GALVESTON, TX - President Bush "toured" the Galveston beach front earlier today, although all media outlets I checked did NOT show anything from the Bolivar peninsula down to Crystal Beach, and on towards the West End. And no mention was made in any report of the "no fly" order given by this same President, an order that has effectively rendered a media blackout after a major hurricane for the first time in American history. That's another in a long string of "first's" for President Bush, starting with the December, 2007 suspension of Habeus Corpus (the very foundation of civilized law for the last 800 years) through the most Executive Orders of any sitting President (more actually, than were signed from ALL of the previous U.S. Presidents COMBINED.....) that all but whittled away what was left of the Constitution as envisioned by the American Founding Fathers.
But the real story is what is unspoken by any news bureau.
Where are all the people?
No word or footage was released for the people WHO HAD DONE WHAT THEY WERE TOLD TO DO and evacuated and were waiting for word of property, neighbors and families. According to Mayor Thomas, 57,000 people called Galveston home, and over 20,000 either choose to stay or were unable to evacuate when the bridges were closed earlier than announced. 40% of the island's population inhabited the West End of the island. It is that same West End that is under media blackout. No photos, no video, no comment.
Do the math. 22,800 people called the West End home. Where are they?
True, some did heed the evacuation order. But even City Manager LeBlanc bemoaned the fact that over 20,000 residents were not able to leave when the bridges were closed, or they actually choose to stay and ride out the storm. What little reports are on major news feeds mention very low "confirmed" deaths (The Chicago Tribune says the death count for Hurricane Ike is 65, with "...most outside of Texas".) Is this like the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq whereby U.S. soldiers are airlifted as quickly as possible to hospitals in Germany with large percentages dying en route and shortly after arrival, thereby "lowering" the official U.S. death toll in the Middle East? Perhaps the absence of a body means no "confirmation" due to Ike will ever be forthcoming?
And the "no-fly" order? Nary a word on major news outlets: I found it first mentioned on Dr. Jeff Master's weather blog and site in comments by an air traffic controller 11:49 A.M. GMT, September 13, 2008: "Update. All Houston area airports are either closed and/or not providing ATC service. There is an airspace (surface to 5,000 feet) restriction spanning most of Southeast Texas that only allows SAR (Search-and-Rescue) aircraft." This is unprecedented in what used to be a "free" country, but modus operandi in totalitarian regimes. Some reporters have complained, and locally in Texas television station KHOU has been brave enough to broadcast their angst, but for the rest of America and the world, very little comment. (Also, Houston ABC affiliate KTRK reported that "police had banned media coverage of the west end of the island".)
Add to this the commandeering of the last and only available means of communication - cell phones - left to a hurting and stranded populace by FEMA (The U.S. "Federal Emergency Management Agency" that has quickly taken charge, but has slowly allowed relief supplies and workers access.). No justification has been given as to why this would be blocked from those left alive, and yet no one seems to question this bizarre move on the part of FEMA.
Amidst the tragedy arises a new concern.
We now know of a facility euphemistically called the "University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston" (UTMB), whose website proclaims, "An academic health center dedicated to educating science professionals and researchers....solving biomedical puzzles through research...", that contains a Level-IV Bio Lab, one of only five in the United States. Level 4 is the highest bio-hazard level, and the most dangerous. Even the prestigious National Research Council criticized a federal government analysis that concluded that these labs pose no health threat to heavily populated communities, like Boston's South End and Galveston. One cannot but wonder what sort of demented individual or group would advocate such a facility anywhere near a heavily populated area, much less one on a barrier island in a flood plane and hurricane-prone region.
A Level 4 Bio-hazard Lab routinely handles agents comprising biological weapons of mass destruction. The NRC report states the U.S. government "... failed to adequately consider the dangers of working with the world's deadliest germs, including Ebola and plague, in the middle of a congested urban neighborhood." Such a facility is in an area of residential structures that suffered water seven feet deep in the first floor, not to mention the high winds and towering waves. The official response to inquiry is that only "minor" damage was sustained, but the entire complex has been taken over by the military, and no reporters have been allowed near the labs.
To put this in perspective, consider the lab announcement from the University website:
"The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is the site of the $167 million facility. Of the total 83,000-square-foot building, 12,362 square feet will be devoted to biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) research.
BSL-4 space is secure for work with "dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among BSL-4 safeguards are special air seals and air ducts to and from the lab, individual air supplies for researchers, required personal protection suits for workers, and numerous levels of security for entry. Such labs study diseases including anthrax, Ebola, SARS, and others."
Also at the UTMB website:
"The Keiller Building did experience some flooding in the basement but the rest of the facility is fine. There has been no loss of biocontainment or biosecurity. All labs were decontaminated and secured prior to the arrival of the storm. All agents have been stored in proper containers. The Shope Lab within the Keiller Building also remains secure."
Mayor Thomas was observed crying over the situation, and was so overcome with emotion that she could not speak further at a news conference. City employees have been banned from not only answering questions, but from even "conversing" with the media.
In another unusual move, presiding Judge James Yarbrough has authorized the forceful removal of lawful property owners and survivors. To quote the order:
...Now Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED by the County Judge of Galveston County, Texas, that:
all survivors located on Bolivar Peninsula shall be and are hereby ORDERED to vacate Bolivar Peninsula; and
this Order shall take effect immediately from and after its issuance.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, on this, the 14th day of September, 2008.
James D. Yarbrough,
County Judge of
Galveston County, Texas
According to Mayor Thomas of Galveston on Friday 9/12/2008, there are @57,000 permanent residents on the island. They estimated that about one-half evacuated. News reports repeatedly state that @ 2000 were rescued after landfall.
What about the remaining 26,500?
There are more questions than answers at this point. Unfortunately, no one seems to be asking any questions, and no one is risking their job volunteering any answers.