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]

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]