The following Web site chronicles the other nations of the world who have donated money and/or services to Katrina disaster relief. The list includes over 100 countries, including several nations hostile to the US.
A story in Scientific American, "Drowning New Orleans," gives an in-depth look at the devastation a major hurricane would do to New Orleans and the surrounding area. The publication date: October 2001.
In 2003, the first year of the Pre-Disaster Mitigating Fund controlled by FEMA, New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana seem shoo-ins for heavy government funding to shore up decaying levees and antiquated flood control operations -- yet the area receives nothing. New Orleans's Jefferson Parish has the highest number of "repetitive loss structures" in the country: these are structures that have suffered flood damage two or more times over a 10-year period and the cost to repair the structure equals or exceeds 25 percent of its market value. Texas, California, and Florida receive the bulk of PDM funds.
In the months preceding Katrina, Bush sought to cut a key program to help local governments raise their preparedness, and state officials warned of a "total lack of focus" on natural disasters by his homeland-security chief Michael Chertoff. In July, the National Emergency Management Association wrote lawmakers expressing "grave" concern that still-pending changes proposed by Chertoff would undercut FEMA. "Our primary concern relates to the total lack of focus on natural-hazards preparedness," David Liebersbach, the association's president, said in the July 27 letter to senators Susan Collins, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, the leaders of a key Senate committee overseeing the agency. The International Association of Emergency Managers said in April that state and local emergency management programs were in "desperate need" of federal funding to meet new standards. When the response plan was unveiled in January, then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called it "a bold step forward in bringing unity in our response to disasters and terrorist threats and attacks." A month later, however, Bush's fiscal 2006 budget proposed a 6 percent cut in funding for Emergency Management Performance Grants, from the $180 million appropriated by Congress in 2005 to $170 million in 2006. State and local officials protested what they saw as White House cuts targeting the very program that would help them meet Bush's new disaster-preparedness goals. "The grants are the lifeblood for local programs and, in some cases, it's the difference between having a program in a county and not," said Dewayne West, the director of Emergency Services for Johnston County, North Carolina, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers. "It's awfully difficult," he said. "More money is needed." Louisiana alone saw its funding for key Homeland Security Department grant programs drop 26 percent in a year, to $42.6 million in 2005, an analysis by Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu's office showed.
Map of Southeastern Louisiana area, with circled areas denied critical flood control funds in March 2005
The Bush administration made changes in FEMA that crippled its ability to respond to disasters such as Katrina, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Washington Post reveals the disarray and incompetence of the federal response; this article explains how FEMA got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, obsession with terrorism, and rampant cronyism raging through the Department of Homeland Security. This report details how the US Army Corps of Engineers worked tirelessly to drain the protective wetlands south of New Orleans for commercial and government development. And a letter from the Association of State Floodplain Managers in January 2005 requests FEMA to upgrade its management plans for heavy flooding, a request that was ignored.
In Bush's initial declaration of emergency of August 26, only the Louisiana counties shown in RED in the graphic below were mentioned as being at risk. The person who put this map together, Bob Harris, says that the map doesn't correlate to voting pattern, economic conditions, or anything else readily identifiable. Harris writes, "Welcome to upside-down-land: the areas at risk for Katrina were quite remarkably the areas not included in Bush's declaration of emergency. What the hell? ...Is this really what Bush authorized before the storm hit? Are they really that incompetent? ...I'm just hoping now that the press release simply got the list of 'emergency' and 'non-emergency' parishes mixed up." See the map below:
British tourists claim that US authorities refused to evacuate them before the hurricane struck, forcing them to weather the storm from inside New Orleans: (Guardian)
In February 2003, Bush signs Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-5, explicitly reserving the responsibility for handling a national emergency such as Katrina or 9/11 with the federal government and making the president himself ultimately responsible for the handling of the crisis. This is triggered when a president signs a declaration of a national state of emergency for a stricken region. The Department of Homeland Security can also trigger the protocols behind HSPD-5 by declaring an "Incident of National Significance."
FEMA holds a hurricane preparedness exercise, centering around the mythical "Hurricane Pam," in July 2004. According to one report, "The Federal Emergency Management Agency promised the moon and the stars. They promised to have 1,000,000 bottles of water per day coming into affected areas within 48 hours. They promised massive prestaging with water, ice, medical supplies and generators. Anything that was needed, they would have either in place as the storm hit or ready to move in immediately after.... FEMA promised more than they could deliver. They cut off deeper, perhaps more meaningful discussion and planning by handing out empty promises."
Friday, August 26
- Aug 26: At 11:30 am, the National Hurricane Center declares Katrina, originally Tropical Disturbance 12 and later a tropical storm, a Category 2 hurricane and warns that it will strengthen rapidly. At 5 pm, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco declares a state of emergency, telling CNN that "we are in the strike zone." (Note that the original link to the State of Louisiana's own archived copy of their state of emergency declaration no longer works and has been replaced.) Blanco's deputy press secretary, Roderick Hawkins, says the declaration "puts us on standby just in case we need to mobilize the National Guard." The announcement activates the state's emergency response and recovery program -- which supports the evacuation of coastal areas as well as implements the State Special Needs and Sheltering Plan -- and launches preparations for providing emergency support services when the storm hits. Sometime on Friday, there is a discussion among FEMA officials about evacuating people in New Orleans who don't have cars. "We should be getting buses and getting people out of there," FEMA employee Leo Bosner recalls telling the gathered officials. However, the discussions go nowhere. Bosner recalls, "We, as staff members at the agency, felt helpless. We knew that major steps needed to be taken fast, but, for whatever reasons, they were not taken." The question of buses -- where they are and who will drive them -- will not be answered by any federal action till much later in the week. Bush officials will later try to blame Blanco for the lackadaisical and ineffective initial response, saying that Blanco failed to declare such an emergency and thus failed to enable a federal response. The lie is twofold: not only did Blanco declare a state of emergency, but the federal government does not, by law, have to wait for a state to declare an emergency before intervening.
- Aug 26: At FEMA headquarters in Washington, the lack of activity is striking. "As the headquarters staff came in, there was a strange sense of inaction, as if 'nobody's turning the key to start the engine,'" says one FEMA team leader. For his group, Friday was a day to sit around wondering, "Why aren't we treating this as a bigger emergency? Why aren't we doing anything?"
- Aug 26: E-mails exchanged with FEMA director Michael Brown show just what a state of urgency he was in over the impending disaster. Brown e-mails his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, about his attire, writing: "Tie or not for tonight? Button down blue shirt?" On Monday, August 29, between 7:00 and 9:00 am on the day the hurricane struck, Brown exchanged additional e-mails about his attire with Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs. Taylor writes Brown: "I know its early, but.... My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous -- and I'm not talking the makeup!" Brown's reply is: "I got it at Nordstroms. ...Are you proud of me?" An hour later, he adds, "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god." A few days later, Brown exchanges more e-mails about his attire, this time instructions from Worthy that read, "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt...all shirts. Even the President rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this cris[is] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working...ROLL UP THE SLEEVES."
- While Brown often fails to respond to e-mails about the rapidly deteriorating situation in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, he finds time to send multiple e-mails about his reputation. Alerted by a friend, Howard Pike, that the media was investigating his tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association, Brown asks Pike to direct the media to people who would defend him: "Bazy and Sheila would be perfect. Can you make the connections?" Brown then forwards Pike's message to Natalie Rule, a DHS press contact, and Lea Ann McBride, Vice President Cheney's press secretary, saying: "Howard Pike is the former head of the Air Line Pilots Association and a good friend of mine. I'll get on my laptop and get his contact info shortly." Brown also sends a message to Andrew Lester, an Oklahoma lawyer, asking him to call reporters about this issue. There are even e-mails about finding a sitter for Brown's dog, for whom Brown's wife is apparently having difficulties locating care. On Tuesday, August 30, the day after the hurricane struck, Brown sends this e-mail to his assistant, Tillie James: "Do you know of anyone who dog-sits? Bethany has backed out and Tamara is looking. If you know of any responsible kids, let me know. They can have the house to themselves Th-Su." In his e-mail to Taylor on the morning the hurricane struck, Brown writes, "Can I quit now? Can I come home?" A few days later, Brown writes to an acquaintance, "I'm trapped now, please rescue me."
Saturday, August 27
- Aug 27: The National Hurricane Center declares Katrina to be a Category 3 hurricane. New Orleans and the surrounding areas are directly within the predicted strike zone. Bush gives his weekly radio address that morning; while he discusses Iraq, Israel, and the Middle East, he does not mention Katrina. A number of officials in parishes near New Orleans order mandatory evacuations; New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin says his city will follow the state emergency evacuation plan. Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco writes a letter to Bush asking that he declare a federal state of emergency for Louisiana. She writes: "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." Meanwhile, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour declares a state of emergency. Bush grants Blanco's request, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate hurricane relief efforts. "specifically," the president's declaration states, "FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding."
- Bush specifically names FEMA to head up the disaster management and recovery for the impending hurricane. At 4 pm, Louisiana state officials set up "contraflow" procedures for the highways feeding New Orleans, allowing traffic to use both incoming and outbound lanes to leave the threatened area. At 5 pm, Mayor Nagin calls for the voluntary evacuation of New Orleans. "This is not a test," he tells the public. "This is the real deal." Nagin says the Superdome will be available beginning Sunday morning as a refuge of last resort for those who can't get out of the city. He urges residents in low-lying areas of the city, such as Algiers and the 9th Ward, to begin evacuating, and says that though he will wait until 30 hours before expected landfall of Katrina to issue an official order to evacuate, as state guidelines recommend, he says "we want you to take this a little more seriously and start moving -- right now, as a matter of fact." The last Amtrak train leaves New Orleans at 8:30 that evening. The train is empty; though Amtrak had offered the city the use of the train for evacuating passengers, the city did not respond to the offer. In the evening, Nagin's legal staff is looking into "whether he can order a mandatory evacuation of the city [ahead of the state plan], a step he's been hesitant to do because of potential liability on the part of the city for closing hotels and other businesses." Later that night, Nagin tells local station WWL-TV, "Come the first break of light in the morning, you may have the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans." Later that night, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, calls Nagin, Blanco and Barbour to reiterate the dangers posed by the storm. "I just wanted to be able to go to sleep that night knowing that I did all I could do," Mayfield says.
Sunday, August 28
- Aug 28: Hurricane Katrina achieves Category 4 status at 1 am. By 8 am Katrina is a Category 5 hurricane, threatening the Gulf Coast with catastrophic damage. Weather services predict that, though Katrina may weaken slightly into a powerful Category 4 storm, it will strike the Gulf Coast directly at or very near New Orleans with devastating effect.
- Aug 28: FEMA has stockpiled for immediate distribution 2.7 million liters of water, 1.3 million meals ready to eat and 17 million pounds of ice, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. But Louisiana will receive a relatively small portion of the supplies; for example, Alabama got more than five times as much water for distribution. "It was what they would move for a normal hurricane -- business as usual versus a superstorm," recalls Mark Ghilarducci, a former FEMA official who works for Governor Blanco.
- Aug 28: At 9:30 that morning, Nagin and Blanco announce the first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. Bush had called Blanco a half-hour before to encourage an evacuation. "We're facing the storm most of us have feared," says Nagin. The plan recognizes that roughly 100,000 citizens have no transportation and need to be bussed out of the city. Nagin attempts to find drivers for the fleet of buses available to the city, but few drivers are able to be found, and most of the buses wind up stranded in floodwater, unreachable and unusable. The city plan for evacuation depends heavily on federal assistance, assistance that will not materialize for almost a week. City officials have already announced that the Superdome will be the central shelter for stranded residents, basing their preparations federal assurances that assistance will arrive for the evacuees inside within 48 hours. Instead, stranded victims will be forced to remain inside the Superdome for nearly a week with virtually no food or water. Police and SWAT teams who will make nightly raids on the Superdome say they are unable to tell the difference between the small gangs of marauding looters and gun-toting thugs who are terrorizing stranded residents and the groups of armed men and women using their guns to try to impose order and secure food and water for those trapped inside. The situation at the New Orleans Convention Center is, if anything, worse.
- Aug 28: Bush and Department of Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff assures Alabama governor Bob Riley that any federal assistance Alabama may need after the hurricane strike would be made quickly and efficiently.
- Aug 28: At 11 am, the National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield holds a teleconference with FEMA officials at FEMA's Washington headquarters. Chertoff and FEMA director Michael Brown listen in. The conference is based on the terrifying potential for damage as outlined in the 10 AM weather bulletin, which includes winds of 175 mph, predictions of coastal storm surges of up to 22 feet and even higher, and warnings that storm surges could and probably would overtop or destroy some or all of New Orleans's levees. Mayfield recalls, "We were briefing them way before landfall... It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped." At 11:31 AM, Bush gives a televised address that briefly mentions Katrina before turning to the topic of Iraq. Bush says of Katrina's projected landfall and the devastation that will erupt, "We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials."
- Aug 28: Blanco begins activating the less than 6,000 National Guardsmen remaining to her (the rest are on duty in Iraq). About 5,700 will be ready by Monday. Realizing how thin the Louisiana Guard is, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson offers Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco the services of his state's National Guard. She immediately accepts, but to officially make such a request, she must send a letter requesting the assistance to the National Guard Bureau in Washington. For reasons that remain unclear, Blanco does not provide that letter to the Washington bureau until Tuesday; the New Mexico Guardsmen will not arrive to assist until Thursday. State officials who are on duty throughout the Katrina strike say that few of them understood the vagaries of federal and state bureaucracy as it pertained to emergency response requests, and that officials in Blanco's office were overwhelmed by the plethora of crises spawned by Katrina and unable to expedite the request. Other states will manage to get their teams into Louisiana without going through the federal bureaucracy; Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle will even take the extraordinary step of declaring an emergency outside his state to expedite Wisconsin's response. Even so, help from other states merely trickles into the region during the first few critical days.
- Aug 28: Bush declares a state of emergency for Mississippi. The Pentagon establishes Joint Task Force Katrina to coordinate the military response to the hurricane. The JTF's headquarters are in Mississippi, and Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore is put in command. At around noon, the Regional Transit Authority begins to send buses to 12 locations throughout New Orleans to transport people to the Superdome, one of 10 shelters operating in the city. About 550 members of the Louisiana National Guard provide security and distribute food and water at the Superdome, while the US Coast Guard Auxiliary makes preparations to assist the Coast Guard in rescue operations once the storm passes. By the evening, around 25,000 residents have gathered at the Superdome. There is enough food and water for 15,000 people to last 3 days.
- Aug 28: Shortly after 4 pm, the National Hurricane Center issues a stark warning titled "Extremely dangerous Hurricane Katrina continues to approach the Mississippi River Delta; devastating damage expected." The report says: "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.... The majority of industrial buildings will become non-functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failure 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. High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously, a few to the point of total collapse. All windows will blow out. Airborne debris will be widespread and may include heavy items such as household appliances and even light vehicles. Sport utility vehicles and light trucks will be moved. The blown debris will create additional destruction. Persons, pets and livestock exposed to the winds will face certain death if struck. 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."
- Aug 28: Around midnight, at the last of the day's many conference calls, local officials ticked off their final requests for FEMA and the state. Local officials have asked specifically for medical units, mortuary units, ice, water, power and National Guard troops. "We laid it all out," one official recalls. "And then we sat here for five days waiting. Nothing!"
Monday, August 29
- Aug 29: At 6:10 am, Hurricane Katrina makes landfall to the south and east of New Orleans as a strong Category 4 hurricane, with winds approaching 160 mph and storm surges of up to 30 feet. The hurricane makes a direct impact on the small town of Buras, apparently destroying it completely. It makes a second landfall a half-hour later, at Grand Isle, Louisiana. Within a matter of hours, levees and floodwalls in New Orleans begin to crack; the first major breach occurs before 8 am, when a barge slams into a floodwall, letting floodwaters into two districts of the city. Shortly after 8 am, the Industrial Canal levee is reported broached; within a matter of hours, St. Bernard Parish is flooded with up to 8 feet of water; an estimated 40,000 homes are already flooded. Nagin tells a local radio station that the city's levee and water pumping systems are overwhelmed, and people are stranded on their rooftops. Mayor Ray Nagin warns, "The storm surge will most likely topple our levee system. This is very serious, of the highest nature. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event." The 17th Street levee gives way by mid-morning. It is almost five hours after landfall that FEMA director Michael Brown authorizes any federal response, and instructs area fire and rescue departments not to enter the strike zone unless specifically authorized.
- In an interview with CBS's Early Show just as the storm hits, Brown says he's pleased with how city and state officials have prepared for the hurricane, and he promises aid will soon flow into affected areas. "I started jamming up those supply lines as fast and as downward as I could to be ready to respond to anything these governors might need," Brown boasts. Blanco is also a guest on the broadcast; her initial positive comments on FEMA's response and Bush's involvement will quickly change. Many of New Orleans's citizens unable to evacuate are bused to the Superdome: "We're not evacuating," says one resident. "None of us have any place to go. We're counting on the Superdome. That's our lifesaver." Within hours, part of the roof of the Superdome gives way, allowing water to enter; power in the Dome fails around dawn, leaving the building running on generators, with dimmed lights and no air-conditioning. At least 55 people die in the initial onslaught. President Bush listens to a short update on the situation that morning, then jaunts off to Arizona for fun, sun, and fundraising.
- "We were all watching the evacuation," Major General Richard Rowe, NORTHCOM's top operations officer, later recalls. "We knew that it would be among the worst storms ever to hit the United States." But the only request the US military receives from FEMA is for a half-dozen helicopters.
New Orleans hours after the 17th Street Levee gives way
- Aug 29: By 9 am, the eye of the hurricane passes New Orleans. With wind speeds still over 135 mph, Katrina is heading for the Mississippi coast. Parts of New Orleans already have flood waters over 6 feet deep. The city's phone and electrical grids are failing fast.
- Aug 29: A confidential videotape of an early-morning conference call in Washington among senior Bush administration officials proves that the president and other key officials are warned in advance of the strong possibility of levees breaching and catastrophic flooding. The Associated Press secures the videotape in early 2006 and publishes a story based on its contents on March 2. "My gut tells me...this is a bad one and a big one," says FEMA director Michael Brown. The AP report describes Bush, on a videoconference from his vacation home in Crawford, Texas, as appearing "confident" and the director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, as "relaxed." Bush himself lets the entire briefing go by without asking a single question, but assures state officials bracing for the storm, "We are fully prepared." The video, along with seven days of transcripts of meetings and other exchanges of information, shows that the administration had more than ample warning of every aspect of the calamity soon to come. Taken together, it proves that the administration had no reason, except incompetence and perhaps a complete lack of caring, for letting the disaster get so out of hand. A top hurricane expert voices "grave concerns" about the levees and Brown tells Bush and Chertoff that he fears there aren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome. "I'm concerned about...their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," he says.
- DHS spokesman Russ Knocke says later that the administration will refuse to release the videotapes to the public, though the videos of this and other conferences, along with transcripts, will be released to Congressional investigators in late 2005. When he gets to see the tape in March 2006, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin says, "I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now. I was listening to what people were saying they didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware." Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings from August 25-31 conflict with the defenses that federal, state and local officials will later make in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response. For example, DHS officials will say the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials clearly discussing threats, reviewing long-made plans, and fully aware that Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," warns the National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield. In March 2006, Brown says, "I don't buy the 'fog of war' defense. It was a fog of bureaucracy."
- Four days after the strike, Bush will tell the American people, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. The videotape proves that this is a lie. White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and Brown discuss fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit. "I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," says Brown. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches." The videotape goes some distance to vindicate the incompetent Brown, who will later be tarred by White House officials as refusing to share information with Chertoff and single-handedly thwarting the federal response. Brown is virtually the only administration official to show any level of concern, begging his superiors to do more to help the victims that will be made by the storm's devastation. "Go ahead and do it," Brown says. "I'll figure out some way to justify it. ...Just let them yell at me." Bush says in response, "I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm." This, of course, will not happen.
- Brown himself adds to the problem by lying to Chertoff about dispatching active-duty military troops to the region. Chertoff asks Brown, "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?" Brown responds, "We have DOD assets over here at EOC [emergency operations center]. They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now." "Good job," Chertoff says. In fact, active duty troops will not be dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards will not be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it will take days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen. Still, Brown shows concerns that apparently go over the heads of other senior officials, including Bush. "They're not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans," he says. "so I'm very concerned about that." As for the Superdome, the designated area for flood and storm victims whose homes are rendered uninhabitable, Brown says, "The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane." Brown's fears will be more than realized.
- On February 28, 2006, days before the release of the video, Bush perpetuates his earlier lies in an interview for ABC, where he says, "Listen, here's the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren't getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job. One reason we weren't is because communications systems got wiped out, and in many cases we were relying upon the media, who happened to have better situational awareness than the government." As John Aravosis of Americablog writes, That's a lie. The White House knew the levees were breaking and did nothing about it. We now know that for a fact. In addition, Bush was on vacation and didn't get any substantial updates about the situation on the ground until Thursday and Friday of the week (the hurricane hit Monday morning). Bush CHOSE not to get updates about Katrina, he was ON VACATION and chose to STAY on vacation."
- Bush continues, "When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked -- the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was -- could have done a better job of comforting people." Aravosis: "The people of New Orleans didn't need comfort. They needed a helicopter to get them out of trapped buildings that had no food and water. Comfort them?"
- In a later report, Newsweek notes that the White House denied for months that a transcript of the August 29 conference even existed, blaming unspecified aides for not recording it. "Everybody has been looking for that transcript," said Michael Brown. The videotape was subsequently "discovered" and transcribed, and a White House official supplies it to Newsweek.
- The nation's mainstream media, true to form, fails to report the truth to its readers. In reporting about the video on March 2, 2006, either the New York Times, the Washington Post, nor USA Today bother to remind their readers of Bush's repeated claim that no one could have anticipated the breach of the levees. Instead, the news reports make much of Bush's "concern" about the levees failing. To their credit, reports from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times do remind their readers of Bush's repeated lies. (The Post prints an analysis of how the videotape affects Bush's attempts to lie about his administration's knowledge of the levee breaches on March 3. "Was the president misinformed, misspoken or misleading?" the report asks, and answers its own question quite cautiously: "The video leaves little doubt that key people in government did anticipate that the levees might not hold. To critics, especially Democrats but even some Republicans, it reinforces the conclusion that the government at its highest levels failed to respond aggressively enough to the danger bearing down on New Orleans. To Bush aides, the seeming conflict between Bush's public statements and the private deliberations captured on tape reflects little more than an inartful statement opponents are exploiting for political purposes.")
- A Boston Globe editorial castigates Bush's disassociated response to the impending calamity: "Television images can be misleading, but not in the case of the shadowy video that showed President Bush sitting quietly in Texas as he heard that Hurricane Katrina, bearing down on the Gulf Coast, was going to be 'the Big One.' Dressed in a suit coat even though he was on vacation, he looked like a president but did not act like one. Despite the warning on Sunday, Aug. 28, Bush let several crucial days slip by before he rallied the resources of the federal government to deal with this epochal disaster. Perhaps he was lulled by the take-charge attitude of Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who, the video shows, accurately gauged the magnitude of the storm and told his subordinates to do whatever was necessary.... Instead, it was business as usual when the storm struck on Monday, Aug. 29, and for a day or two afterward. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff attended a conference on bird flu in Atlanta. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured military bases in California on Monday and the next day joined President Bush in San Diego for a ceremony commemorating the end of World War II. Bush considers himself a delegator, a character trait that was a weakness in this crisis. Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were on vacation; the response wasn't coordinated until the full staff returned to duty later in the week. A hands-on president, Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, for example, would have done better. ...History will judge him harshly for this failure."
- Famed author and black activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes, "The video of President Bush conferring with disaster officials from his Texas ranch the day before Katrina struck is disturbingly similar to the footage of the casual way Bush reacted to news of the Sept. 11 terror attack. This is the same Bush who time and again has primed his public image as a tough-talking, swaggering guy who moves quickly and decisively when a crisis hits. But Bush has been anything but a no-nonsense taskmaster in the face of disaster. His first reaction to Sept. 11 was befuddlement and fear. It took him days to swing into action. His next response was to duck and dodge criticism of his glacial response to 9/11. His last ploy was to let others take the heat or the fall for his fumbles. ...Now there's Katrina. Bush tore another page from the same dodge-and-blame playbook. It took him days to get relief efforts up to speed in New Orleans. He then ducked criticism that there was incompetence, indifference and even racism in his laggard response to the crisis. Finally, he dumped full blame for the failures on FEMA director Michael Brown. It worked. Much of the public and many in the media hammered Brown for the dire plight of the hurricane devastated evacuees. Bush quickly took the cue and canned Brown.
- "...The Katrina video is graphic proof that Bush did more than fumble the preparedness ball. He ignored it. Brown begged those at the government's disaster operation center to do whatever it took to get hurricane relief efforts going. ...Bush knew all of this, and seems to have done little except offer verbal reassurances. Four days after the storm hit and floodwaters tore through the city, Bush lied and publicly stated that no one anticipated that the levees would break. Not once during the briefing, as the video shows, did Bush ask one question about the levees. The worst part of this is that so little has changed in the months since the Katrina debacle. Thousands of evacuees are still scattered in far-flung cities across the country, many without jobs, and living under the daily threat that they can be evicted from the hotels and apartments that they have been temporarily housed in. And thousands of New Orleans and Gulf residents whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed still have not received any compensation for their losses. Bush has maintained mute silence about their predicament. Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana officials were justifiably livid at the disgraceful shots of the president's men in crisis and their boss blithely doing nothing to deal with it. They shouldn't have been. His dumbfounded response to 9/11 offered hints that Bush can't manage a real disaster. The videotape is smoking-gun proof that Bush is not, and never has been, the man of action that the president's spin-masters have made him out too be."
- Aug 29: A spate of e-mails released in May 2006 show Michael Brown during the early hours of the disaster
disputing reports that the levees were giving way and obsessively grooming himself for upcoming TV appearances. According to an e-mail from Brown to deputy Patrick Rhode, he spends much of the morning "sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair" and waiting for media interviews to begin. Around 9:50 am, a FEMA staffer at the National Hurricane Center sends department brass an alert from a local TV station report that "a levee breach occurred along the industrial canal" near New Orleans's Ninth Ward. According to the e-mail, Brown disputes the report. Brown's concern for public relations and image massage extends well past the morning of the 29th. On August 31, Brown sends the following e-mail to his staff: "Expect a call from HQ regarding Bay St. Louis. CNN asking where's FEMA. Would like to air drop or do something there." Brown's senior staff, made up primarily of former Bush campaign workers and PR specialists, is effusive in their praise of Brown's media manipulation. Brown later claims that the released e-mails are part of a White House effort to lay the blame for the federal government's cavalier response at his feet.
- Aug 29: The question of exactly when federal officials learn of the breaching of the New Orleans levees can be partially answered by a barrage of e-mails received, but not answered, by FEMA director Michael Brown. According to Bush, DHS secretary Chertoff, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, the 17th Street and London Canal levees, which flooded much of northern New Orleans, did not breach until Tuesday, August 30. In fact, the levees actually broke the day before. The delay by federal officials in understanding when the levees broke has been criticized as a major failing in the federal response. Brown's e-mails prove that he was apprised early today of the levee failures and the dire consequences for New Orleans.
- At 9:39 AM, Brown receives a message stating: "Report that the levee in Arabi has failed next to the industrial canal." At 9:53 AM, Brown receives a message stating: "A LEVEE BREACH OCCURRED ALONG THE INDUSTRIAL CANAL AT TENNESSE[E] STREET. 3 TO 8 FEET OF WATER IS EXPECTED DUE TO THE BREACH...LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO ARABI AND 9TH WARD OF NEW ORLEANS." At 10:20 AM, Brown received a message stating, "From Marty Bahamonde in the New Orleans EOC (next to the superdome): Severe flooding on the St. Bernard/Orleans parish line. Police report water level up to second floor of two story houses. People are trapped in attics. Pumps starting to fail. The city has now confirmed four pumps are off line. Windows and parts of the east side of the Amaco building blown out. New Orleans shopping center (next to superdome) destroyed. Windows and parts of the East side of the Hyatt Hotel have been blown out. Furniture is blowing out of the hotel. Top floors of the Entergy building have been blown out. Area around the Superdome is beginning to flood. We should have pictures shortly." At 11:57 AM, Brown receives a message stating: "New Orleans FD is reporting a 20 foot wide breach on the lake ponchatrian levy. The area is lakeshore Blvd and 17th street." Brown only responds to one of the messages; at 12:09 pm, he respondes to the 11:57 report of the "20 foot wide breach on the lake ponchatrain levy" by dismissing the report. He writes: "I'm being told here water over not a breach." The e-mails do not indicate who told Brown this misinformation. There is also no indication in the e-mails that Brown recognizes the seriousness of his mistake or ever takes actions to correct it. There are no further e-mails from Brown about the levees for the rest of the day.
- Aug 29: At 10:15 am, Nagin tells the Today show that his city is "still not out of the woods as it relates to that worst-case scenario," but that overall, "it looks as though everyone is pretty safe here -- so just stay tuned to all the news reports and I'm sure that we're going to get through this OK." Nagin, obviously misinformed, also says that the city has enough provisions for people to stay in the Superdome for "four to five days. And then if it has to extend beyond that, we're going to -- we're basically counting on the federal government to supply us with what we need."
- Aug 29: Michael Brown arrives in New Orleans around 11 am. Shortly thereafter, Brown finally issues his first alert to FEMA and DHS, asking for 1000 DHS staffers to arrive within two days, and 2000 more to arrive in seven days. Already having waited five hours after landfall to make his request, and giving the respondants an extraordinary two days to appear on site, he also tells the FEMA employees that it is their responsibility to "convey a positive image" to the media. Brown's request is astonishing in its lack of urgency. Homeland Security official Russ Knocke later says that Brown's request of a two-day delay is to ensure that the responders receive "adequate training" to help the state and local officials already working in the stricken area.
- Aug 29: Several hours after the storm strikes, Michael Brown receives an e-mail from former Republican senator Tim Hutchinson, now a corporate lobbyist, asking that Brown set aside time to meet with one of his clients. "I am certain you are overwhelmed by the situation regarding Hurricane Katrina. I apologize for bothering you at this critical time and for going directly to you about this," Hutchinson writes. "I would very much appreciate being able to bring the President of Blu-Med Response Systems, Gerritt Boyle, in to meet with you as soon as your schedule permits." Boyle wants to complain to Brown about a no-bid contract FEMA had awarded to one of Blu-Med's competitors. The issue had been percolating since 2004, and continues unresolved into mid-2006.
- Aug 29: Around noon, at a town hall meeting at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in El Mirage, Arizona, President Bush says: "Our Gulf Coast is getting hit and hit hard. I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes. I want to thank the governors of the affected regions for mobilizing assets prior to the arrival of the storm to help citizens avoid this devastating storm.... When the storm passes, the federal government has got assets and resources that we'll be deploying to help you. In the meantime, America will pray -- pray for the health and safety of all our citizens." Bush also mentions that he phoned DHS secretary Chertoff that morning -- but the topic wasn't the hurricane, it was illegal aliens. The government declares disaster areas in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Bush spends his day promoting his Medicare proposal at resorts in Arizona and California. He will not receive Governor Blanco's desperate request for assistance till later in the evening, and will go to bed around his usual bedtime of 10 pm without bothering to respond to Blanco or issuing directives for anyone else to respond.
- Aug 29: At 2 PM, the city confirms that the critical 17th Street Levee has failed. Two more levees along the London Avenue Canal have failed earlier that morning.
- Aug 29: By 3 PM or so, the storm has passed by the city. Residents, officials, and the media have difficulty assessing the damage. Compared to what some officials and experts had been predicting -- "Armageddon," as one meteorologist said -- parts of the city, especially those of most interest to the media, appear to have come through the storm unscathed. The French Quarter, for instance, looks fine. Some people there gather outside bars to take in the breezy, beautiful weather. But officials monitoring the levees realize that disaster is about to strike. The Army Corp's Al Naomi calls the state emergency headquarters in Baton Rouge to inform officials of a catastrophic situation in the city. Water from the increasingly large breach in the levee at the 17th Street Canal -- it ended up being 200 feet wide -- is pouring out, flooding the city center. It is this breach that will inundate the city of New Orleans over the next day, eventually making it part of Lake Pontchartrain. But for reasons that aren't known, state officials do not heed his warning. Nobody sounds the alarm that the city may soon be flooded. Senator Landrieu will later tell Newsweek that the mood in the state's headquarters wasn't one of panic. "We were saying, 'Thank you, God,' because the experts were telling the governor it could have been even worse." Meanwhile, communications failures hamper rescue and relief efforts. Radio channels are overwhelmed, cellphone networks are down, and police, fire and rescue workers are often unable to communicate with each other.
- Aug 29: By Monday evening, the situation has indeed shown itself to be much worse than initial estimates. Governor Blanco has already talked to Bush in Arizona and told him, "We need everything you've got." (Her failure to cite specific needs will cause problems with decision-making, and will be used an an excuse by federal officials for not responding more quickly.) Later that evening, a panicky Blanco calls the White House in an attempt to secure immediate disaster relief for her state, Louisiana. Neither Bush nor chief of staff Andrew Card are available, she was told. After being passed around from one functionary to another, Blanco finally gets to leave a message with Bush's DHS advisor Frances Townsend to return her call. Hours go by before Blanco receives a return call from Bush. He tells her that "help is on the way." It isn't. Instead, as Newsweek reports, "There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president...went to bed."
- Aug 29: State and federal officials meet in Baton Rouge for a photo op and a round of congratulations for the expected speedy response. The officials include Chertoff, Brown, Blanco, and Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu. The tone will quickly change.
- Aug 29: In the hours after the strike, Brown places a number of "frantic" phone calls to his boss, Chertoff, who is apparently unavailable. When he finally reaches Chertoff, Brown tells him, "I am having a horrible time." Later that day, Bush calls Chertoff to discuss, not the devastating hurricane strike, but his administration's immigration policy. Bush makes a passing inquiry about Katrina, asking Chertoff if he was working with state and local officials.
- Aug 29: FEMA director Michael Brown promises Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco that the agency will send in a fleet of 500 to 700 commercial buses to evacuate thousands of desperate New Orleans citizens stranded in the flooding city. The 700 buses never materialize. Brown personally vetoes a plan by Blanco to use school buses belonging to the state, because the buses are not air-conditioned. As the death toll among stranded residents mounts, Brown continues to insist that the commercial fleet of buses is on its way. In defiance of FEMA's orders, Blanco sends an ad hoc group of 68 school buses into New Orleans on Wednesday, August 31. Driven by National Guardsmen, the buses eventually evacuate almost 16,000 people, but are nowhere near enough. That same Wednesday, Blanco makes an anguished phone call to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. She says, "Even if we had 500 buses, they've underestimated the magnitude of this situation, and I think I need 5,000 buses, not 500. But, Andy, those 500 are not here."
- Late Wednesday night, Blanco receives word that a group of 100 buses is just now entering northern Louisiana; they would not reach New Orleans until Thursday. One of Blanco's aides, Leonard Kleinpeter, tells his boss that FEMA informed him that the state could stop sending school buses because the agency was going to bring in helicopters and use them instead of the commercial buses that still weren't there. Blanco tells Kleinpeter to ignore those instructions. "she said, 'I'll be damned. You keep loading the wagons on the school buses,'" Kleinpeter recalls. Brown will resign as head of FEMA, and claim that Blanco and her staff "were incapable of organizing a coherent state effort" to handle the disaster. Brown will claim that on August 28, he asked Blanco and Major General Bennett Landreneau, head of the state's National Guard, what resources they needed. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing," Brown will whine. Blanco will respond that she shouldn't have been asked to provide a list. "specific things, my God," she will say. "[I]f they didn't know that we were in the middle of search and rescue and needed to evacuate people, then they were not on the ground with us. We needed buses and helicopters." Besides, says Blanco, she thought Brown was in control of the situation. "I had security in the knowledge that there were 500 buses," she says. "Mike had emphasized the buses to me personally. That was not my first concern until I realized that they were not there."
Tuesday, August 30
- Aug 30: A full day after the hurricane strike, FEMA director Michael Brown delivers the letter to his supervisor, DHS chief Michael Chertoff, asking for 1000 DHS employees to report to the strike zone by Thursday, and 2000 more within a week. The tone of the letter lacks urgency and is far more concerned with presenting a positive public appearance than in getting help to the stricken areas ASAP. By this time, 80 percent of New Orleans is flooded.
- Aug 30: A full 36 hours after the strike, DHS chief Michael Chertoff activates the National Response Plan by declaring the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina an "Incident of National Significance." The plan, rolled out to much fanfare in January, enables Washington to move federal assets to the disaster without waiting for requests from state officials, and could have been activated days before Katrina made landfall. Chertoff also designates Brown as the "principal federal official" in charge of relief efforts. The National Response Plan designates Chertoff, not Brown, as the federal official in charge of handling national disaster efforts. According to a memo written by Chertoff, Chertoff doesn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department. "As you know, the President has established the 'White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response,'" the memo reads. "He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina." Chertoff writes the memo and sends it to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies. On the day that Chertoff writes the memo, Bush is in San Diego presiding over a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is only after Chertoff's designation that Bush will appear on television to announce the government's relief efforts. (More about Chertoff's memo can be found above, in the FEMA section of this page.)
- Aug 30: Chertoff also tells the press that "New Orleans dodged a bullet," a response discussed elsewhere in this site, and cites non-existent news headlines to support his contention that he thought New Orleans was on a relatively good footing. Other federal officials appear equally clueless about the danger posed by the levees. At a press conference in Baton Rouge, Bill Lokey, a FEMA coordinator, says, "I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening." After his mid-morning speech commemorating V-J Day in San Diego, Bush declares that he is cutting his vacation short and heading to Washington to monitor the situation on the Gulf. Chertoff's off-the-cuff, insanely erroneous assessment infuriates many in the region along with national media figures. He later tells Meet the Press's Tim Russert, "Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers, and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged The Bullet.' ...Because if you recall, the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee -- may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday -- that the levee started to break." No major newspaper ever printed a headline that said New Orleans "dodged a bullet," as Chertoff claims. Most major newspapers are filled with stories of devastation and death. (More on this subject elsewhere in this site.) He also says, later on, that "It wasn't until comparatively late, shortly before, day, day and a half before landfall that it became clear this was going to be a category 4, 5 heading for the New Orleans area." This is a flat and outrageous lie. The National Hurricane Center, along with the major weather services, had all warned of Katrina's growing danger four days before landfall.
- Aug 30: Obviously a man with his priorities intact, Bush again pays little attention to the Katrina disaster and instead travels to Naval Base Coronado in California to commemorate V-J Day and, more importantly, to defend his adminstration's policies in regard to Iraq. He makes a brief statement concerning the hurricane, most of it lauding his government's response, then launches into his prepared remarks without mentioning the hurricane again. That afternoon he enjoys himself by mugging for the cameras in a staged photo-op with country singer Mark Willis and a "presidential" guitar, and then returns home to Crawford for the final night of his vacation.
- Aug 30: Dismayed and angered by the lack of federal response, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin declares martial law for his drowning city. He orders everyone who were not emergency personnel to leave the city, but for most, floodwaters and debris block any possibility of escape. Looting is beginning to be a problem, and the New Orleans police say that they can't control it.
- Aug 30: After touring New Orleans, including a visit to the rapidly deteriorating Superdome, Blanco calls the situation "untenable," "The situation is untenable," she says. "It's just heartbreaking. The devastation is greater than our worst fears." She calls the situation in the Superdome "very, very desperate," and urges immediate evacuation. Her plan is for FEMA to supply the long-promised buses to get the evacuees out of the Superdome and into housing in Houston's Astrodome, but the buses, as detailed earlier, never arrive. "We'd call and say: 'Where are the buses?'" recalls Colonel Jeff Smith of Louisiana's Homeland Security Department. "They have a tracking system and they'd say: 'We sent 349.' But we didn't see them." City officials decide to open the Ernest Morial Convention Center for refugees as well, but though many residents are informed, the federal and state officials seem unaware of the relocation, and plans to provide the convention center refugees with food, water, and medical attention are chaotic at best.
- Aug 30: Brown refuses to allow local firefighters to enter New Orleans to assist in the rescue operations.
- Aug 30: That evening, Brown calls Chertoff and told him that the situation was beyond his and FEMA's capability to handle. "Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle," he said. "This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help."
- Aug 30: Late in the evening, Vice President Cheney, still on vacation in Wyoming, makes several phone calls ordering crews be diverted from rescue efforts in the Gulf Coast to immediately restore power to a Mississippi oil pipeline that provides oil to the Northeast. Cheney's orders delay the crews' ability to respond to the catastrophe in the Gulf for over 24 hours. "I considered it a presidential directive to get those pipelines operating," says Jim Compton, general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, which distributes power that rural electric cooperatives sell to consumers and businesses. "I reluctantly agreed to pull half our transmission line crews off other projects and made getting the transmission lines to the Collins substations a priority," Compton said. "Our people were told to work until it was done. They did it in 16 hours, and I consider the effort unprecedented. ...We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down." Cheney's directives are funnelled through the Department of Homeland Security. Mindy Osborn, emergency room coordinator at Stone County Hospital in southern Mississippi, says the power at her hospital was not restored until six days after the storm. "Oh, yes, 24 hours earlier would have been a help," she said. Compton says he was happy to support the national effort. But he says it was a difficult decision to make because of the potential impact in the region had the plan not worked and the area's power restoration was set back days. "It was my decision to balance what was most important to people in South Mississippi with this all-of-a-sudden national crisis of not enough gas or diesel fuel," he says. "In the future, the federal government needs to give us guidelines if this is such a national emergency so that I can work that in my plans."