September 19, 2005


By Hook or by Crook, Surviving Storm: Miss. Officials Used Ingenuity -- and the Occasional Misdeed -- to Get Job Done (Sally Jenkins, 9/19/05, Washington Post)

Hurricane Katrina has transformed Mississippi's mayors into car thieves, and senators into blockade runners. Isolated by the initial hit of the storm and failed by the slow federal response, citizens have fended for themselves in some original and not entirely legal ways. Brent Warr, the Republican mayor of Gulfport, even ordered his police chief to hot-wire a truck.

"When you send your law enforcement out to steal things, that's when you know you're in a different situation," Warr says.

In Gulfport, Warr did everything by the book, right up until he started stealing. His force of 225 police officers and 190 firefighters stayed on the job in 24-hour shifts. Fire Chief Pat Sullivan went into the storm to cut away felled trees from the roads leading to the hospitals. In the city's sea-blue antebellum City Hall, Warr worked without power.

But Gulfport was still without help three days after the storm, and Warr's control over the situation was slipping. Looting broke out downtown. When Warr drove a utility vehicle down U.S. 90, he watched as his longtime family business, Warr's Men's Clothing, was ransacked.

Worst of all, the city was running out of fuel. Generators were about to fail, rescue vehicles were running out of gas. One local hospital radioed that it was on backup power and had no water, and that looters were circling.

Warr turned to his chief of police, Stephen T. Barnes. There was a private fuel transport vehicle -- Warr doesn't remember whose -- parked in a lot behind a chain-link fence. Warr had the lock cut. "Can we hot-wire it?" he asked.

Barnes said, "I wasn't cut out to be a crook; that's why I went into law enforcement."

"Well, can we get someone from the jail to do it?" Warr asked.

Thirty minutes later, the truck was sitting in the City Hall parking lot. That was just one episode in Warr's life of petty crime over the past three weeks. long as you're successful, everything is justified in retrospect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2005 12:00 AM

As a wise man once said:

You can get away with being incompetent, and you can get away with being corrupt; but you had better give up one or the other.

Posted by: Mike Earl at September 19, 2005 11:06 AM

And the point of that piece of nonsense article is?

Posted by: Genecis at September 19, 2005 11:52 AM


No one cares later if you break the rules in an emergency and succeed.

Posted by: oj at September 19, 2005 1:38 PM

One of the rules of bureaucracy is that it's always easier to apologize than to get permission. Especially if you let your superiors take credit for your success.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 19, 2005 6:19 PM