F.E.M.A. is a government administrative agency which should, in a nut shell, answer this question. It was not just the delay of F.E.M.A. that remains so criticized today, once they got there they acted in a typically governmentally inept way. Before taking this overbearing and costly administrative agency to task for their own ineptness it should be pointed out that the local government of New Orleans and the State government of Louisiana weren't any examples of shining government models. Hurricane Katrina is estimated at being the costliest natural disaster in United States history, killing more than 1,800 people and costing upwards of 100 million dollars in loss of real estate. In fairness to the federal government the catastrophic failure of the levee system in New Orleans was the responsibility of New Orleans and given that nearly every single metro levee system was breached this only underscores the ineptitude of the local government.
There was an abundance of lead time in prediction of this storm from both the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, but New Orleans is known as a party town and like the Aesop's Fable of the grasshopper and the Ant, New Orleans found itself a hapless little grasshopper while the survivors scurried about like desperate land agitated little ants. New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, failed to implement effective evacuation plans, directing people to a shelter of last resort that had no food nor water, no security nor sanitary conditions. To make things worse, Nagin refused to use available school buses to aid in the delayed and inept evacuation citing lack of a proper insurance policy to do so. There's a responsible leader for you, in the event of an emergency first check your insurance policy and see if it is allowed to survive. That action alone is estimated to have caused the deaths of several hundred people.
The initial supplies of food and water and other necessities brought in by F.E.M.A. were depleted quickly in a large part because of State and local governments refusal to issue timely evacuation notices. While on paper F.E.M.A. likes to bluster and blow hard about its so called authority the truth is, being a federal agency, they lacked the proper jurisdiction to do much of what needed to be done. Due to State and local governments proclivity, not to mention the peoples, towards expectations of federal government efficiency and flat out ignorance of the law, instead of acting in a productive and useful manner in response to this crisis most spent much of their time criticizing the federal governments lack of response. This is not to imply that F.E.M.A. didn't have any authority and what authority they did have was used in such a ridiculous manner it is astounding that anyone still believes the federal government is useful in such crisis situations.
Of the many inept actions of F.E.M.A., it was their impediment of neighboring cities, and States who had sent help in the form of police and fire officers as well as private citizens who traveled to New Orleans to help how they could. F.E.M.A. refused the help of three water trucks provided by Wall Mart, prevented the Coast Guard from delivering more than a thousand gallons of diesel fuel, and most astonishingly ordered that the Jefferson Parish emergency communications lines be cut. This last action prompted the local Sheriff to restore the lines himself while posting armed deputies around the lines to protect it from F.E.M.A.! More than fifty civilian aircrafts had swarmed to the area to aid in evacuation but were turned away by F.E.M.A. claiming these rescuers were not authorized to help. This is a tragically brilliant illustration of modern government and their belief that everyday people can not act as needed without permission from the federal government first. We the people can only act to save lives after an Act of Congress allows us to do so here in the "freest country in the world".
F.E.M.A. ordered more than 100 million dollars worth of ice for local hospitals that mysteriously never made it to the disaster area and instead was sent to rented storage facilities around the country. Later, in a Congressional Hearing investigating F.E.M.A.'s ineptitude, Micheal D Brown, Director of this useless administrative agency had this to say: "I don't think that's a federal government responsibility to provide ice to keep my hamburger meat in my freezer or refrigerator fresh." Okay! Out of State hospitals that had sent medical supplies were turned away, and private doctors who arrived on the scene from surrounding and even remote and distant areas to help the injured and sick evacuees, were handed mops and buckets and ordered to clean up as government officials explained the "legal liability" of "allowing" doctors to do what they do was "to great of a risk". So, while people died around these doctors they mopped floors. Dark, dark, very dark and bitter irony indeed.
When Director Brown feebly explained to CNN's reporter Soledad O'Brien that he was unaware of refugees crowded at the Convention Center, O'brien questioned him with this response: "How is it possible that we're getting better info than you were getting... we were showing live pictures of the people outside the Convention Center... also we'd been reporting that officials had been telling people to go to the Convention Center... I don't understand how FEMA cannot have this information." Brown admitted to some mistakes but O'Brien kept at it: "FEMA's been on the ground four days, going into the fifth day, why no massive air drop of food and water..." and pointing out to Brown that in Banda Aceh, Indonesia there were food drops just two days after that tsunami.
As criminals and miscreants like to do when faced with helpless governments created to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and provide for the general welfare, in New Orleans they had a field day as gang wars erupted and looters and thugs enjoyed free reign. Meanwhile, this useless show of federal, state and local governments, all committed to disarming the citizenry decided this chaos and anarchy that ruled in New Orleans was as good a place as any to show the world they were quite capable of disarming the people. New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Ocampo declared that; "No one will be able to be armed", ordering local police, National Guard troops and U.S. Marshall's to confiscate all civilian held fire arms. God forbid that in a time of such crisis where criminals, rapists and murderers roam the streets unimpeded, should the governments "allow" the citizens to defend themselves. After all, that is what the government is for.
This zealous desire to disarm the citizenry resulted in thousands of warrantless seizures of firearms, in some instances using the most absurd excessive force that only governments can do so well. In one instance, captured on film, several police officers entered the home of a 58 year old woman, Patricia Konie and demanded she surrender her sole pistol, an archaic revolver she had for protection. Konie, being one of the ever diminishing people in the United States still aware of her natural right to defend herself, quite correctly refused. The gallant and heroic New Orleans police officers then tackled this 58 year political dissident fracturing her shoulder but thankfully were able to wrest the revolver away from her and haul her into the police station and charge her with obstruction of justice.
The media, ardent in their support in disarming the citizenry saw nothing news worthy about this. Even so, the NRA, so relentlessly vilified by the media and Micheal Moore, reacted immediately to help local citizens regain or keep the necessary arms in this time of violent and criminal chaos. The confiscations, resulting in more than a thousand guns and rifles spurred the State Legislators of Louisiana and and twenty one other states to pass legislation prohibiting the illegal confiscation of firearms. What a novel idea, you would have thought our forefathers would have considered this when drafting the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In the days that followed, and once Brown was thankfully removed from his position in F.E.M.A., everyday people from across the country poured in to help with the aftermath. Quiet and unsung heroes helping those who needed it, largely unsung because our ever important "fourth estate" of a media was too busy playing blame games and pointing fingers at politicians and appointed officials ever so greedy for that next "mea culpa". So, while those who helped healed the sick and injured, cleaned up the mess and did what they could the rest of the country sat by their color T.V.'s riveted as Congress huffed as they puffed demanding answers to inexplicable failures of a government so trusted, so revered, so reliable as politicians shuffled and shifted their shifty beady eyes sniffing like rats in lame explanations and all this time later, while New Orleans still struggles, we the people sit back and occasionally wonder; "Why was it that F.E.M.A. took so long to respond?"