Fact Check

School Buses

Photograph purportedly shows school buses caught in a flooded New Orleans parking lot because no one ordered them to be deployed to evacuate residents ahead of Hurricane Katrina.

Published Sep 5, 2005

Claim:
Photograph shows school buses caught in a flooded New Orleans parking lot because no one ordered them to be deployed to evacuate residents ahead of Hurricane Katrina.
What's True

Photograph shows school buses caught in a flooded New Orleans parking lot.

What's False

The buses didn't sit in a parking lot because no one thought to use them to evacuate residents ahead of Hurricane Katrina.

The photo verification part of this item is simple enough: The image of school buses in a flooded parking lot displayed above was taken in New Orleans on 1 September 2005 by photographer Phil Coale and distributed by the Associated Press (AP); it was published by a variety of news outlets, including Yahoo! News.

That this photograph represents a bungled opportunity to have evacuated a substantial number of New Orleans residents ahead of Hurricane Katrina is not supported by evidence. Such a claim presumes an availability of resources (e.g., experienced drivers, fuel) and workable logistics (e.g., sufficient means of notifying and getting residents to departure points, sufficiently clear roads for multiple trips out of town and back, adequate facilities within a reasonable driving distance capable of providing shelter, food, and water to a large number of people for an indeterminate period of time on short notice) that may or may not have been present. (There's no guarantee that all the buses shown in this picture were even in working condition.) And, given the particular geography of New Orleans, any such evacuation would have had to have begun well in advance of Hurricane Katrina to avoid exposing residents to the potential danger of being stuck in buses on traffic-clogged roads in the path of an approaching hurricane. Moreover, any type of evacuation effort would have incurred a substantial outlay of funds from local and/or state governments — while everyone agrees with the advantage of hindsight that would have been money well spent, many taxpayers might not have been left feeling so enthusiastic about footing the bill for an unnecessary evacuation had Hurricane Katrina not proved so damaging.

More important, residents of New Orleans received no pre-Katrina warning from federal or state officials, nor from hurricane or engineering experts, that the city's leveescould breach and fail. They weren't looking to jump aboard buses and evacuate because they thought they were relatively safe; they didn't anticipate that levee construction problems would end up destroying their homes and lives.

Some opportunities like the one posited here might have been missed in New Orleans, but coping with the uncertainty and confusion of natural disasters as they unfold is rarely as simple as it might seem in retrospect.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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