Hurricane Katrina

When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans on August 29, 2005, it left in its wake intense devastation, hundreds of thousands of displaced people, and growing disorder. As water broke through levees and the streets of the city flooded, governmental and military authorities scrambled to evacuate stranded refugees, many of whom were trapped in dangerous, unhealthy conditions in emergency shelters such as the New Orleans Superdome.

As this tragedy unfolded a detached President Bush flew over the devastated city on his way from his Texas ranch to Washington, D.C., but did not travel back to the Gulf Coast until September 2. On that day, he praised FEMA Director Michael Brown for doing “a heck of a job” in managing a disaster despite the agency’s failure to adequately prepare the city for the magnitude of the storm or deal with the aftermath.

Upon taking office, Bush installed ill-equipped political allies in top emergency management positions. Brown himself had virtually no emergency management experience – but he and two other top FEMA leaders did have ties to Bush’s campaign or other Republican political operations. After September 11, 2001, FEMA had been absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security, and its resources had been diverted to anti-terrorism efforts.

As the depth of the damage on the Gulf Coast and the administration’s botched response began to come to light, Bush officials tried to shift the blame to state and local officials. A senior Bush official falsely claimed that Louisiana Governor Blanco had not declared a state of emergency, and Bush himself sought to downplay the forewarnings he had received about the levees’ vulnerability.

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A Disastrous Response dome

Bush’s Story: Hurricane Katrina Response Demonstrates Bush’s “Crisis Management”

Bush Library Display On Hurricane Katrina Emphasizes Bush’s “Crisis Management.” The following image is a photograph of the George W. Bush Library and Museum display on Hurricane Katrina:

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[George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Display, photo taken May 3-4, 2013]

Bush Library Features Quote From President Saying “Katrina Exposed Serious Problems In Our Response Capability.” According to the Hurricane Katrina display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. … I want to know what went right and what went wrong.” [George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Display]

Missing From Bush’s Quote: “And To The Extent That The Federal Government Didn’t Fully Do Its Job Right, I Take Responsibility.” According to the New York Times, “President Bush said on Tuesday that he bore responsibility for any failures of the federal government in its response to Hurricane Katrina and suggested that he was unsure whether the country was adequately prepared for another catastrophic storm or terrorist attack. ‘Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,’ Mr. Bush said in an appearance in the East Room with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq. ‘I want to know what went right and what went wrong.’” [New York Times, 9/14/05]

Timeline of the Tragedy

8/26/05: Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco Declared A State Of Emergency. According to the States News Service, “Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco today issued Proclamation No. 48 KBB 2005, declaring a state of emergency for the state Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina poses an imminent threat, carrying severe storms, high winds, and torrential rain that may cause flooding and damage to private property and public facilities, and threaten the safety and security of the citizens of the state of Louisiana The state of emergency extends from Friday, August 26, 2005, through Sunday, September 25, 2005, unless terminated sooner.” [States News Service, 8/26/05]

8/27/05: Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco Requested Emergency Declaration From President Bush. According to the Times-Picayune, “Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco forwarded a letter to President Bush requesting that he declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina.” According to the letter, “Under the provisions of Section 501 (a) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act), and implemented by 44 CFR § 206.35, I request that you declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period beginning August 26, 2005, and continuing. The affected areas are all the southeastern parishes including the New Orleans Metropolitan area and the mid state Interstate I-49 corridor and northern parishes along the I-20 corridor that are accepting the thousands of citizens evacuating from the areas expecting to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina.” [Blanco Letter, Times-Picayune, 8/27/05]

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8/26/05: Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco Declared A State Of Emergency. According to the States News Service, “Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco today issued Proclamation No. 48 KBB 2005, declaring a state of emergency for the state Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina poses an imminent threat, carrying severe storms, high winds, and torrential rain that may cause flooding and damage to private property and public facilities, and threaten the safety and security of the citizens of the state of Louisiana The state of emergency extends from Friday, August 26, 2005, through Sunday, September 25, 2005, unless terminated sooner.” [States News Service, 8/26/05]

8/27/05: Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco Requested Emergency Declaration From President Bush. According to the Times-Picayune, “Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco forwarded a letter to President Bush requesting that he declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina.” According to the letter, “Under the provisions of Section 501 (a) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act), and implemented by 44 CFR § 206.35, I request that you declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period beginning August 26, 2005, and continuing. The affected areas are all the southeastern parishes including the New Orleans Metropolitan area and the mid state Interstate I-49 corridor and northern parishes along the I-20 corridor that are accepting the thousands of citizens evacuating from the areas expecting to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina.” [Blanco Letter, Times-Picayune, 8/27/05]

Blanco Letter To Bush: “This Incident Is Of Such Severity And Magnitude That Effective Response Is Beyond The Capabilities Of The State And Affected Local Governments.” According to a letter from Louisina Gov. Kathleen Blanco to President Bush, “I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal.” [Blanco Letter, Times-Picayune, 8/27/05]

8/27/05: From His Ranch, President Bush Declared Federal Emergency, Giving FEMA Authority To Coordinate Response Efforts. According to the Associated Press, “President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on Saturday because of the approach of Hurricane Katrina and his spokesman urged residents along the coast to heed authorities’ advice to evacuate. Bush, vacationing at his ranch, was being regularly updated about the storm, which is expected to hit land early Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue to coordinate with state authorities in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, and have prepositioned supplies in areas expected to be affected, he said. The president’s emergency declaration authorizes the FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and to provide appropriate assistance in a number of Louisiana parishes, or counties.” [Associated Press, 8/28/05]

8/28/05: National Weather Service Issued Urgent Message Warning That “Hurricane With Unprecedented Strength” Could Cause “Human Suffering Incredible By Modern Standards.” According to a message from the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Katrina…a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength…rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille of 1969. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks…perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail…leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. The majority of industrial buildings will become non functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failure is expected. All wood framed low rising apartment buildings will be destroyed. Concrete block low rise apartments will sustain major damage…including some wall and roof failure. […] Power outages will last for weeks…as most power poles will be down and transformers destroyed. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.” [National Weather Service, 8/28/05]

8/28/05: New Orleans Mayor Ordered City Evacuated, Stranded Tourists And Residents Sent To Superdome And Other Rescue Centers. According to the Associated Press, “Mayor Ray Nagin ordered an immediate mandatory evacuation Sunday for all of New Orleans, a city sitting below sea level with 485,000 inhabitants, as Hurricane Katrina bore down with wind revved up to nearly 175 mph and a threat of a massive storm surge. Acknowledging that large numbers of people, many of them stranded tourists, would be unable to leave before the eye of the storm strikes land sometime Monday morning, the city set up 10 places of last resort including the Superdome arena. […] Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Interstate 10, which was converted Saturday so that all lanes headed one-way out of town, was gridlocked. […] The Superdome was already taking in people with special problems Sunday morning. People on walkers, some with oxygen tanks, began checking in when it opened about 8 a.m.” [Associated Press, 8/28/05]

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Line to get into the Superdome shelter in New Orleans (August 28, 2005)
Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

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Line to get into the Superdome shelter in New Orleans (August 28, 2005)
Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

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FEMA’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team at the New Orleans Superdome (August 31, 2005)
Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

8/29/05: Katrina Made Landfall In The Early Morning. According to the New York Times, “Katrina turned slightly to the east before slamming ashore early Monday with 145-mph (233-kph) winds, providing some hope that the worst of the storm’s wrath might not be directed at this vulnerable, below-sea-level city. But National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield warned that New Orleans would be pounded throughout the day Monday and that Katrina’s potential 20-foot ( 6-meter) storm surge was still more than capable of swamping the city. Katrina, which a day before had grown to a 175-mph (282-kph), Category 5 behemoth, made landfall about 6:10 a.m. CDT (1110 GMT) east of Grand Isle in the bayou town of Buras.” [New York Times, 8/29/05]

8/29/05: Superdome Power Failed At 5 AM. According to the New York Times, “Katrina’s fury also was felt at the Louisiana Superdome, normally home of professional football’s Saints, which became the shelter of last resort for about 9,000 of the area’s poor, homeless and frail. Electrical power at the Superdome failed at 5:02 a.m., triggering groans from the crowd. Emergency generators kicked in, but the backup power runs only reduced lighting and cannot run the air conditioning.” [New York Times, 8/29/05]

8/29/05: Parts Of Superdome Roof Blown Away. According to Bloomberg, “Hurricane Katrina blew two parts off the roof of the New Orleans Superdome where about 10,000 people are seeking shelter, and rain was falling on the field and lower parts of the stadium’s stands, a manager for the state’s Social Services Department said.” [Bloomberg, 8/29/05]

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The New Orleans Superdome’s damaged roof (September 8, 2005)
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

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The New Orleans Superdome’s damaged roof (September 4, 2005)
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

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Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty in a rescue helicopter (August 20, 2005)
DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi, U.S. Coast Guard. (Released)

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Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott D. Rady rescuing a woman in New Orleans (August 30, 2005)
U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

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Navy Search and Rescue Swimmer Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Chun with an evacuee in a Seahawk helicopter (September 5, 2005) DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jay C. Pugh, U.S. Navy (Released)

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Soldiers from the 832nd Medical Company rescue a Katrina victim (September 1, 2010)
Wisconsin National Guard file photo

8/29/05: Levees Were Breached, New Orleans Began To Flood. According to the Associted Press, “Even with Katrina swirling away to the north, two different levee breaches in New Orleans sent a churning sea of water coursing through city streets. Col. Rich Wagenaar of the Army Corps of Engineers, said a breach in the eastern part of the city was causing flooding and ‘significant evacuations’ in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. He did not know how many people were affected by the flooding. Authorities also were gathering information on a levee breach in the western part of New Orleans. Jason Binet, of the Army Corps of Engineers, said that breach began Monday afternoon and may have grown overnight. Residents who had ridden out the brunt of Katrina now faced a second more insidious threat as flood waters continued their ascent well into the night.” [Associated Press, 8/29/05]

8/30/05: Louisiana Governor Ordered Evacuation Of Entire City, Including Superdome, As Conditions Deteriorated. According to Fox News, “Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has ordered everyone in New Orleans — many of whom have been huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers — to leave. As many as 25,000 people were going to be bused from the Superdome to the Houston Astrodome in Texas. There will be a ‘total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months,’ [New Orleans Mayor Ray] Nagin said. Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated. […] The air conditioning inside the Superdome was out, the toilets were broken, and tempers were rising in the sweltering heat. Sewage could be seen seeping out of manholes in downtown New Orleans.” [Fox News, 8/31/05]

8/31/05: Bush Flew Over New Orleans On The Way From His Texas Ranch To Washington. According to the Associated Press, “Bush cut short his working vacation in Texas by two days to fly over the devastated region. His plane flew over New Orleans at about 2,500, and it descended even further, to about 1,700 feet, over Mississippi. Bush surveyed the damage from a couch near the left front of the plane. The plane flew over New Orleans, then traveled along the coast to Mobile, Miss., before turning north toward Washington. ‘It’s totally wiped out,’ Bush remarked as the modified Boeing 747 moved east past Slidell, a Louisiana community reduced to a pile of rubble and sticks. ‘It’s devastating, it’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground,’ Bush said, according to his spokesman Scott McClellan.” [Associated Press, 8/31/05]

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President Bush looks at New Orleans from Air Force One as he flies from Texas to Washington, D.C. (August 31, 2005)
White House photo by Paul Morse

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A photo of flooding in New Orleans taken from Air Force One (August 31, 2005)
White House photo by Paul Morse

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Flooding in the streets of New Orleans (August 31, 2005)
U.S. Navy photo by Airman Jeremy L. Grisham.

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Evacuees wait on a roof in New Orleans (August 30, 2005)
Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA [FEMA.gov, 8/30/05]

8/31/05: Public Health Emergency Declared. According to the Associated Press, “As a public health catastrophe unfolded Wednesday in New Orleans, hospitals in the Crescent City sank further into disaster, airlifting babies without their parents to other states and struggling with more sick people appearing at their doors. Dangerous, unsanitary conditions spread across the city, much of which now sits in a murky stew of germs. The federal government declared a public health emergency for the Gulf Coast region, promising 40 medical centers with up to 10,000 beds and thousands of doctors and nurses for the hurricane-ravaged area.” [Associated Press, 8/31/05]

9/1/05: Violence And Lawlessness Spread Through City. According to CNN, “Violence disrupted relief efforts Thursday in New Orleans as authorities rescued desperate residents still trapped in the flooded city and tried to evacuate thousands of others living among corpses and human waste. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said his agency was attempting to work ‘under conditions of urban warfare.’ Police snipers were stationed on the roof of their precinct, trying to protect it from armed miscreants roaming seemingly at will.” [CNN, 9/1/05]

9/1/05: Refugees Stranded Without Food Or Water. According to NPR, “Days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall east of New Orleans, thousands remain stranded in the city, many without food or fresh water. The city’s mayor has issued what he called an ‘Urgent SOS’ for help.” [NPR, 9/1/05]

9/1/05: Superdome Evacuation Suspended Due To Violence. According to the Associated Press, “The evacuation of the Superdome was suspended Thursday because of growing lawlessness outside the arena, as National Guardsmen in armored vehicles poured into New Orleans to help restore order across the increasingly desperate city. […] The first of 500 busloads of people who were evacuated from the hot and stinking Louisiana Superdome arrived early Thursday at their new temporary home – another sports arena, the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles (560 kilometers) away. But the evacuation was abruptly suspended by the air ambulance service in charge of taking the sick and injured from the Superdome and by the military, which was overseeing the removal of the able-bodied. Richard Zeuschlag, chief of Acadian Ambulance, said shots were fired at a military helicopter, making it clear that it had become too dangerous for his pilots. And National Guard Lt. Col. Pete Schneider said the military suspended the ground evacuation because fires set outside the arena were preventing buses from getting close enough to pick people up.” [Associated Press, 9/1/05]

9/2/05: Bush Traveled To The Gulf Coast. According to the Washington Post, “Amid a surge of denunciations from political leaders in both parties, President Bush agreed yesterday that the results of his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina have been ‘not acceptable’ and flew to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast for a day-long tour of the devastation. […] ‘It’s as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine,’ Bush said at another point. As he left New Orleans, Bush said: ‘I’m going to fly out of here in a minute, but I want you to know that I’m not going to forget what I’ve seen. I understand the devastation requires more than one day’s attention.’” [Washington Post, 9/3/05]

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President Bush in Marine One flying over the New Orleans Superdome (September 2, 2005)
White House photo by Eric Draper

9/3/05: Evacuation Efforts Began At New Orleans Convention Center. According to the Washington Post, “Evacuation efforts for 25,000 desperate refugees began at the New Orleans convention center today, and the Bush administration dispatched thousands more troops to the hurricane-devastated area while defending itself against criticism they were slow to react to the disaster, calling it an ‘ultra-catastrophe’ that nobody could have predicted.” [Washington Post, 9/3/05]

9/3/05: Superdome Evacuation Completed. According to the Associated Press, “The last 300 refugees in the Superdome climbed aboard buses Saturday bound for new temporary shelter, leaving behind a darkened and stinking arena strewn with trash.” [Associated Press, 9/3/05]

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Katrina evacuees from New Orleans in the Houston Astrodome (September 1, 2005)
FEMA phot/Andrea Booher

9/4/05: “There Remained An Overwhelming Display Of Human Misery On The Streets.” According to the Washington Post, “But there remained an overwhelming display of human misery on the streets of New Orleans, where the last 1,500 people were being evacuated from the Convention Center amid an overpowering odor of human waste and rotting garbage. The evacuees, most of them black and poor, spoke of violence, anarchy and family members who died for lack of food, water and medical care. About 42,000 people had been evacuated from the city by Saturday afternoon, with roughly the same number remaining, city officials said. Search-and-rescue efforts continued in flooded areas of the city, where an unknown number of people wait in their homes, on rooftops or in makeshift shelters. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the flooding — 250,000 have been absorbed by Texas alone, and local radio reported that Baton Rouge will have doubled in population by Monday. Federal officials said they have begun to collect corpses but could not guess the total toll.” [Washington Post, 9/4/05]

Dishonest Damage Control

Shifting The Blame

Karl Rove Orchestrated Plan “To Contain The Political Damage” And “Move The Blame For The Slow Response To Louisiana State Officials.” According to the New York Times, “Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan. The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.” [New York Times, 9/4/05]

Bush “Blamed State And Local Authorities” For “Unacceptable” Response To Katrina. According to the Washington Post, “Tens of thousands of people spent a fifth day awaiting evacuation from this ruined city, as Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country’s emergency management. […] Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis ‘has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities,’ he said. ‘The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable.’” [Washington Post, 9/4/05]

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DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff Said The Governor Was The “Primary Authority” And Claimed He Had “Full Confidence” In FEMA Director Michael Brown. According to the Washington Post, “In a Washington briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was ‘because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor.’ Chertoff planned to fly overnight to the New Orleans area to take charge of deploying the expanded federal and military assets for several days, he said. He said he has ‘full confidence’ in FEMA Director Michael D. Brown, the DHS undersecretary and federal officer in charge of the Katrina response.” [Washington Post, 9/4/05]

“Senior Bush Official” Falsely Claimed Gov. Blanco Failed To Declare State Of Emergency. According to the Washington Post, “As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said. ‘The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana,’ White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. ‘The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana.’ Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26. [Washington Post, 9/4/05; States News Service, 8/26/05]

Bush’s Story: No One Predicted Katrina’s Devastating Impact

Bush Said “I Don’t Think Anybody Anticipated The Breach Of The Levees” Despite Receiving “Eerily Prescient Warnings.” According to the Washington Post, “In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm’s likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show. A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House’s ‘situation room,’ the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document. […] The documents shed new light on the extent on the administration’s foreknowledge about Katrina’s potential for unleashing epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns. President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. ‘I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm,’ Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America.’” [Washington Post, 1/24/06]

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff Argued That Katrina “Exceeded The Foresight Of The Planners, And Maybe Anybody’s Foresight.” According to CNN, “Defending the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur. But in fact, government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years. Chertoff, fielding questions from reporters, said government officials did not expect both a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees that would flood the city of New Orleans. ‘That ‘perfect storm’ of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody’s foresight,’ Chertoff said. He called the disaster ‘breathtaking in its surprise.’” [CNN, 9/5/05]

The Whole Story: Bush Downplayed Warnings Of Katrina’s Potential

Bush Was Briefed “That The Storm Could Breach Levees,” Asked No Questions, And Insisted “We Are Fully Prepared.” According to the Associated Press, “In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage. Bush didn’t ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: ‘We are fully prepared.’ The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster. Linked by video, Bush’s confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.” [Associated Press, 3/2/06]

House Republicans: “This Crisis Was Not Only Predictable, It Was Predicted.” According to the New York Times, “Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to issue a blistering report Wednesday that says the Bush administration delayed the evacuation of thousands of New Orleans residents by failing to act quickly on early reports that the levees had broken during Hurricane Katrina. […] The response to Katrina and its aftermath, in which about 1,400 people died along the Gulf Coast, raises troubling questions about the United States’ ability to react to other threats to domestic security, the draft report says. ‘If this is what happens when we have advance warning, we shudder to imagine the consequences when we do not,’ the draft says, referring to the potential for a terror attack. […] ‘It remains difficult,’ the report says, ‘to understand how government could respond so ineffectively to a disaster that was anticipated for years, and for which specific dire warnings had been issued for days. This crisis was not only predictable, it was predicted.’” [New York Times, 2/13/06]

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DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff “Drew Some Of The Most Scathing Criticism.” According to the New York Times, “The homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, and Bush’s own staff of White House domestic security advisers, drew some of the most scathing criticism in the report, some of the contents of which were first reported Sunday in The Washington Post. Chertoff, the draft report says, should have moved two days before Katrina hit – when the National Weather Service issued dire predictions about the storm – to set up a special interagency leadership team to ensure that emergency supplies and rescue squads would be in place before the storm. These critical prestorm mistakes were only compounded, the draft report says, when the department failed another vital challenge: to determine rapidly whether the storm had breached a major levee. A staff member from the department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency who was on the ground in New Orleans learned on Monday morning, Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, that a major section of the 17th Street Canal levee had collapsed. But the House investigators were told by Kenneth Rapuano, the deputy assistant to the president on homeland security, that the administration did not immediately act on the report because it had other dispatches suggesting that such a breach might not have occurred.” [New York Times, 2/13/06]

Bush Administration Misled About When It Learned That Levees Had Broken. According to the New York Times, “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans. But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight. The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department. ‘FYI from FEMA,’ said an e-mail message from the agency’s public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, ‘are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires.’” [New York Times, 2/10/06]

White House Confirmed It Knew Of Levee Break, “But The Alert Did Not Seem To Register.” According to the New York Times, “White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports. But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had ‘dodged the bullet,’ he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday. The federal government let out a sigh of relief when in fact it should have been sounding an ‘all hands on deck’ alarm, the investigators have found.” [New York Times, 2/10/06]

“Heck Of A Job” : How FEMA Was Set Up To Fail

FEMA Failed In Its Response To Katrina

FEMA’s Response Received “The Brunt Of The Blame For Leaving Thousands Of People Stranded In New Orleans.” According to the New York Times, “FEMA’s relief operations have been under fire for more than a week, bearing the brunt of the blame for leaving thousands of people stranded in New Orleans without food, water, security or medical help. The problems led to considerable frustration on Friday as evacuees and state and local officials struggled to cope. In Mississippi, some victims of the storm said they had called FEMA’s disaster assistance line but were told to check the Internet or wait for postal service, which is not operating. ‘I couldn’t imagine people in Louisiana climbing down from a roof, finding a phone and being told to get on the Internet,’ said a 41-year-old schoolteacher from Ocean Springs who declined to give her name.” [New York Times, 9/10/05]

DHS Inspector General Report: “Much Of The Criticism” Of The Government’s Response To Katrina “Is Warranted.” According to the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, “The federal government, in particular the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), received widespread criticism for a slow and ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina. Much of the criticism is warranted.” [Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, March 2006]

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DHS Inspector General Report: “FEMA’s Efforts…Were Insufficient For An Event Of Hurricane Katrina’s Magnitude.” When compared to other disasters, FEMA provided record levels of support to Hurricane Katrina victims, states, and emergency responders. However, a lack of visibility in the resource ordering process, difficulty deploying sufficient numbers of trained personnel, unreliable communication systems, and insufficient management controls for some assistance programs demonstrate a need for improved response support capabilities and more effective delivery mechanisms for assistance. FEMA’s efforts to support state emergency management and to prepare for federal response and recovery in natural disasters were insufficient for an event of Hurricane Katrina’s magnitude. Difficulties experienced during the response directly correlate with weaknesses in FEMA’s grant programs, staffing, training, catastrophic planning, and remediation of issues identified during previous disasters and exercises.” [Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, March 2006]

The Face of Failure: FEMA Director Michael Brown Resigned Following Poor Response to Katrina

Bush Praised FEMA Director After Hurricane Hit: “Brownie, You’re Doing A Heck Of A Job.” According to a transcript of George W. Bush’s comments at Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama, President Bush said, “Again, I want to thank you all for — and, Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job. The FEMA Director is working 24 — (applause) — they’re working 24 hours a day. Again, my attitude is, if it’s not going exactly right, we’re going to make it go exactly right. If there’s problems, we’re going to address the problems. And that’s what I’ve come down to assure people of. And again, I want to thank everybody.” [The White House, 9/2/05]

In Response To Criticism, White House Removed FEMA Director Michael Brown As Leader Of Relief Effort. According to the Washington Post, “The Bush administration removed Michael D. Brown, the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the Gulf Coast disaster zone yesterday as the White House tried to regain footing amid criticism of its response to Hurricane Katrina. A week after President Bush praised him for ‘a heck of a job,’ Brown was stripped of duties overseeing the relief efforts, ordered back to Washington and replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen. Although Brown remains FEMA director and the administration presented it as a deployment decision, officials said the president’s aides wanted a more effective, hands-on manager at the scene.” [Washington Post, 9/10/05]

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Calls For Brown’s Removal “Were Also A Proxy For Assailing Bush’s Handling Of The Crisis.” According to the Washington Post, “Brown, a lawyer and former official for an Arabian horse association, has become the focal point of anger over the slow, disjointed mobilization when Katrina slammed into the coast last week, drowning New Orleans and wiping out huge parts of Mississippi and Alabama. But demands for his dismissal were also a proxy for assailing Bush’s handling of the crisis, as well as past moves restructuring FEMA and populating its top ranks with political allies.” [Washington Post, 9/10/05]

After Being Replaced As Head Of Relief Effort, FEMA Director Michael Brown Resigned. According to the New York Times, “Three days after being stripped of his duties overseeing the post-hurricane relief effort, Michael D. Brown resigned on Monday as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying that he wanted to avoid distracting the agency at a time when it faces a major challenge. […] Mr. Brown’s departure was hardly surprising, given the decision, announced on Friday, to remove him from management of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.” [New York Times, 9/13/05]

Under Bush, FEMA was Led by Political Allies who were Unqualified to Handle Disaster Response

“Five Of Eight Top Federal Emergency Management Agency Officials” Had “Virtually No Experience In Handling Disasters.” According to the Washington Post, “Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. FEMA’s top three leaders — Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler — arrived with ties to President Bush’s 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.” [Washington Post, 9/9/05]

FEMA Director Michael Brown’s “Only Previous Stint In Emergency Management” Was In A Low-Level Position Described As “Like An Intern.” According to Time, “Before joining FEMA, his only previous stint in emergency management, according to his bio posted on FEMA’s website, was ‘serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight.’ The White House press release from 2001 stated that Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 ‘overseeing the emergency services division.’ In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an ‘assistant to the city manager’ from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. ‘The assistant is more like an intern,’ she told TIME. ‘Department heads did not report to him.’ Brown did do a good job at his humble position, however, according to his boss. ‘Yes. Mike Brown worked for me. He was my administrative assistant. He was a student at Central State University,’ recalls former city manager Bill Dashner.” [Time, 9/8/05]

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When He Joined FEMA As A Deputy Director, “Brown Had No Significant Experience That Would Have Qualified Him For The Position.” According to the Boston Herald, “And before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a deputy director in 2001, GOP activist Mike Brown had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position. The Oklahoman got the job through an old college friend who at the time was heading up FEMA.” [Boston Globe, 9/3/05]

Before Joining FEMA, Brown Was “Supervising Judges At Arabian Horse Shows.” According to NBC News, “Michael Brown’s biggest job before landing at FEMA was supervising judges at Arabian horse shows. The embattled FEMA director does not mention in his official online biography that he was commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association for nine years. Association officials tell NBC News that Brown resigned under pressure from that job, before joining FEMA.” [NBC News, 9/13/05]

Brown’s Acting Deputy Director Was A Former Bush Assistant With A Background In TV Reporting And Public Relations. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Brown is not the only official who came to the agency with scant disaster management background. His acting deputy director, Patrick James Rhode, began his professional career as an ‘anchor/reporter with network-affiliated television stations in Alabama and Arkansas,’ according to his resume on FEMA’s website. Rhode later did public relations work for several state agencies in Texas before becoming deputy director of national advance operations for Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Before moving to FEMA in 2003, Rhode served as a special assistant to the president and White House liaison with the Commerce Department. He donated $2,000 to Bush’s 2004 campaign.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/05]

Director Of FEMA’s Recovery Division Had Previously Worked On “Legislative, Political, And Media Initiatives” At The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Daniel Craig, director of FEMA’s Recovery Division since October 2003,’ is responsible for planning and executing the federal government’s recovery efforts following major disasters,’ according to the FEMA website. Before coming to FEMA — he became a regional director based in Boston in 2001 — he worked for the Eastern Regional Office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he ‘was responsible for Chamber-related legislative, political, and media initiatives in New England and the Atlantic coast,’ the website says. Craig previously worked as a lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn., and before that as a campaign advisor, political fundraiser and research analyst.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/05]

“FEMA’s Acting Deputy Chief Of Staff…Was An Advance Man For Bush” And His Predecessor Was A “Media Strategist” On The Bush Campaign. According to the Los Angeles Times, “FEMA’s acting deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, also hails from Oklahoma. And like Rhode, Altshuler was an advance man for Bush. Scott R. Morris, who held Altshuler’s job until May and now is a FEMA official in Florida, had been a GOP activist as far back as the 1996 presidential campaign of former Sen. Bob Dole, when he handled grass-roots activities and media strategies. He later served as ‘a media strategist for the George W. Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign,’ according to his resume. Morris donated $2,250 to Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/05]

Bush Administration’s Focus on Terrorism Hampered Ability to Respond to Natural Disasters

After 9/11 FEMA Was “Absorbed By The Department Of Homeland Security.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Created in 1979 by President Carter to manage federal responses to disasters, FEMA hit its nadir in its 1992 handling of Hurricane Andrew, when thousands went without shelter for days. The Clinton White House elevated the FEMA director to a cabinet position that reported directly to the president. But in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FEMA has been absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security. Its reduced status has prompted criticism from state and local emergency officials that FEMA’s efforts to respond to natural disasters are being overshadowed by the department’s focus on terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/31/05]

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff “Proposed Relieving FEMA “Of Longstanding Functions” Related To Disaster Preparedness. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The new secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, has proposed relieving FEMA of longstanding functions such as helping communities prepare for disasters with programs like building houses outside flood zones, erecting hurricane shutters and drafting evacuation routes. That would leave FEMA with only the responsibility of responding to and cleaning up after disasters — worrying some experts who say that disaster-relief officials can’t respond effectively unless they are intimately involved in disaster preparedness.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/31/05]

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Former FEMA Director: Bush Wanted To “Restore The Predominant Role Of State And Local Response To Most Disasters.” According to Salon, “Instead, as Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s first FEMA director, told a congressional panel in 2001, Bush wanted to pull the federal government out of the disaster-relief business and aimed to ‘restore the predominant role of state and local response to most disasters.’ The federal government became even less involved in natural disaster relief after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when FEMA’s mission was shifted toward responding to terrorist attacks. In 2002, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA — which Clinton had elevated to a Cabinet-level agency — was made one department in the massive bureaucracy.” [Salon, 9/7/05]

Bush DHS Emphasized Terrorism-Related Grants To Local Governments At The Expense Of Natural Disaster Funding. According to Salon, “Of particular concern to local officials is the administration’s increasing focus on terrorism to the exclusion of natural disasters. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office showed that ‘almost 3 of every 4 grant dollars appropriated to the [Department of Homeland Security] for first responders in fiscal year 2005 were for 3 primary programs that had an explicit focus on terrorism.’ More than $2 billion in grant money is available to local governments looking to improve the way they respond to terrorist attacks, but only $180 million is available under the main grant program for natural disaster funding, Homeland Security’s Emergency Management Performance Grant program. The administration had proposed cutting that amount to $170 million, even though NEMA [National Emergency Management Association] had identified a $264 million national shortfall in natural-disaster funding.” [Salon, 9/7/05]

State Emergency Managers Complained About Loss Of Funding. According to the Wall Street Journal, “According to congressional figures, FEMA has lost control of more than $800 million in grant money since 2003 to the Office of Domestic Preparedness, another part of Homeland Security. This includes the emergency management preparedness grants, which are the only federal funds that keep the states’ emergency management offices staffed and running. The National Emergency Managers Association, which represents the country’s 50 state emergency management directors, has been complaining that those funds are no longer provided directly to them but now are routed through states’ own homeland security offices. Homeland Security officials say the grant program guidelines are sufficiently broad enough to include natural disaster training and equipment. But consultants hired by states and localities to make use of the funds say these monies are almost invariably earmarked for terrorist events.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/31/05]

PBS: “31 Of 39 First Responder Departments Agreed That Training Was Adequate For Terrorist Attacks But Not Natural Disasters.” According to PBS Newshour, “The delayed federal response prompted politicians to question FEMA’s organization and leadership. One critique was that the ‘all hazards’ preparation focused too much on terrorism. The Government Accountability Office found in July 2005 that 31 of 39 first responder departments agreed that training was adequate for terrorist attacks but not natural disasters. The report also found that almost 75 percent of grant dollars awarded by DHS for first responders in 2005 focused predominantly on terrorism training.” [PBS.org, 9/9/05]