September 21, 2005

JOHN TIERNEY ON DISASTER RELIEF:

I don’t think Washington needs any more czars. But if President Bush feels compelled to put someone in charge of rebuilding the Gulf Coast, let me suggest a name: Lee Scott.

Scott is the chief executive of Wal-Mart, one of the few institutions to improve its image here after Katrina sent a 15-foot wave across the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. If you mention the Red Cross or FEMA to people in Slidell, you hear rants about help that didn’t arrive and phone lines that are always busy. If you mention state or national politicians, you hear obscenities.

But if you visit the Wal-Mart and the Sam’s Club stores here, you hear shoppers who have been without power for weeks marveling that there are still generators in stock (and priced at $304.04). You hear about the trucks that rolled in right after the hurricane and the stuff the stores gave away: chain saws and boots for rescue workers, sheets and clothes for shelters, water and ice for the public.

“This was the only place we could find water those first days,” said Rashan Smith, who was shopping with her three children at Wal-Mart on Saturday. “I still haven’t managed to get through to FEMA. It’s hard to say, but you get more justice at Wal-Mart.”

That’s the same assessment you hear from public officials in Louisiana, and there’s even been talk of letting Wal-Mart take over FEMA’s job. The company already has its own emergency operations center, where dozens of people began preparing for the hurricane the week before it hit by moving supplies and trucks into position.

Of course, not all for-profit institutions are that giving: I would have linked this yesterday at its New York Times home, but since TimesSelect forbids that, I’m linking it at the Tallahasseee Democrat today. Read the whole thing.

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