Wednesday, August 31
- Aug 31: Beleaguered FEMA official Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA officials on the ground in New Orleans, sends the following e-mail to FEMA head Michael Brown: "sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here are some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes. The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need. FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out. Phone connectivity impossible." This is the full response sent by Brown: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"
- Bahamonde, ordered to leave but stranded by clogged roads, e-mailed Brown directly: "I know you know, the situation is past critical. ...Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water." The response does not come for several hours, and does not come from Brown, but from an aide, who fails to address the warnings and instead discusses Brown's desire to appear on a television show that night. It also chides Bahamonde for not remembering Brown's own needs: "It is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner" at local Baton Rouge restaurants.
- Aug 31: In the middle of the third day of the crisis, Bush finally tours the devastated Gulf Coast region...by briefly flying over the areain the comfort of Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Crawford. His chief political handler, Karl Rove, ever concerned about Bush's public image, allows photographers to enter the front of the airplane to take photos of Bush looking concerned about the damage he is seeing. Unfortunately, many of the photos that are published make Bush seem, in Newsweek's words, more like a "tourist, seemingly powerless as he peered down at the chaos." Republican strategists say that image is one of the most politically damaging of his career. At 4 in the afternoon, Bush will make his first national address concerning the disaster. He spends much of his speech detailing the huge amounts of supplies and resources supposedly being moved into the stricken areas. By this point, the flood waters have equalized with the waters in Lake Pontchartrain, and for all intents and purposes, New Orleans is now part of the lake. The next day, Bush will spend much of his afternoon playing golf.
- Aug 31: Late in the afternoon, Bush gives his first major address on Katrina. Brief and vague, it merely serves to emphasize Bush's disassociation over the situation. The New York Times writes, "Nothing about the president's demeanor... -- which seemed casual to the point of carelessness -- suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."
- Aug 31: Blanco goes on early-morning television to press for the immediate evacuation of the desperate refugees holed up in the Superdome. By this point, at least two rapes have been reported inside the darkened and fetid building, and three people have died, including one man who leapt to his death from the rooftop. FEMA only requests 455 buses and 300 ambulances to evacuate the over 20,000 New Orleans residents then taking shelter at the Superdome, far fewer than was necessary for such a task, and 18 hours later cancels the request, because, as one FEMA employee put it, "the DOT doesn't do ambulances." By the evening of September 3, the request has finally swollen to 1355 buses. Still, the buses only trickle in a few at a time. A frustrated Department of Health worker complains that every e-mail he and his colleagues sent to FEMA -- FEMA's preferred method of communication -- is returned unread.
- Aug 31: After being warned that people are dying at the Superdome around 8 that morning, FEMA director Michael Brown's office responds three hours later that Brown needs much more time than he has been given to eat at a Baton Rouge restaurant: "He needs much more that [sic] 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise [sic], followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you." It's obvious that Brown's restaurant needs supersede any involvement he might have in rescuing people from dying.
- Aug 31: Later in the day, Nagin orders the New Orleans police to stop search-and-rescue efforts and devote their resources to combating looting and restoring order. The scene at the convention center is horrendous: over 3000 refugees with no resources whatsoever mill in and around the center, abandoned and forgotten. The dead body of 91-year old Booker Harris sprawls in a lawn chair, covered over with a blanket and left. "I mean, this convention center is right in the heart of downtown," reports CNN's Chris Lawrence. "I mean, picture any downtown where -- any city you live, Main Street, wherever. The main building, there's a dead body that has been sitting out there for two days. They put a blanket over him. ...These people are hungry. They're tired. They've got nowhere to go. They've got no answers, and they've got no communication whatsoever. And the officer said, when night comes -- I'm watching the sun dip behind the buildings right now, he was very afraid -- he said, 'I don't know which night it's going to break, but these people have a breaking point. And I'm scared to see what happens when they reach that point.'" No efforts whatsoever are being made to succor these refugees.
- Aug 31: A British Columbian rescue team is blocked from entering New Orleans by the Department of Homeland Security, even though its assistance was requested by the State of Louisiana. The BC team blames "mass confusion" at the federal level for the refusal. DHS also blocks the use of Forest Service firefighting aircraft to fight blazes in the beleagured city.
- Aug 31: The American Bus Association's Peter Pantuso, the head of that organization, spends the entire day trying to find someone at FEMA who can work with him to get buses from the organization sent into the devastated Gulf region. Pantuso is unable to talk to anyone who will tell him how many buses are needed, and who is in charge of coordinating relief efforts. "We never talked directly to FEMA or got a call back from them," he recalls. Pantuso, whose members include some of the nation's largest motor coach companies, including Greyhound and Coach USA, eventually learns that the job of extracting tens of thousands of residents from flooded New Orleans isn't being handled by FEMA at all. Instead the agency has farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turn hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company. In the process of all the subcontracting, virtually nothing gets done.
- Pantuso will oversee an improvised effort between his organization, the bus companies, and Louisiana officials to cobble together a fleet of 1100 buses that finally arrive in New Orleans to evacuate victims stranded at the Superdome and the city's convention center. Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, the Jacksonville, Florida company that held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation, did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of August 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit, according to Sally Snead, a Carey senior vice president who headed the bus roundup. Landstar inquired about the availability of buses on Sunday, August 28, and earlier Monday, but placed no orders, Snead says. She says Landstar turned to her company for buses Sunday after learning from Carey's Internet site that it had a meetings and events division that touted its ability to move large groups of people. Snead recalls that she tapped Transportation Management Services of Vienna, Virginia, which specializes in arranging buses for conventions and other large events, to help fill an initial order for 300 coaches. "It's like taking your phone book and dividing it in half and saying, 'You take half and I'll take half,'" she says.
- Unbeknownst to them, two key players who could reach the owners of an estimated 70 percent of the nation's 35,000 charter and tour buses have already contacted FEMA seeking to supply coaches to the evacuation effort. On August 29, Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association, called FEMA's Washington office "to let them know our members could help out." FEMA did not respond until the next day, and the official who contacted Parra merely referred him to a FEMA Web page labeled "Doing Business with FEMA" that contained no information on the hurricane relief effort. On August 31, Pantuso attempts to contact FEMA directly; having no success, he learns of Carey International's role and contacts Snead. By 5 in the evening, Pantuso and Parra are able to send an SOS to their members to help in the evacuation. By the weekend, more than 1,000 buses will be committed to ferrying stranded New Orleans residents to shelters in Houston and other cities. In a regulatory filing in mid-September, Landstar Express will acknowledge it had received government orders worth at least $125 million for Katrina-related work. It's not known how much of that total pertains to the bus evacuation. Landstar Express is a subsidiary of Landstar System, a $2 billion company whose board chairman, Jeff Crowe, also was chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation's premier business lobbies, from June 2003 until May 2004. Crowe is yet another Bush crony whose involvement in the Katrina debacle needs to be investigated. Pantuso will say that, although Landstar's initial response was lacking, it has shown more interest in becoming involved in efforts to assist in relief efforts for Hurricane Rita. Landstar's regulatory filing notes that because of Hurricane Katrina, the maximum annual value of its government contract for disaster relief services has been increased to $400 million.
- Aug 31: FEMA deliberately knocks out Jefferson Parish's radio communications with field workers for several critical hours, according to parish officials. Telecommunications Director JoAnn Becnel says that a contractor investigating the failure discovered that radio cables and equipment leading to an antenna atop the Galleria office building in Metairie had been disconnected and replaced with cables and equipment belonging to FEMA. The contractor called Becnel from the Galleria's roof. "I told him to unplug theirs and plug ours back in," Becnel later says. The disruption lasted four hours, and officials with Parish President Aaron Broussard's administration later say it complicated a desperate situation. The radio failure stymies attempts by Jefferson's emergency managers, in the Emergency Operations Center in Marrero, to direct personnel on the ground at a time when much of East Jefferson was flooding, people were being rescued from rising water and thousands of displaced residents were seeking food and shelter. The storm already had knocked out conventional phone service. Greg Buisson, a political consultant to Broussard, says that when radio communications abruptly failed, contract engineers were sent to check the system's two antennae, one atop the Marreo emergency center and the other atop the Galleria. The antennae communicate with each other via microwaves. When one is down, the system is skewed. Buisson says FEMA could have added its own antenna to the Galleria tower without fiddling with Jefferson's equipment. "If you want to add more, you have to go through a small construction process that takes several hours," he notes. "If you don't want to go through that, you just pull out the amplifier that's there and put yours in." Becnel says the antenna is one of several located on the Galleria roof and is accessed through a door marked for Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office equipment. She said technicians have assured her that Jefferson's cables were "clearly marked" as property of the parish, just as FEMA cables were marked as the property of that agency. "I don't know how or why they picked ours," she says.
- Aug 31: Governor Blanco makes an urgent request to Bush for the immediate release of Louisiana National Guard units from duty in Iraq to come home and help with the rescue response. Bush refuses. She also asks for more personnel to come to the stricken area to help with looters and evacuation efforts. Blanco spends a frantic evening trying to locate the fleets of buses promised by the federal government, buses that failed to show up. Blanco bursts into the state's emergency center in Baton Rouge and cries out, "Does anybody in this building know anything about buses?" The buses would not materialize until Friday. The problem seems to center on a failure of the federal government to direct and coordinate the emergency response, a responsibility it had insisted on taking upon itself before the hurricane struck. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials expected the state and city to direct their own efforts and ask for help as needed. Leaders in Louisiana and New Orleans, though, are so overwhelmed by the scale of the storm that they are not only unable to manage the crisis, but they are not always exactly sure what they needed. While local officials assume that Washington would provide rapid and considerable aid, federal officials, weighing legalities and logistics, proceed at a deliberate, even languid, pace. FEMA appears to have underestimated the storm, despite an extraordinary warning from the National Hurricane Center that it could cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards." The agency dispatched only 7 of its 28 urban search and rescue teams to the area before the storm hit and sent no workers at all into New Orleans until after the hurricane passed on Monday. Tuesday, a lone FEMA worker who had enterred the city by helicopter spends a frustrating day trying to convince his bosses in Washington of the severity of the situation. A city councilwoman, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, overhears his conversation: "He got on the phone to Washington, and I heard him say, 'You've got to understand how serious this is, and this is not what they're telling me, this is what I saw myself.'"
- Aug 31: Chertoff tells the media that the situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where thousands of evacuees and refugees huddled without food, water, or emergency relief, "is secure." He says hundreds of National Guardsmen were patrolling the area and providing assistance. Chertoff lies. Police who were at the Superdome are describing it as a hellhole, completely out of control. Chertoff also tells the media that he was "extremely pleased" with the federal response, and that efforts to evacuate the city and help stranded residents are "going well."
- Aug 31: With gasoline and fuel prices around the country soaring and shortages everywhere, Bush decides to allow a grudgingly small amount of the country's strategic oil reserves to be released into the market. Although Bush and his House Republican allies tout the release as being nearly 2 million barrels a day as part of an overall $10 billion relief package, neither the actual oil release nor the funds for the relief package are anywhere near as large as promised. "I'm ashamed of America. I'm ashamed of our government," says Democratic House member Carolyn Kilpatrick. "I'm outraged by the lack of response by our federal government." Meanwhile, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez sends 18 water purification units, 50 tons of food, two mobile hospitals, expert search teams, and 20 lighting generators to New Orleans; the State Department denies entry to the Venezuelans. (Source: Greg Palast)
- Aug 31: 16-year old Jabbor Gibson commandeers a bus and rescues about 100 people from the Superdome and the surrounding area. Gibson drives the bus to Houston's Astrodome, where his charges are initially denied entry. Instead of being hailed as a hero, Gibson faces criminal charges for his actions.
- Aug 31: During the evening, FEMA director Brown appears on a slate of news shows, declaring that contrary to what people have been seeing on TV, storm victims are being helped in New Orleans. CNN's Larry King asks Brown, "All of our correspondents, other people telling our correspondents that they're frustrated, they're angry, they're mad at the government, state, federal. They're not getting enough. And they're saying where is the help. So where is the help?" Brown retorts, "Larry, the help is right there. And it's going to be moving in very, very rapidly. I'm going to ask the country to be patient.... And I must say this storm is much, much bigger than anyone expected." Moments later Brown appears to contradict himself when he says that his agency has long anticipated that a hurricane hitting New Orleans would be one of the worst possible disasters. "We planned for it two years ago. Last year, we exercised it. And unfortunately this year, we're implementing it." Brown promises that relief will arrive tomorrow. "That help is there. We have an agreement with [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld. the president has stepped in. We're going to have air-lifting commodities in. We're going to have those caravans moving tonight. So tomorrow you're going to see that relief." Virtually none of the aid promised by Brown materializes.
- Aug 31: Slate's Jack Shafer asks why the media insists on portraying nothing but African-Americans on their coverage of the looting and violence in New Orleans. More importantly, he asks, is why the media is refusing to tackle the issue of race and class as it affects the victims of Katrina. "To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue," he writes. "I heard them ask the storm's New Orleans victims why they hadn't left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were broke -- 'I live from paycheck to paycheck,' explained one woman. Others said they didn't own a car with which to escape and that they hadn't understood the importance of evacuation. But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm. What accounts for the broadcasters' timidity? I saw only a couple of black faces anchoring or co-anchoring but didn't see any black faces reporting from New Orleans. So, it's safe to assume that the reluctance to talk about race on the air was a mostly white thing. ...If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, 'Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American? I suppose our viewers have noticed, too, that the provocative looting footage we're airing and re-airing seems to depict mostly African-Americans.' ...To the question of looting, an informed reporter or anchor might have pointed out that anybody -- even one of the 500 Nordic blondes working in broadcast news -- would loot food from a shuttered shop if they found themselves trapped by a flood and had no idea when help would come. ...By failing to acknowledge upfront that black New Orleanians -- and perhaps black Mississippians -- suffered more from Katrina than whites, the TV talkers may escape potential accusations that they're racist. But by ignoring race and class, they boot the journalistic opportunity to bring attention to the disenfranchisement of a whole definable segment of the population. What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, 'Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?'"
Thursday, September 1
"We're just a bunch of rats. That's how they've been treating us." -- Earle Young, stranded at the Superdome with 10,000 other New Orleans residents
- Sept 1: Bush finally authorizes help from the airline industry to help Katrina victims in the Gulf Coast. The airline industry had been poised to provide help since before the strike, but only now does the government ask for the help. The airlifts begin on Friday morning. Bush also recommends "zero tolerance" for looters and refugees attempting to secure food and water; his orders are interpreted by many National Guard units as "shoot-to-kill" authorization. After FEMA takes over the evacuation, aviation director Roy Williams complains that "we are packed with evacuees and the planes are not being loaded and there are gaps of two or three hours when no planes are arriving." Eventually he beging fielding "calls from airlines saying, 'Well, we are being told by FEMA that you don't need any planes.' And of course we need planes. I had thousands of people on the concourses." The Los Angeles Times reports, "More than 50 civilian aircraft responding to separate requests for evacuations from hospitals and other agencies swarmed to the area a day after Katrina hit, but FEMA blocked their efforts."
- Sept 1: FEMA officials exchange reports of severe shortages of ice and water in Mississippi. The next day's delivery was reported as 60 trucks of ice and 26 of water, even though the requirements were for 450 trucks of each. Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional response official, writes: "We have not yet met any of our requirements even with two days' notice. If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots." William Carwile, FEMA's coordinator in Mississippi, confirmed this assessment: "Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow. All our good will here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is." FEMA Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder forwards this chain of messages to Michael Brown, who does not bother to respond.
- Sept 1: Chertoff continues his incredible attempt to massage the message, telling the press that he knew things weren't nearly as bad in New Orleans and surrounding areas as the media was reporting. He says that reports from the Superdome were "exaggerated." Meanwhile, the evacuation of the Superdome is suspended, apparently because of unrest outside the building. Only a few hundred Guardsmen are present at the Superdome. Observing the situation, Terry Ebbert, who heads New Orleans' emergency operations, tells the press: "This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans. We have got a mayor who has been pushing and asking, but we're not getting supplies." Ebbert adds, "It's criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA has never been to a hurricane." On the early morning Today show, Chertoff says, "What we can do and what we have done is get ourselves to the utmost level of preparedness. One of the things that came out of 9/11 in 2001 was an increased focus on getting ourselves ready to deal with all kinds of catastrophes. And while nobody can ever be completely prepared for an event of this horrible magnitude, I'd say we're much better prepared than we've ever been." Former FEMA director James Lee Witt begs to differ. In the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, says Witt, FEMA director under Clinton. Federal officials are now saying that a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday. Witt says, "These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was."
- Sept 1: Bush is informed during an early-morning interview with Diane Sawyer of the situation in the convention center. Aides will report that the report angers Bush, because Chertoff had not mentioned the convention center in a morning briefing to Bush. Neither Chertoff nor his subordinate, Brown, are aware of the situation there. Brown, responsible for all federal disaster relief, will later say that he does not learn that the convention center is being used as a shelter until sometime on Thursday, two days after the city first opened the center for evacuees, and a day after scenes from the convention center dominated TV news. In his chat with Sawyer, Bush asserts that the federal government was surprised by the scope of the storm damage. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," he says. "They did anticipate a serious storm. These levees got breached, and as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded and now we're having to deal with it and will." In fact, long before the hurricane struck land, many experts and officials -- including the Hurricane Center's Mayfield and Mayor Nagin -- warned that the levees were vulnerable.
- Sept 1: Mayor Ray Nagin discusses the calamity in New Orleans with Bush, and comes away enraged. (Listen to the audio here, as an MP3 file.) As he tells a radio audience later that night, "I basically told him we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now, get off your *ss and let's do something and let's fix the biggest g*ddamn crisis in the history of this country." Earlier in the day, Nagin sends out "a desperate SOS" on CNN, telling the country, "Right now we are out of resources at the convention center and don't anticipate enough buses. We need buses. Currently the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we're running out of supplies." CNN runs a montage of graphic scenes from the convention center, including pictures of several dead bodies. Correspondent Chris Lawrence reports, "We spent the last few hours at the convention center, where there are thousands of people just laying in the street. They have nowhere to go. These are mothers. We saw mothers. We talked to mothers holding babies. I mean, some of these babies, 3, 4, 5 months old, living in these horrible conditions. Putrid food on the ground, sewage, their feet sitting in sewage. We saw feces on the ground. It is -- these people are being forced to live like animals." People at the convention center tell Lawrence that National Guard troops have driven by and tossed small amounts of food to them. But most people are hungry and thirsty. Lawrence says: "What these people are saying basically is, 'Give us some water, give us some food. Don't leave us here to die. Or get us out of here.' They're saying, 'We're stuck here. We can't leave. They don't send the buses. They won't take us out of here. And yet they won't come in with truckloads of water and food to feed us.'" The American Red Cross will later explain that the convention center is not being serviced by the agency because, sometime during the week, the Louisiana Homeland Security Department tells the agency not to "come back into New Orleans following the hurricane." Louisana officials have refused to explain this order. According to the Red Cross, the Homeland Security Department had been worried that a Red Cross presence in the city would "keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city."
- Sept 1: By this point, Governor Blanco is ready to cede control of the state and local response to the federal government; she has wanted to give over control since Tuesday, but has been repeatedly frustrated and angered by the horrendous lack of response from the federals. Later today, Bush meets with Blanco aboard Air Force One and asks her to turn over control of the National Guard troops that are finally arriving in the state to the federal government. Blanco, a Democrat, asked Bush if Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican with close ties to Bush, was being asked to cede control of the troops in his state. The answer: "No." Blanco tells Bush she will make a decision within 24 hours. The White House refuses to wait, but faxes a written memorandum of understanding for her to sign, turning over the troops to federal control. Blanco refuses. "If I thought that it was going to bring one more resource to bear, if I thought that he was denying me resource because of it, and I don't think he was, then it might have been something that I would have considered," she later recalls. "By that time, we were already getting the resources and commitments." Blanco is fearful that those commitments and resources would either disappear or be misused if the federal government assumes control. The White House is furious with Blanco, and begin targeting her for blame over the widening debacle. Blanco later recalls, "What was going on is the national media people started picking on the president. So the White House began to defend the president. So they turned some guns on me. It was a colossal waste of our time and energy to get into the blame game." Blanco says she has learned a valuable lesson: "In the end, in a really dangerous, life-threatening situation, there is no army that's going to be there to save you. It's going to be person-to-person, helping each other. Some people are putting their lives on the line to help other people whose lives are at risk. And that's the bottom line."
- Sept 1: Bush awards no-bid contracts to Halliburton for cleanup and restoration of New Orleans and other stricken cities. Bush also asks former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to head up private relief efforts. Later, Bush will announce huge tax breaks for Halliburton and other companies working to clean up and restore New Orleans; the oil companies alone reap a $700 million tax break. (Source: Greg Palast)
- Sept 1: Beleagured state and local officials begin working to evacuate the Superdome without any federal assistance. Watching the slow procession from the Superdome, an angry Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans' emergency operations, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency response is inadequate. "This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control," Ebbert says. "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans. We have got a mayor who has been pushing and asking, but we're not getting supplies." He says the evacuation was almost entirely a Louisiana operation. "This is not a FEMA operation. I haven't seen a single FEMA guy." Chertoff's response? The federal government was doing everything it could do. He said, "All of us wish, I know, Godspeed and good luck to those who are suffering." Brown and Chertoff also place the blame for the deaths of stranded residents on -- the residents themselves. "I think the death toll may go into the thousands and, unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown says. Chertoff voices a similar opinion, saying, "some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part." Brown tells CNN: "Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings. I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. And to find people still there is just heart-wrenching to me because, you know, the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there. So, we've got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it's for their own good. Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them." Brown also accentuates the positive about the city's plight, reading off a list of accomplishments: more than 30,000 National Guard troops will be in the city within three days, the hospitals are being evacuated and search and rescue missions are continuing. "Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans -- virtually a city that has been destroyed -- that things are going relatively well," Brown says. But after all of this, Brown says he can "empathize with those in miserable conditions."
- Sept 1: National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the calamity unfolding in the Gulf Coast, spends the morning visiting the US Open in New York City and hitting some tennis balls with former champion Monica Seles. That afternoon, she goes shoe shopping, and, carrying several thousand dollars' worth of purchases, is briefly accosted by a man who shouts, "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!"
- Sept 1: This evening, NPR's Robert Siegel asks Michael Chertoff several times about reports that tens of thousands of people are starving at the convention center. Chertoff dismisses such reports. He says, "You know, the one thing about an episode like this is if you talk to someone and you get a rumor or you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place." Siegel insists that reporters from NPR and other organizations have personally witnessed the horrors at the convention center. But Chertoff refuses to believe Siegel. On NBC, Brian Williams asks FEMA director Brown why FEMA isn't doing an airdrop of food and water to the convention center. "Brian, it's an absolutely fair question," Brown says; "The federal government just learned about those people today. And I've got to tell you, we are moving heaven and earth to get pallets of food and water to those people." He says on CNN, "I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that."
- Later on Nightline, when Brown again says that the federal government only learned of the convention center on Thursday, Ted Koppel asks, "Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting about it for more than just today." Brown says, "We learned about it factually today that that's what existed." At a press conference, Blanco criticizes House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who earlier in the day said it might not make sense to rebuild New Orleans: "It doesn't make sense to me. And it's a question that certainly we should ask." It's "unthinkable," Blanco says, that Hastert would "kick us when we're down." (Former Louisiana senator John Breaux adds, "That's like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it's built in an earthquake zone. Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the US government should have just abandoned the city.") Blanco also warns "hoodlums" in New Orleans: National Guard troops in the city, she says, "have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot to kill...and I expect they will."
- Sept 1: The pilots and crews of three hurricane-relief Black Hawk helicopters stationed at Crestview Airport in Florida are furious that they are not being allowed to render assistance to Gulf Coast hurricane victims. Instead, their specially designed helicopters, equipped for disaster relief and rescue, are being used to transport CNN video crews over the stricken area. "They have three Blackhawk helicopters and crew just sitting there doing nothing, just so they can look good for CNN," says Mark Conrad of US Customs. "The crew is livid. They made one trip earlier and flew over Biloxi where there are dead bodies everywhere. Those are highly trained crews and Black Hawk helicopters can carry a lot of food and water. They could be doing something." Senior officials of the US Customs and Border Protection leadership in Miami made the decision, according to Conrad. "The helicopters are available, but nothing is happening," says a DHS official himself angry at the misuse of precious resources. "They were going to be used for a photo mission, but that was cancelled fortunately. ...Those Blackhawks could be used to deliver supplies to people in New Orleans and other devastated areas. They could be dropping water, food and radios. That might be the difference between someone holding on a day or two longer, or dying. ...This is serious. People's lives are at stake."
- Sept 1: Two Navy helicopter pilots and their crews were reprimanded for rescuing civilians after diverting from their August 30 mission to deliver food and water to military installations to rescue over 100 hurricane victims. The two pilots, Lieutenants David Shand and Matt Udkow, are reprimanded during a morning meeting. Both were piloting Navy H-# helicopters, often used in rescue efforts. After delivering food and water to the Stennis Space Center, a federal facility on the Mississippi coast that had lost electricity and water because of the storm, the pilots, instead of returning to their Pensacola base, they responded to a Coast Guard message saying that helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to rescue stranded victims. Out of radio range to Pensacola, the two pilots made a decision to help. "We're not technically a search-and-rescue unit, but we're trained to do search and rescue," says Shand. Once over the stricken city, says Udkow, they noticed how few rescue units were operating in New Orleans as compared to Biloxi, Gulfport, and other areas: "It was shocking." They made multiple rescue trips, dropping stranded victims from rooftops to emergency medical centers and to the airport. Udkow says the hardest part was having to leave so many behind. "I would be looking at a family of two on one roof and maybe a family of six on another roof, and I would have to make a decision who to rescue," he says. "It wasn't easy." While refueling at a Coast Guard landing pad, Udkow received permission to continue rescues that evening; his and Shand's two crews between them rescued 110 people.
- Yet the next morning both pilots are reprimanded by their supervisor, who says that rescuing civilians is not his unit's priority. Udkow, who is particularly vocal in his disagreement over priorities, is reassigned to oversee pets of service members evacuated from the area. In protest, some unit members have stripped off their uniform services patches that read, "So Others May Live."
- Sept 1: Three Duke students, disgusted with the federal government's response, load up their two-wheel drive Hyundai with bottled water and head south to help; during their voyage, they completely disprove the government's contention that, at this time, the center of New Orleans was all but unreachable by federal personnel. They choose to drive right through Mississippi because they feel the situation there was under control. After being twice denied entry into New Orleans, they wind up in Baton Rouge, where they spend the best part of Friday night and Saturday morning working in an LSU emergency shelter. Saturday they use fake AP press passes to win entry into New Orleans. They make it all the way to the New Orleans Convention Center without difficulty (again, note that federal authorities are saying that such a passage was virtually impossible), where authorities are just finishing evacuating victims: "The only way I can describe this, it was the epicenter," says one student. "Inside there were National Guard running around, there was feces, people had urinated, soiled the carpet. There were dead bodies. The smell will never leave me. ...Anyone who knows that area, if you had a bus, it would take you no more than 20 minutes to drive in with a bus and get these people out. They sat there for four or five days with no food, no water, babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people. And we just drove right in, really disgraceful. I don't want to get too fired up with the rhetoric, but some blame needs to be placed somewhere." They rescue two separate groups of people from the same trapped home, and as their final act of kindness take them to the LSU shelter at Baton Rouge.
- Sept 1: Democratic representative John Conyers publicizes his concerns that the newly passed bankruptcy bill will make it impossible for victims of Katrina to recoup their financial losses, and releases a letter to the FTC by him and nine colleagues asking for an investigation into gasoline price gouging, a request which will be substantially ignored.
Friday, September 2
The infamous picture of a dead woman floating, unattended, in the flood waters of New Orleans
"Call it biblical. Call it apocalyptic. Whatever you want to call it, take your pick," says New Orleans resident Robert Lewis after being rescued from his flooded home. "There were bodies floating past my front door. I've never seen anything like that."
"I remember the riots in Watts. I remember the earthquake in San Francisco. I remember a lot of things. I have never seen anything as badly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to those people in that Superdome down there? It's a disgrace. And don't think the world isn't watching." -- CNN's Jack Cafferty, September 2
- Sept 2: Reports of anarchistic conditions in New Orleans hit the media, with stories of rapes, fighting, looting, and gangs roaming the flooded streets make headlines. It is later proven that many of these stories are either exaggerated or completely false; almost all of the "gangs" moving through the city are groups of young men, some armed, who are organizing refugees and taking food, water, and medical supplies from drowned-out stores. Still, conditions in the city for the tens of thousands still trapped there are horrific, and anger is brewing among the residents. Pointing to the dead body of an old woman in a wheelchair, resident Daniel Edwards snaps, "I don't treat my dog like that. You can do everything for other countries, but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military, but you can't get them down here." Of the federal response, Edwards says, "They've been teasing us with buses for four days. They're telling us they're going to come get us one day, and then they don't show up." "We've got people dying out here -- two babies have died, a woman died, a man died," says Helen Cheek, trapped in the convention center. "We haven't had no food, we haven't had no water, we haven't had nothing. They just brought us here and dropped us." Tourist Debbie Durso, also at the convention center, adds, "This is just insanity. We have no food, no water...all these trucks and buses go by and they do nothing but wave." Michael Brown says the federal government is "just learning" about the situation at the convention center and adds that help is forthcoming. But New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert blames the inadequate response on FEMA. "This is not a FEMA operation. I haven't seen a single FEMA guy," he says. "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans." Bush's suggestion? "The citizens ought to be working together."
- Sept 2: FEMA head Michael Brown receives a desperate e-mail with the subject "Medical help." At the time, thousands of patients were being transported to the New Orleans airport, which had been converted to a makeshift hospital. Because of a lack of ventilators, medical personnel had to ventilate patients by hand for as long as 35 hours. The e-mail reads: "Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42 ft trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction. Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help." Brown does not respond to this message for four days, until he finally forwards it to FEMA Deputy chief of staff Brooks Altshuler and Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder. His message reads, "Can we use these people?"
- Sept 2: National Guard troops finally enter New Orleans. The Guard units bring food, water, and weapons with them, with their first priority to get food and water to stranded residents, and evacuation a secondary priority. Unfortunately, problems with food distribution begin arising almost immediately, with the Red Cross being blocked from distributing food; the Guard takes that responsibility onto itself. "The Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans," says Red Cross spokesperson Renita Hosler. "Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day [asking for access]. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders." Hosler says that she believes the rationale is that to provide immediate relief would work against DHS's stated intentions of getting everyone out of the stricken city as fast as possible.
- Sept 2: The White House moves quickly to handle one aspect of the disaster -- who gets the blame. The New York Times reports, "Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan...to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina." Bush's comments from the Rose Garden this morning form "the start of this campaign." One of the two "senior political advisers," Karl Rove, immediately begins working to shift the blame onto state and local officials. In a related event, a Bush aide creates a DVD of various newscasts for the president to view. According to Newsweek, "The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor [Dan] Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One." Bush watches the DVD while he flies to the Gulf Coast for a Rove-orchestrated series of photo ops, which takes place at 10 am. It is during the press briefings that Bush makes his infamous endorsement of Michael Brown: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" (see below).
- Sept 2: Armed police officers from Gretna, Louisiana, barricade the Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River, denying refugees the opportunity to leave the flooded city. "We shut down the bridge," boasts Gretna police chief Arthur Lawson. The vast majority of victims seeking to enter Gretna is black, and many suspect that race was a driving issue in the decision to keep New Orleans victims out of the largely-white suburb. "Once we arrived there, the mayor of Gretna, his police force, police chief...they jumped out with M-16s and shotguns and told us to get out," recalled one resident. "We had kids terrified. They said we did not have permission to be in their city. They surrounded us, cocked their guns, told us not to move -- told us to gather together. ...Our superintendent tried to explain to them that we were waiting for buses and didn't need rations." Another victim adds, "And the bad thing about that is, [due to the flooding] that was the only way in and out of the city." Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, personally apologizes to many of the victims denied access to the bridge. City authorities had repeatedly tell victims that the bridge was the only way out of the city. Days later, the Gretna City Council will pass a resolution supporting the sheriff's decision to bar refugees from New Orleans from their town. "This wasn't just one man's decision," said the mayor, Ronnie Harris. "The whole community backs it." New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says that Gretna officials "will have to live" with their decision. "We allowed people to cross...because they were dying in the convention center," Nagin said. "We made a decision to protect people.... They made a decision to protect property." One Gretna resident says, "It makes you feel safe to live in a city like that."
- For more info on what it calls "the most evil, racist city in America," visit Gretna Sucks. The rhetoric is probably a bit over the top -- no doubt many fine, upstanding people who would have opened their hearts and homes to the New Orleans victims live in Gretna -- but the site contains contact information for Lawson, Mayor Ronnie Harris, and other equally objectionable Gretna city officials.
- Sept 2: Media reports confirm that a detailed response plan for New Orleans had been worked out before Katrina struck; the federal government never bothered to implement it. Worse, Bush meets with Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin aboard Air Force One and told them he would release the National Guard only if Blanco, Nagin, and the Guard took their orders from Washington. The Daily Kos blogger relating this report writes, "While the report [broadcast on NPR] doesn't state so directly, it clearly implies that Bush intentionally kept the Guard out of New Orleans for four days. If so, he directly contributed to the deaths of a still uncounted number of New Orleans residents. This is a stunning degree of arrogance even for this administration." A simulated hurricane drill held 13 months ago successfully saw the evacuation of over a million New Orleans and area residents, and provided the proper level of assistance to over 300,000 citizens stranded by widespread flooding. Then-regional director of FEMA, Ronald Castleman, calls it "a very good exercise" but admits "[a] number of things were identified that we had to deal with, not all of them were solved." Castleman says that the lessons learned from the simulation were not applied to the real-world response.
- Sept 2: Bush and Chertoff once again play the spin game, telling the media how wonderfully effective federal efforts had been in helping stricken residents. Before heading down to the devastated Gulf Coast, Bush tells reporters, "secretary Chertoff and I just finished a meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers, other members of my Cabinet, as well as General Honore, Admiral Keating, in charge of NORTHCOM -- General Honore is active duty general on the ground in Louisiana -- and Mike Brown, who's the head of FEMA.... There's a lot of aid surging toward those who have been affected: Millions of gallons of water, millions of tons of food. We're making progress about pulling people out of the Superdome." Chertoff adds that FEMA has done a "magnificent job" in handling the crisis, and explains the lack of timely response by saying, "You can't fly helicopters in a hurricane. You can't drive trucks in a hurricane." An additional effect of Bush's visit is to delay three tons of food ready to be delivered to needy victims for hours because of stringent security imposed by Bush's security team. While Bush posed for the cameras, the food sat, waiting to be delivered. And, 1,000 volunteer firefighters from around the country were quickly flown from their waiting area in Atlanta, not to actually render assistance, but to stand beside Bush while the cameras clicked.
- Sept 2: Survivor Charmaine Neville relates her heart-wrenching story of abandonment and despair to local television.
- Sept 2: During a press briefing in Mobile, Alabama, Bush tells FEMA director Michael Brown, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." He also makes an interesting remark about millionaire Republican senator Trent Lott losing one of his vacation homes to the hurricane: "The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." Before departing the region for Washington, President Bush makes another statement to the press from the tarmac at the New Orleans airport. He thanks relief workers and reassures residents of several southern Louisiana parishes that "people are paying attention to them." He also reminisces about his party days in New Orleans, when he says he visited the city "to enjoy myself -- occasionally too much."
- Sept 2: Before midnight, Bush officials try to wrest authority for managing the Louisiana disaster response from Governor Kathleen Blanco by demanding she request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans. Blanco refuses, for a number of reasons: she is enraged at the failure of the federal government to respond in a timely manner, and is equally outraged at the highhanded manner and outright interference of many federal responders once they did arrive on scene. Blanco dodged the federal takeover by establishing a philanthropic fund for the state's victims, and by engaging former FEMA director James Lee Witt to head up Louisiana's relief efforts. Both FEMA's Michael Brown and DHS's Michael Chertoff attempt to shift responsibility for the federal government's failure to respond onto Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.
- Sept 2: Bush pays a highly orchestrated photo-op visit to the breached 17th Street Levee. For security reasons, all air traffic in the area is grounded until Bush departs, and three tons of food intended for delivery by helicopter to evacuees in St. Bernard Parish and Algiers Point are delayed on the Crescent City Connection bridge until nightfall (see above).
- Sept 2: The New Orleans Times-Picayune writes an open letter to Bush slamming Bush's failure to respond to the crisis, calling for the resignation of FEMA chief Michael Brown (citing his "bald-faced lies" and saying, "In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, [Brown] said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, 'We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.' Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President. Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, 'You're doing a heck of a job.' That's unbelievable."
- Sept 2: Congress passes an emergency measure providing $10.5 billion for Hurricane Katrina rescue and relief efforts, which the president promises to sign upon his return to Washington that evening. But representative Karen Carter, a Democrat whose district includes New Orleans' French Quarter, tells reporters the region needs transportation help more than it needs cash: "Don't give me your money. Don't send me $10 million today. Give me buses and gas. Buses and gas. Buses and gas. If you have to commandeer Greyhound, commandeer Greyhound.... If you don't get a bus, if we don't get them out of there, they will die."
- Sept 2: Senator Hillary Clinton accuses the oil companies of profiteering at the expense of hurricane victims. "I want to go after the oil companies and the oil speculators and the manipulators of the money, because they're the ones who I think are really behind this," she says. "You have a hurricane, and all of a sudden you see prices going up like that. That has...everything to do with people trying to make money off the backs of this tragedy." She adds that it is time to send a message to the industry that "they're being watched" as consumers deal with rising prices. "If we don't fight Big Oil, this country's going down. "We're not going to have the standard of living and the quality of life, and we're not going to be able to control our future."
- Sept 2: The evacuation of the Superdome resumes, with between 8,000 and 10,000 refugees waiting in 100-degree heat and wading through knee-deep trash to board buses. 700 evacuees who have been staying at a neighboring Hyatt hotel are allowed to board the buses before Superdome evacuees, reportedly so that the Hyatt can be prepared to house emergency workers. Given that conditions in the Hyatt were less dangerous and more sanitary than those in the Superdome, National Guard Captain John Pollard calls the decision to let the Hyatt evacuees go first "very poor." Houston's Astrodome quickly fills with over 15,000 refugees; the overflow is housed in Houston's Reliant Center. Another 6000 refugees take shelter in Lafayette's Cajundome.
- Sept 2: During the worldwide broadcast of the "Concert for Hurricane Relief," rapper Kanye West says bluntly, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Co-hosting the broadcast with comedian Mike Myers, West says, "I hate the way they portray us in the media. ...If you see a black family it says they are looting; if you see a white family it says they are looking for food. We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war now fighting another way and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us. ...George Bush doesn't care about black people." Broadcaster NBC edits the feed so as to deny West Coast viewers the opportunity to hear West's remarks.
"A modern metropolis sinking in water and into anarchy -- it is a really cruel spectacle for a champion of security like Bush. Bin Laden, nice and dry in his hideaway, must be killing himself laughing." -- Paris's Liberation magazine