MONDAY, AUGUST 29 The most fucked-up week in contemporary American history kicked off today with a mass exodus from New Orleans following the evacuation order issued yesterday by Mayor Ray Nagin, who'll soon emerge as a national political hero but was today still just a mayor, albeit an exceedingly alarmed one desperate to protect his citizens from the fast-approaching, emboldened-by-the-warm-gulf category 5 Katrina. "We are facing a storm that many of us have long feared," warned Mayor Nagin, whose worst fears were allayed as Katrina struck east of New Orleans, running aground after declining to a category 4 hurricane that still managed to rip the shit out of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Still, New Orleans had been spared a direct hit, an estimated 80 percent of the city's inhabitants had evacuated successfully, and of the estimated 100,000 left behind—the vast majority of them poor, black, and car-less—a good 10,000 had already been relocated to the New Orleans Superdome, where all they had to do was try not to go crazy from loss and desperation, and wait for help to come.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30 Today the world learned that the havoc wreaked by Katrina was nowhere near as simple as it seemed at the end of yesterday. Due to the failure of the drainage system leading to a breach of a levee, the below-sea-level basin of New Orleans slowly but steadily flooded, until 80 percent of the city was underwater. The number of survivors sequestered at the Superdome grew to over 12,000, with untold thousands also crowding the city's convention center, none of whom had access to sufficient food, water, or shelter. (Today brought the first reports of rape and the first Superdome suicide.) With New Orleans's local government disabled by increasingly bio-hazardous water, all eyes turned to Washington, D.C. where the Pentagon announced, like an Homeric king, that it would send five ships to aid in rescue operations, though four of the ships were several days away. As for the President, Dubya conceded that the devastation in New Orleans was so horrific that he would cut short his five-week vacation by two days, though his actual appearance in Louisiana is, like the ships, several days away.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31 Today the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina split in half, becoming two distinct horrors: the devastation wreaked by the hurricane itself, and the devastation engendered by the lack of government response. Regarding the former: By today, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) had deployed 39 medical teams and 1,700 trailer trucks to aid in relief and rescue. Regarding the latter: President Bush today made history with 10 words that, if God exists, will haunt him all the way to Hell: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." Repudiation of Bush's claim is available to any Googler: In 2001, FEMA identified a gulf hurricane as one of the three likeliest disasters to strike America; since then, federal spending on flood control in Southeast Louisiana has been cut by nearly half. Meanwhile, the tens of thousands crowding the ever-more-fetid Superdome and Convention Center continued to wait.
•• Also today: Further evidence of the end of the world came from Baghdad, where a parade of Shiite pilgrims turned tragic after false rumors of a suicide bomb led to a stampede that killed 800 fucking people.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1 For years, Last Days has indulged in the existential defense of reflexive cynicism, of the hope-for-the-best/prepare-for-the-worst variety, a protective stance that extends most naturally to the world of politics. Post-Watergate, such received cynicism is justified; mid-Dubya, it's deserved. But today Last Days' vast, abiding, pain-preempting, soul-diminishing cynicism proved insufficient in the face of the baldly contemptuous actions undertaken by our federal officials. From homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff's praising of the federal response to New Orleans as "really exceptional" to Condoleezza Rice's evening at Spamalot and afternoon of shoe shopping, today the federal government's ignorance of and indifference to the horror unfolding in New Orleans—a beloved major city in a nation that's devoted billions to terror preparedness—became indisputable. Something tremendous and terrifying was revealed today, seemingly without compunction on the part of those incriminated by the revelation, which will steadily permeate the psyche of the nation but remain ineffable until tomorrow night, when Kanye West nails it in one stark sentence. But today, as Senate and House officials proudly announced their preparation of a $10 billion emergency aid package, the 45,000 refugees still stranded at the Superdome and Convention Center were met with only increasing savagery—rapes, murders, deaths by neglect—that unequivocally implicated the government and left a good portion of the population numb with horror.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2 Today outrage over the government's lack of response to Katrina grew to a piercing scream. "This is a desperate S.O.S.," begged Mayor Ray Nagin. "Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. Now get off your asses and do something." In a thoroughly unnerving development, such rage even found an outlet in the typically stoic mass media—most notably through CNN dreamboat Anderson Cooper, who lashed out at New Orleans Senator Mary Landrieu, angrily admitting he was unaware of the finer points of federal aid legislation because he was too busy watching corpses get eaten by rats on the streets of New Orleans. But the man of the day was arguably peerless pop genius Kanye West. Appearing on NBC's benefit telethon, A Concert for Hurricane Relief, West ditched the teleprompter and went for the jugular, issuing a statement that should become the Democrats' key rallying cry on the road to '08: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Meanwhile, Dubya will finally drag his smirking monkey ass to the devastated region, where he'll hug some actual poor black people with his actual arms. By day's end, nearly 20,000 troops will be stationed in Louisiana and Mississippi, a large convoy of relief supplies will arrive at the convention center, and the fatally filthy and lawless Superdome will finally begin to empty.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 Today the long-awaited federal relief effort continued, with tens of thousands of National Guard troops deployed to the region and fewer than 2,000 refugees remaining in the Superdome. Meanwhile, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William H. Rehnquist died of thyroid cancer, opening a terrifying second spot on the Supreme Court for Dubya to fill.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4 The week ends with a mildly gratifying day of reckoning, thanks primarily to NBC's Meet the Press, whose host Tim Russert subjected Homeland Security Secretary/federal-incompetence poster boy Michael Chertoff to a thrillingly merciless point-blank grilling. The gross inadequacy of Chertoff's robotic responses was promptly laid bare by Russert's follow-up guest, Aaron Broussard, the president of a Louisiana parish, who broke down sobbing as he spoke of a friend's elderly mom who drowned after waiting five days for repeatedly promised help. "Bureaucracy has committed murder here in New Orleans." Meanwhile, the international implications of the week's deadly failures were ably expressed by the New York Times' Frank Rich: "Thanks to Mr. Bush's variously incompetent, diffident, and hubristic mismanagement of the attack by Katrina, he has sent the entire world a simple and unambiguous message: Whatever the explanation, the United States is unable to fight its current war and protect homeland security at the same time."
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