent and who was overseeing the effort.
"We never talked directly to [FEMA] or got a call back from them," Pantuso said.
Pantuso, whose members include some of the nation's largest motor coach companies, including Greyhound and Coach USA, eventually learned that the job of extracting tens of thousands of residents from flooded New Orleans wasn't being handled by FEMA at all.
Instead [FEMA] had farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turn hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company.
Wow, a Republican daisy chain!
Over the next four days, those companies and a collection of Louisiana officials cobbled together a fleet of at least 1,100 buses that belatedly descended on New Orleans to evacuate residents waiting amid the squalor and mayhem of the Superdome and the city's convention center.
The day before the storm hit Aug. 29, the city of New Orleans had ordered its residents to flee but had not made provisions for upwards of 100,000 residents too old, too poor or otherwise unable or unwilling to leave.
Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, the Jacksonville company that held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation, did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of Aug. 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit, according to Sally Snead, a Carey senior vice president who headed the bus roundup.
In a regulatory filing last week, Landstar Express said it has received government orders worth at least $125 million for Katrina-related work. It's not known how much of that total pertains to the bus evacuation.
Landstar Express is a subsidiary of Landstar System, a $2 billion company whose board chairman, Jeff Crowe, also was chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation's premier business lobbies, from June 2003 until May 2004.
Landstar's regulatory filing also said that because of Hurricane Katrina, the maximum annual value of its government contract for disaster relief services has been increased to $400 million.
Why do the wicked prosper? (Jeremiah 12:1)