Saturday, September 3
"It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now." -- Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish
- Sept 3: FEMA officially deploys, more or less, "search and rescue" teams to the stricken Gulf Coast region. Half of the 28 teams are sent to Dallas and Houston instead of directly to the areas affected by Katrina.
- Sept 3: Military disaster response teams finally began entering New Orleans and other stricken communities on the Gulf Coast. The military response is part of a separate task force initiated by President Bush days after Katrina's landfall. Michael Brown says 14,000 troops are already on the ground and he expects up to 30,000 in the coming days. Brown blames poor communications for the slow, ineffectual disaster response.
- Sept 3: The last 300 evacuees are rescued from the wreckage of the Superdome. "I feel like I've been here 40 years," says one of the last to leave as he boards a bus. "Any bus going anywhere that's all I want." Another evacuee cries as she boards the bus, telling a reporter, "I never thought I'd make it. Oh, God, I thought I'd die in there. I've never been through anything this awful." The Dome itself is all but ruined, dark, partially destroyed by floodwaters, and awash in trash and debris. At one point, the evacuation is interrupted when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the nearby Hyatt Regency Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line, much to the amazement and anger of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday. "How does this work?" refugee Howard Blue asks in astonishment. "They're clean, they're dry, they get out ahead of us?" National Guardsmen block Blue and other Convention Center refugees as Hyatt guests are helped with their luggage.
- Sept 3: Bush tells the nation that the symbol for New Orleans's chaos and unrest, the Convention Center, was under control: "[T]hanks to the good work of the adjutant general from Louisiana and the troops that have been called in that the convention center is secure," he says. In reality, the center is anything but under control; security forces merely locked the building and refused to let anyone out. Inside, thousands of people are dying of thirst, starvation, and illness, and their pleas for help were going unanswered. Fox's Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera air a now-famous TV report from inside the Center that gives Bush's claim the lie. (CNN/Fox News/Blah3)
- Sept 3: Angered by Chertoff's flippant, factually incorrect statement that "Lousiana is a city under water" and the entire governmental failure to respond to Katrina, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann gives one of the most scathing commentaries that I have ever heard. (The link, given here, is a Windows Media file.)
- Sept 3: At a press briefing in Washington, DHS secretary Chertoff expresses "full confidence" in FEMA director Brown. Chertoff also refuses to take any responsibility for the disaster's handling, saying the reason federal support did not arrive more quickly was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor." New Orleans deputy police commander W.S. Riley counters with criticism of the federal response: "My biggest disappointment is with the federal government and the National Guard. The Guard arrived 48 hours after the hurricane with 40 trucks. They drove their trucks in and went to sleep. For 72 hours this police department and the fire department and handful of citizens were alone rescuing people. We have people who died while the National Guard sat and played cards. I understand why we are not winning the war in Iraq if this is what we have."
- Sept 3: As part of Rove's blame game, a senior White House official is reported in the Washington Post telling the lie that Governor Blanco never declared a state of emergency, and that is one of the biggest reasons why the federal response was so tardy and so flaccid. In reality, Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26 (see above). The Post issues a correction hours later, but the impression that Blanco's incompetence hindered the federal response is already made.
- Sept 3: Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, says that Bush is "starting to grasp the magnitude of the situation." She quickly learns differently: she realizes that on September 2, the work she saw being done on a breached levee was merely staged as part of Bush's photo-op. She says, "Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment."
- Sept 3: New Orleans police reports tell of horrific conditions at the Convention Center: "The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as these individuals see them, they're being preyed upon. They are beating, they are raping them in the streets." The national media leaps upon these stories, portraying New Orleans as a city under gangland rule. Yet, a few weeks later, police officials are forced to concede that their tales of rampant gang criminality are untrue: "We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault." The stories almost exclusively focus on black residents of New Orleans, stories that paint a picture of rampant savagery and thuggery on an unprecedented scale. The stories are false. " There's nothing offered to them, no water, no ice, no C-rations," reports NBC's Tony Zumbada. Convention center survivor Debra Ann Spencer-LeBeau says simply: "They just left us here to die."
- Sept 3: 5000 people are still stranded on a freeway overpass outside of Metarie, Louisiana with virtually no food and water, with 12 overflowing portable toilets and one garbage can, exposed to the elements, and not being allowed to leave by armed state troopers. When Steven Mullcur and his wife tried to leave, Steven says, "Two cops pulled up and said that if we didn't go back, they'd put a bullet in me or worse. ...The statement that ticked me off the most was, 'You should've left before -- now stay here.'" Another refugee stranded on the overpass, Cynthia Watson, says, "We've been very patient and polite. I'm not doing anything wrong. Is it because we're black?"
- Sept 3: Left Turn magazine editor Jordan Flaherty writes of his experiences as a New Orleans refugee. He describes most of the officials working the city as friendly but confused, unable to provide the most basic information. People fight to board buses without having a clue as to where the bus will take them -- Baton Rouge, Arkansas, Dallas. A cameraman who has spent two days in a large, chaotic refugee camp tells Flaherty, "as someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don't want to be here at night." Flaherty is angry with both the governments responsible for handling the disaster response, and the media reporting the stories from New Orleans: "While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left behind," he writes. "Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply. No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a 'looter,' but that's just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations. Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. ...This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties' focus on 'welfare queens' and 'super-predators' obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.
- "City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week's events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders."
- Sept 3: A resident of New Orleans, Denise Moore, tells her story in an e-mail forwarded from the family member who originally received the message. The message is long, but to sum up: Moore, the daughter of a nurse who was called in to work at Baptist Hospital the night of August 28, did not stay with her family to Baptist with her mother, but rode the storm out at her mother's apartment, hiding under a mattress and convinced that she was going to die. The next day she and her family were evacuated to the Morial Convention Center. She describes conditions there as hellish. Buses promised to evacuate the refugees never showed up. Soldiers in trucks empty of supplies drove by without stopping to help, and when the refugees called out for assistance, pointed guns at them. A helicopter did drop a load of bottled water, but the bottles all exploded on impact due to the distance from which they fell. In the two days she was in the center, she watched ten people around her die. Many people Moore spoke to in the center were convinced they had been sent there to die. Many of the later arrivals had been rescued from off of rooftops and out of flooded homes; some of them were already dehydrated, in shock, and apparently mad. The bathrooms in the center were beyond foul, the floors and walls caked in excrement. By the end of the second night, Moore and her family have had enough; they leave the center and find a place to spend the third night under an overpass.
- She sees gangs of young men with guns, but, far from being thugs and looters as portrayed in the media, they worked to organize relief efforts and help the most vulnerable. "They organized the crowd," the e-mail reads. "They went to Canal Street and 'looted,' and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out 'the buses are coming,' the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first." There were some instances of armed confrontations with the police, but often by people who believed that the police were merely there to hurt them. One group of people comes back after trying to walk out of the city across a bridge, but were turned back by armed troopers; after that, more people are willing to see the police as enemies rather than rescuers. Moore and her family are finally rescued by family members from Baton Rouge, after they manage to call them on a pay phone that actually worked; the family members had to bribe several police officers in order to be allowed to drive into the city. In a phone call following up the e-mail, Moore says, "Make sure you tell everybody that they left us there to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had the little water and food they had found."
- Sept 3: One of the first broadsides in the administration's "blame game," the game they objected to anyone else playing but themselves, is fired by Chertoff, who tells CNN that the responsibility for the lack of National Guard support in the first critical hours and days after the strike lay with the state and local officials and not with Washington. Chertoff says that "[t]he traditional model for recovery and -- response and recovery involves having the federal government come into support the first responders, who are the first on the ground...our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor." What Chertoff fails to mention is that the government's own National Response Plan places direct responsibility on the federal government to manage National Guard response and other emergency actions. Chertoff also says he has "full confidence" in FEMA Director Brown, the DHS undersecretary and federal officer in charge of the Katrina response.
- Sept 3: Disgusted with FEMA's response, Governor Blanco hires former FEMA director James Lee Witt, the Clinton official primarily responsible for FEMA's resurgence as an effective emergency response agency, to handle Louisiana's emergency response.
- Sept 3: Survivors of Katrina complain bitterly about the lack of assistance to AP reporter Robert Tanner. "They came and took us in buses. And left us right here," says 68-year old Isaac Clark, stranded with thousands of others at the New Orleans convention center. "We are out here living like pure animals. We don't have water. We don't have food. We don't have help." Reporters and victims both have observed buses and SUVs driving past the center without stopping or offering help of any kind. "Why aren't they helping us?" asks Rachel Carey, a clerk at a nearby hospital. "We are the forgotten." Mayor Ray Nagin issued a statement about the center earlier in the day: "This is a desperate SOS. We are out of resources at the convention center." Another victim tells Tanner, "It's like they're punishing us for not being able to evacuate." Carey gives a damning assessment of the situation: "The thugs and the criminals are the heroes. They're the ones that were saving us." Stolen speedboats took her from her flooded neighborhood; stolen moving trucks brought her to the convention center. "The police were nowhere."
Sunday, September 4
- Sept 4: Michael Chertoff acknowledges that the federal government was insufficiently prepared for the hurricane that laid waste to New Orleans and surrounding areas. Chertoff then reverts to the Bush administration script of ducking responsibility, trying to claim that the size of the storm was beyond anything his department could have anticipated, calling the devastation "unprecedented," saying that no one could have predicted the levees might break, and averring that primary responsibility for handling emergencies rested with state and local, not federal, officials. (The claim that no one could have anticipated such a large and devastating strike is easily refuted by anyone who cares to remember the week of warnings before Katrina made landfall. As for the levee breaks, those had been predicted for decades.) Chertoff tries to rewrite the law by saying that state and local officials must direct initial emergency operations. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials," he said.
- Chertoff's remarks, which echo earlier statements by President Bush, prompts withering rebukes both from former senior FEMA staffers and outside experts. "They can't do that," former agency chief of staff Jane Bullock says of Bush administration efforts to shift responsibility away from Washington. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility.... The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago. And Chertoff's DHS, and FEMA, aren't the only ones unprepared. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt says that conditions in New Orleans and elsewhere could quickly escalate into a major public health crisis -- but when asked whether his agency had dispatched teams in advance of the storm and flooding, he answers, "No." Leavitt admits, "None of these teams were pre-positioned. We're having to organize them...as we go." Chertoff also tells MSNBC's Tim Russert that FEMA had "prestaged" a massive relief effort, primarily Coast Guard helicopters and stockpiles of supplies; Chertoff claims that the difficulty was not with the supplies, but in getting them to the victims. Russert retorts, "People were sent to the Convention Center. There was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There was no planning." Chertoff's unbelievable response: FEMA didn't know that New Orleans authorities were sending people to the Convention Center. He claims, falsely, that people began trekking to the center on their own, without any organized evacuation procedure. He ducks entirely Russert's reminder that the Superdome, what Chertoff called "the refuge of last resort," had no food or water either. Chertoff then shifts blame again on those who were forced to stay in New Orleans and unable to leave; Russert retorts, "Those who got out were people with SUVs and automobiles and air fares who could get out. Those who could not get out were the poor who rely on public buses to get out. Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren't buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?" Chertoff replies that it was the city's responsibility, not FEMA's, to get those people out of harm's way, in blatant disregard of FEMA's own charter and his own Department of Homeland Security's operating orders. A partial video of Chertoff's interview can be seen here. Chertoff later tells the press that, again, the federal government was in complete control of the situation.
- Chertoff also tries to say that the government, and he, did not learn about the breached levees until late Monday or early Tuesday. In reality, Nagin said on NBC's early-morning Today Show that New Orleans was already flooding and that water was coming over the levees.
- Sept 4: On the same Meet the Press broadcast, Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard is blunt and to the point: "We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in US history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership. It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives. We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to-- reconstructing FEMA."
- When asked if the state and local authorities should bear some blame, Broussard says, "sir, they were told like me, every single day, 'The cavalry's coming,' on a federal level, 'The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming.' I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out. Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA -- we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, 'Come get the fuel right away.' When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. 'FEMA says don't give you the fuel.' Yesterday -- yesterday -- FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, 'No one is getting near these lines.' Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America -- American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis. But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it."
- He then tells a heartbreaking story: "And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, 'Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday.' And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night." At this point Broussard was in tears. "Nobody's coming to get us," he said. "Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody." A partial video of Broussard's interview can be seen here.
- Sept 4: Bodies strew the flooded streets and canals of New Orleans "like roadkill," in the words of one evacuee. Mayor Nagin says that fleets of refrigerated 18-wheelers are being assembled to come in and stack up the dead. He believes it is possible that the sheer number of bodies will result in mass cremations instead of invididual burials. Coroners will probably not be able to identify causes of death in many instances, and even identification may not be done on all bodies. Citizens and search teams have been instructed to tie dead bodies to telephone poles to assist in later retrieval.
- Sept 4: The British newspaper Independent confirms what the Bush administration has denied since the hurricane hit -- that millions of dollars allocated to pay for critically needed preparations and repairs to New Orleans were diverted to pay for the war in Iraq, in spite of warnings by disaster officials that those decisions could prove calamitous. Flood prevention funding was slashed by 80%. Spending to shore up the levees that protect key areas of the city was slashed by 37%. Plans for housing stranded citizens and evacuating refugees from the Superdome were defunded and forced to be abandoned. Former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh said that studies in early 2001 of three of the most likely disasters in the near future -- a powerful hurricane strike in New Orleans, an earthquake in San Francisco, or a terrorist strike in New York City -- caused him "great concern." But after 9/11, Bush "emasculated" FEMA, subsuming it into the Department of Homeland Security and eliminating virtually all spending on anything except responses to terror attacks. The "Hurricane Pam" simulation of 2004 predicted almost to the letter what happened on the Gulf Coast, yet FEMA and other federal officials, most notably DHS's Michael Chertoff and FEMA's Michael Brown, have professed a stunning level of ignorance and lack of preparation. "No one can say they did not see it coming," says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The emergency management director for Jefferson Parish, Walter Maestri, says, "It's frustrating to have planned, begged and pleaded that this could happen. They would say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' Well it's here now."
- Environmental damage also played its part. Mostly due to the encroachments of the oil and gas industry, the city has lost hundreds of square miles of marshlands that stand between it and the coastline, protecting it from the worst of storm surges. The city itself has sunk two feet in the past 60 years. Natural and man-made defenses have long been neglected: a 10-year plan to strengthen levees after a 1965 hurricane was never completed. But since the Bush administration got its hands on the federal pocketbook, spending on hurricane protection, already thin, has been slashed to virtually nothing. Federal spending on flood control in southeast Louisiana has been cut by almost half since 2001. Funds for work at Lake Pontchartrain, the source of most of the city's flooding, have been gutted by nearly 66% over the last three years. Work on New Orleans's critical east bank hurricane levees stopped last summer for the first time since 1969. An Army Corps of Engineers request for $27 million this year for hurricane protection was cut by Bush to $3.9 million, though Congress authorized $5.7 million. Bush also tried to cut a $78 million request to improve drainage and prevent flooding to $30 million, though Congress authorized $36.5 million. A $14 billion project to restore the southeastern Louisiana marshes was cut to a mere $570 million. Maestri says, with deceptive calm, "It appears that money has been moved in the President's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq. I suppose that's the price we pay."
- Sept 4: The press reports that the USS Bataan, a massive Marine ship which has been in the region since the worst of the storm subsided, has offered its extensive hospital facility and supplies to the relief effort, but that so far federal authorities haven't made use of most of the ship's resources. Though helicopters from the Bataan's deck were involved in early rescue efforts in New Orleans, relief efforts have not made use of the ship's doctors, six operating rooms, 600 hospital beds, food and water supplies, or its ability to produce 100,000 gallons of clean, fresh water each day.
- Sept 4: Like Nagin, Blanco is pleased with the take-charge demeanor of National Guard general Russel Honore, who arrived on-scene the day before and began barking orders to demoralized Guardsmen. But, Blanco is dismayed that Honore arrived with nothing but a few aides. She says that Honore quickly became a media darling and the take-charge face of the federal government in New Orleans, barking out orders to surprised National Guards members who aren't even under his control. She adds that she likes Honore's style, but is surprised that he arrived with only a few aides in tow. "He didn't bring any resources," Blanco says. "I just kind of expected, based on my conversations with the White House, that we could be getting a surge of equipment and we did not."
- Sept 4: Former DHS Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin says that the federal response was a devastating indictment Of DHS's performance: "This is what the department was supposed to be all about," he said. "Instead, it obviously raises very serious, troubling questions about whether the government would be prepared if this were a terrorist attack. It's a devastating indictment of this department's performance four years after 9/11."
- Sept 4: The New Orleans Times-Picayune writes an angry and anguished editorial calling on every single employee of FEMA to be fired, starting with director Michael Brown, whom it calls a "bald-faced liar." The newspaper is unable to publish print editions yet, but is surviving on the Internet.
- Sept 4: James Lee Witt, the former FEMA chief who recently signed on to help Louisiana handle its own emergency response in light of FEMA's complete failure to provide assistance, says of his former agency, "I've talked to emergency managers across this country, and firefighters across this country, and they told me...'You know what,' they said, 'what [the Bush Administration has] done to FEMA is like driving [a stake in the] heart in emergency management in this country.' [You] cannot expect a federal agency, like FEMA, to be able to fulfill its role and its responsibility to the American people [when] you take away the resources and...a lot of the funding. [You] have to work every day, every month, every week, to be able to make sure you partner with state and local emergency management, firefighters, to be able to respond together. ...The mitigation prevention program in FEMA was a strong program. When we reorganized FEMA, we put in a division for mitigation prevention, working with state and local government, to minimize risk. It is almost null and void now...."
- Sept 4: The New York Times's Frank Rich writes of Bush's belated, public-relations oriented visit to Southeast Louisiana, "As always, the president's first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2."
Monday, September 5
"Complaints are still rampant in New Orleans about a lack of information. It's one of many running themes of the past week: There were no announcements in the Superdome during the storm, none to direct people after the storm, no official word (via bullhorn, leaflets or any other means) during the week-long, on-foot migration (and eventual stagnation) that defined life in the downtown section of the city for those first few days. One can't help but think that a single-engine plane towing a banner over the city would have been immeasurably helpful in both crowd and rumor control." -- NBC's Brian Williams
- Sept 5: Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff, the top federal official in charge of the country's disaster response, finally visits the stricken Gulf Coast himself in the company of Bush and his wife Laura. Chertoff tells the press that no emergency plan for dealing with a major hurricane strike on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast ever existed, and therefore the federal response was unavoidably delayed. Chertoff lies: DHS has just such a plan, which can be read here. He is also lying when he says no one -- scientists, weather experts, no one -- ever predicted that a major hurricane would breach the New Orleans levees and floodwalls. In reality, dozens of scientists, meteorologists, and others have warned of just such a disaster for years. Chertoff argues that authorities actually had assumed that "there would be overflow from the levee, maybe a small break in the levee. The collapse of a significant portion of the levee leading to the very fast flooding of the city was not envisioned."
- Chertoff's assertion is a flat lie, contradicting state, local, and federal officials who have spent years examining just such possibilities. In fact, in 2004, FEMA participated in a huge mock hurricane drill, the "Hurricane Pam" scenario, which envisioned a huge storm devastating New Orleans and requiring the evacuation of a million victims. And in 2002, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series exploring the vulnerability of the city. The newspaper, and other news media as well, specifically addressed the possibility of massive floods drowning residents, destroying homes and releasing toxic chemicals throughout the city. On Sunday, a day before Katrina made landfall, Ivor van Heerden, director of the Louisiana State University Public Health Research Center in Baton Rouge, said, "This is what we've been saying has been going to happen for years. Unfortunately, it's coming true," adding that New Orleans "is definitely going to flood." Also on Sunday, Placquemines Parish Sheriff Jeff Hingle referred back to Hurricane Betsy -- a Category 2 hurricane that struck in 1965 -- and said, "After Betsy these levees were designed for a Category 3." He added, "These levees will not hold the water back."
- That same Sunday, the president himself listened in on a FEMA conference call in which the chief of the National Hurricane Service, Max Mayfield, warned that 20 feet of water could roll over the levees and flood New Orleans. Mayfield also warned the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, and the mayor of New Orleans. "The thing I remember telling all three of them," he said, "is that when I walked out of the hurricane center that night, I wanted to be able to, you know, sleep at night, knowing that I'd done everything I could do." But Chertoff seemed unaware of all the warnings. "This is really one which I think was breathtaking in its surprise," he said. Chertoff even lied about the weather prediction, saying that authorities did not have much notice that the storm would be so powerful and could make a direct hit on New Orleans. "It wasn't until comparatively late, shortly before -- a day, maybe a day and a half, before landfall -- that it became clear that this was going to be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane headed for the New Orleans area." In reality, as far back as Friday, August 26, the National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm could be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, with New Orleans directly in its path. The National Weather Service prediction proved almost perfect. Katrina made landfall on Monday, August 29. Chertoff's lies began shortly thereafter. Chertoff also makes the blunt, hurtful statement that "We are going to uncover people who died, maybe hiding in houses, got caught by the flood."
- Sept 5: Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, confirms that he told Homeland Security and FEMA officials -- including Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown -- of the dangers posed by Katrina days before the hurricane made landfall. "Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during both the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings," reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornados to accompany the storm as it came ashore. 'We were briefing them way before landfall,' Mayfield said. 'It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped.'" Chertoff has repeatedly said that he and his department had no idea that the levees could be breached by a storm as powerful as Katrina.
- Sept 5: US government officials predict that New Orleans will have to be virtually abandoned for nine months while floodwaters are pumped out and damage repaired. The media predicts that New Orleans will become "a ghost town."
- Sept 5: Mayor Ray Nagin says that all New Orleans police officers will be pulled off the streets by tomorrow and sent to Baton Rouge for evaluation and counseling. They will be replaced by National Guardsmen and state troopers. The police officers are traumatized, says Nagin, and after two suicides of police officers have been reported, Nagin says he won't risk another one.
- Sept 5: Bush schedules another photo-op at the Bethany World Prayer Center, now half-filled with refugees; his handlers refuse to tell Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco that he is coming, and Blanco's office only finds out from an AP reporter. During the visit, Bush barely speaks to Blanco. Blanco is so disgusted with the federal response that she has refused to put her state's National Guard under federal control, and has retained former FEMA head James Lee Witt to spearhead Louisiana's emergency response. It's apparent that Bush is publicly snubbing Blanco in response to Blanco's decisions. While many of the refugees greet Bush, just as many hang back and refuse to shake his hand. "I'm not star-struck. I need answers," says Mildred Brown, who has been there since August 30 with other family members. "I'm not interested in handshaking. I'm not interested in photo ops."
- Sept 5: Instead of focusing on the plight of the tens of thousands of victims rendered homeless, Bush focuses on the loss suffered by millionaire GOP crony Trent Lott, a Mississippi senator who lost one of his homes in the storm: "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," Bush says, laughing.
"Liberals don't want the homeless to hold a job that has any real promise. ...You [his audience] are morally superior to those liberal compassion fanatics.... You have a real job, they just beg for a living." -- Rush Limbaugh, quoted by Frontline
- Sept 5: The New York Times confirms that Karl Rove is orchestrating the administration's attempts to pin the blame for the Katrina disaster on state and local officials. On September 1, White House press secretary Scott McClellan answered the criticisms of federal officials by intoning, "As I have indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together for those in the Gulf Coast region and that's where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington." Four days later, the Times observes: "Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday...and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan. The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. ...In many ways, the unfolding public relations campaign reflects the style Mr. Rove has brought to the political campaigns he has run for Mr. Bush."
Tuesday, September 6
- Sept 6: Mayor Ray Nagin authorizes the use of force by Guardsmen, troopers, and military personnel to force recalcitrant residents to evacuate. Residents and observers of New Orleans believe that the federal government is now in the process of asserting total, military-like control of the city. Dozens of unmarked police vehicles filled with SWAT teams patrol the cities, ordering citizens to evacuate through bullhorns. Army helicopters buzz houses to flush residents out; National Guard teams patrol the streets with "shoot to kill" orders of anyone who may be a suspected looter or burglar. "We are being forced out of our city, with no word as to if and when we will be allowed to return," author Andrea Garland, an eyewitness, writes. "We've been wondering what they would do after enough people were forced to die of starvation. Population reduction has been accomplished." She also says that many, many residents trapped in the city STILL have not been reached with a drop of food or water: "[Her colleague and friend] Daniel said that in 6 days they have not seen or received any help. In 6 days they saw one policeman -- flying through the neighborhood in a police car at 40 miles an hour. He reported that for the first two days after the storm, Wildlife and Fisheries were rescuing people from the flooded out lower 9th ward, blocks from my house and his house by boat -- and just dropping the people off on the dry side of the levee, with no food or water or anywhere to go. He said that after two days the boats just stopped coming. He had no idea why until I explained the situation with the National Guard to him, and that the rescue boats were told to stand down and stop rescuing people. The people locked down in the city have no idea that supplies are sitting just outside the city and being turned away. The only reason they have food is they managed to gather what they could from friends' apartments, etc., but again, no one has come to help them or bring them food. Other than the people left stranded in the neighborhood, it has been completely abandoned by all official entities. ...[T]here is no one to come. Those that are not already dead are dying. Daniel estimates that there are easily some 40-50,000 people dead in their homes in the lower 9th Ward. ...They have simply been left to die." Police captain Marlon DeFillo calls the prospect of forced removal of citizens "a P.R. nightmare."
- Sept 6: Chertoff, in briefings to the US Senate and later the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, tells the gathered lawmakers that the situation was under control, and efforts could now be refocused on rehabilitating the stricken region and helping displaced residents find work and school placement. "I think what we have to offer the people of all of the afflicted areas now is hope," Chertoff says after the briefing. "There is a tremendous amount of work to do." Ranking House DHS committee member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi says of Chertoff's remarks to his committee, "He was the first speaker, and it sort of went downhill after that. People felt we are not going to get the truth here." Democrat Elijah Cummings becomes increasingly frustrated by what he heard. "The picture was being painted that things were not as bad as they appeared to be" in news reports, Cummings says. "It reached the point where the answers didn't add up." When Chertoff tells the committee members that the Superdome debacle was a "small soda-straw view of what was going on" in terms of the crisis, and not representative of the true situation, some members got up and walked out.
- Sept 6: Bush promises to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the federal response to Katrina. He says he will send Vice President Dick Cheney into the region to ensure that the government is now doing everything it can to alleviate the suffering in the stricken region. "What I intend to do is lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong," he says. "We still live in an unsettled world. We want to make sure we can respond properly if there is a WMD attack or another major storm." But he also remarks that this is not the time to assign blame to any particular person or agency, and says he isn't interested in forming a commission to investigate the government's response, leaving it unclear exactly what kind of investigation he has in mind: "One of the things people want us to do here is play the blame game. We got to solve problems. There will be ample time to figure out what went right and what went wrong." And of course, everything he says should be seen in light of his question to representative Nancy Pelosi, when asked today why so much went wrong with the federal government's response: "What didn't go right?"
- Sept 6: Hundreds of volunteer firefighters from around the country have been forced to stay in Atlanta, playing cards and watching FEMA public relations videos, instead of going in to New Orleans to render assistance. They have responded to a call from FEMA for 2000 first responder volunteers. Many of the volunteers will be shipped to South Carolina to do paperwork. "We didn't forget" about the Katrina victims, one volunteer says bitterly. "We're stuck in Atlanta drinking beer." Two Indiana firefighters, Phil Lundy and Joe Calhoun, went home, refusing to do the job FEMA officials gave them -- passing out flyers with FEMA contact phone numbers on them. "Our job was to advertise a phone number for FEMA," says Lundy. "We were going to be given shirts and hats with a phone number on it and flyers, and sent to shelters, and we were going to pass out flyers." The two veteran firefighters say they, and 700 of their colleagues from around the country, spent an entire day in Atlanta watching training videos on sexual harassment and then were told that they would not be allowed to actually be involved in rescue or rendering aid. "We're trained in tactical medicine," Lundy says. "We weren't being used for that. We were being used to hand out flyers." Their boss, Tim Sosby, agrees with their decision to come home. "It seemed like an incredible misuse of valuable resources," he says. "We couldn't see ourselves sitting in the hotel while there were people asking for help," says Lundy.
- Sept 6: A week after Katrina hit, gasoline prices spike by over 47 cents per gallon, on average, around the country, reaching $3.07 per gallon in some areas. The oil and gas companies blame the price spikes on the hurricane, but that doesn't explain why they have suddenly jacked the price of gasoline and other oil products already produced, in the pipelines, or at the pumps. The damage suffered by oil refineries and production platforms will not directly impact the energy markets for weeks.
- Sept 6: Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi relates an incredible exchange between herself and President Bush. When she asks him to fire FEMA director Michael Brown, he replies, "Why would I do that?" Pelosi says, "'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'" She characterizes Bush as "oblivious, in denial, dangerous."
- Sept 6: Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid writes a scathing letter to the two leaders of the Senate government oversight committee, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, demanding inquiries into the flaccid response from the federal government as well as inquiries into how the federal government cut funding for levee restoration, wetland protection on the Gulf Coast, other factors that caused Katrina to be more devastating than it could have been, and whether Bush's insistence on continuing his vacation during the early days of the disaster added to the federal government's failure to respond. No such investigations will be mounted.
- Sept 6: The falsity of the tales of rape gangs and mobs of thugs coursing through the city is finally beginning to be debunked, at least in some media outlets. "By Thursday," writes the Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt, "local TV and radio stations in Baton Rouge...were breezily passing along reports of cars being hijacked at gunpoint by New Orleans refugees, riots breaking out in the shelters set up in Baton Rouge to house the displaced, and guns and knives being seized." The problem is that none of the reports are true. "The police, for example, confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one Baton Rouge shelter," Witt reports. "There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes." Yet the panic is enough for Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden to impose a curfew on the city's largest shelter, and to warn his citizens about "New Orleans thugs." The national impression of New Orleans as a lawless area filled with mostly black predators is a powerful and long-lasting one. The nationally-reported story of the woman being raped in the Astrodome is not true; neither are the tales of children having their throats slit in the Convention Center. St. Tammany president Kevin Davis issues the following statement: "Rumors are flying and being repeated occasionally in the media that describe supposed criminal actions in St. Tammany Parish. These rumors are NOT true." New Orleans police chief Edwin Compass is under fire because of false reports that his police officers have stood by and watched rapes and beatings take place without intervening. The stories led to the suspension of relief efforts and the imposition of martial law, with the insertion of thousands of heavily armed National Guard and private mercenaries into the city to "enforce order." And the underlying racism, and the promulgation of the racist mythology so embraced by elements of the right wing, is palpable. Isolated incidents of violence have certainly been documented, but they are a far cry from the reports of mob violence sweeping the city that are filling the headlines and the airwaves.
- Sept 6: Louisiana Republican senator David Vitter has his priorities straight: he is working closely with the management of the NFL's New Orleans Saints to ensure that the team will be able to play as many games as possible in Tiger Stadium (in Baton Rouge, instead of the team's usual home in the Superdome), and working to ensure their return to New Orleans as soon as possible. Saints officials also reassure ticket holders that they can receive refunds; no word as to how those ticket holders stranded on roofs or dying of thirst in the Convention Center can apply for their money back.
- Sept 6: It's not only one Republican senator, but the entire group, that has its own priorities: the media reports the news that the Senate, driven by Republicans, intends to pass a repeal of the estate tax later this week. Commonly misnamed the "death tax," the repeal will put billions of tax dollars into the pockets of America's wealthiest 2% and take money directly from, among other things, federal agencies that can provide relief to Katrina victims and rebuild the Gulf Coast. Economist and author Chuck Collins writes, "Passing a $1 trillion tax break for billionaires in the wake of one of our country's worst national disasters is grotesque and shameful."
Wednesday, September 7
- Sept 7: EPA and other officials warn of serious contamination of New Orleans's floodwaters, including bacterial and chemical contaminants. Though five deaths from a cholera-like disease (caused by the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria) have already occurred, officials say that they are more concerned with chemical toxins in the waters. E.coli bacteria is also present at high levels in the floodwaters, a bacteria that can cause serious infections and deaths. Other diseases, such as tuberculosis and influenza, are being monitored. A microbiologist finds that contaminants and toxins in the New Orleans floodwaters are 45,000 times higher that the federal safety standards for ponds or lakes.
- Sept 7: FEMA is refusing to allow media photographers to take pictures of the dead as they are retrieved from New Orleans and other disaster sites. The organization's rationale? There isn't enough room in the rescue boats for journalists to accompany the rescue workers. Certainly FEMA wouldn't be trying to control information and massage the public response to the hellish number of dead in the Gulf? Would they?
- Sept 7: Brian Williams of NBC reports that the military presence in New Orleans has reached "saturation levels," and says he gets "the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States." He also reports that soldiers are threatening obvious members of the media with shooting. "There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look," Williams notes. "It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history." His story is bolstered by the first-person narrative of reporter Peter Fimrite, who found himself threatened at gunpoint by soldiers, notes that his employer, Hearst Corporation, employed six mercenaries to protect its reporters from both gun-carrying looters and military personnel alike, and reports one bodyguard, a former Navy SEAL, complaining, "That was totally unprofessional, pointing their guns at us like that. The Army has been patrolling this street for a week, and they know what's going on here. All the police had to do was ask them, and they would have known everything they needed to know about this street."
- Sept 7: Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu returns to Washington from New Orleans to lambast the president and the federal government's lackadaisical response to the hurricane strike, in particular what she calls "the staggering incompetence of the national government." She tells her fellow senators, "We know the president said, quote, 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.' Everybody anticipated the breach of the levee, Mr. President, including computer simulations in which this administration participated." She pledges to find out why the federal response "was so incompetent and insulting to the people of our states." After her speech, she is surrounded by dozens of fellow Democratic senators who hugged her and gave her words of comfort -- only one Republican senator, Mississippi's Thad Cochran bothered to show up.
- Sept 7: A "rubber-stamp" commission to investigate the debacle surrounding the Katrina response is announced. Few give the commission any credence, mostly because it will be comprised solely of Republican members of the Senate and House -- the Senate's Democratic leaders were not even informed of the forming of the commission, much less asked to take any part in it. At the press conference announcing the formation of the commission, reporters are not allowed to ask any questions. Democrats intend to oppose the formation of the committee, calling it a "sham" and a "charade."
- Sept 7: National Guardsmen patrol the Astrodome, passing out recruitment literature and conducting what observers call a "blatant...job fair" among refugees. Victims who signed up expecting to help in the rebuilding efforts could easily end up in Iraq instead of working along the Gulf Coast.
- Sept 7: Two paramedics find out firsthand why people aren't just walking out of New Orleans to safer ground: because they meet police barricades and gunfire. Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw were in New Orleans for a convention when the storm hit. They were kicked out of their French Quarter hotel after several days when the hotel's food and water ran out. They watched affluent tourists and residents loot a drug store after repeatedly being chased off by police officers: "We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter." They also write that, while the mainstream media focuses on the "heroes" of the National Guard and military troops, for them, the real heroes were the people themselves: maintenance workers using forklifts to free trapped victims, engineers gamely jury-rigging generators to keep running, electricians improvising nets of extension cords to share electricity, nurses taking over from mechanical ventilators forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients for hours on end, doormen rescuing people stuck in elevators, refinery workers commandeering boats to ferry victims to safety, mechanics hot-wiring cars to take people out of the city, food service workers scouring commercial kitchens for scraps of food for hungry victims, ordinary citizens who pooled their money and resources with others in need. And all this while waiting endlessly for federal assistance that, while promised time and again, never seemed to materialize.
- Slonsky and Bradshaw eventually became part of a large group of tourists and citizens with no food, no water, and scant resources. Their biggest problem was leaving the city: they were told to stay out of both the Superdome and the convention center, as those shelters were descending into hellish conditions; when asked what their other options were, they were told by Guardsmen that they weren't the Guardsmen's problem, no water was available for them, and they needed to get the hell off the streets. They continued to hunt for the buses that had repeatedly been promised to them, but never appeared (they later found that the buses designated for refugees to evacuate had been commandeered by the Guard upon nearing the city.) Slonsky asked the advice of a police commander on Canal Street. "He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge," she and Bradshaw later wrote. Buses would be stationed on the other side, the commander said. Along with around 200 others, almost all African-Americans, Slonsky and Bradshaw headed for the bridge. As they approached, bullets begin whizzing over their heads, and dozens of their companions ran away. The few who managed to approach the bridge found it barricaded with police from the suburb of Gretna, who were firing over the heads of the refugees. They were told that no buses were available for them. When asked why they couldn't just walk over the bridge and out of the city, especially as the highway was virtually clear, the police, according to the two writers, "responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans." Bradshaw reports that there were about a dozen cops guarding the bridge; only one of them was black. "All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot. Meanwhile, the only two city shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become."
- Their group secured some water by stealing a water delivery truck; they obtained food when an Army truck dropped two pallets of C-rations while negotiating a tight turn. "Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!). This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community. If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in."
- Their makeshift encampment at the foot of the bridge did not last. Gretna police officials chased them off at gunpoint; a helicopter hovered over the camp, blowing away their fragile constructions. "As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water," they wrote. "In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies." The next day, they managed to become part of a large airlift out of the city; after waiting for hours due to the delay by the first visit to the city by George Bush, they were escorted like cattle to buses that eventually drove them to the waiting aircraft, where they were taken to the Houston Superdome. "This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost." "It's unbelievable what the police officers did; they just left us," said Harold Veasey, a 66-year-old New Orleans resident who spent two horrific days at the convention center and was one of those chased from the bridge by Gretna police along with the two paramedics. And in the week after the hurricane, there were persistent rumors in and around New Orleans that police officers in suburban areas refused to help the storm victims.
- A September 4 Nightline report on ABC quoted Mayor Ray Nagin discussing the barricade: "They started marching. At the parish line, the county line of Gretna, they were met with attack dogs and police officers with machine guns saying, 'You have to turn back.'" Two days later, Slonsky and Bradshaw published their account on the Socialist Worker Website, chronicling the events and the poor light it cast on the Gretna police barricading the bridge. The article had a heavy impact on the Web, especially among left-leaning news and political sites, but virtually no mainstream media outlet would touch the account. Only the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, and UPI reported any part of the story. Then on September 10, the New York Times published a report by Gardiner Harris that drew on Slonsky's and Bradshaw's story. Harris confirmed that the story's provenance gave it a radioactive glow in the office: "We were all hesitant," he explained. "We all worry about things that bounce around the Internet. But because I heard this story directly from people in the region -- I had been in Jefferson Parish; I had spoken to people who saw similar things -- I wasn't quite as worried as my editors." The Times editors chose to downplay the racial elements of the story. Harris said, "I thought it was very important, but we couldn't confirm it.... It was an explosive enough allegation that we felt we couldn't go with it unless we had it pinned down." The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal considered and rejected, the story. "I was very surprised more people didn't go for it." said ABC's John Donvan. Slonsky said of the media's choice to all but ignore their story, "It feels like our story is just one of thousands upon thousands. We just wish the thousands had the space or energy to share that. We wish the media would call for the impeachment of George Bush and call for health care and housing for everyone."
- Sept 7: Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, now the chairman of the Democratic party, tells an audience at the National Baptist Convention that race played a part in the Katrina disaster: "We must...come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not."
- Sept 7: FEMA boss Michael Brown insists that he is fit for the job, even as calls for his firing grow louder and stories of his previous duties as the head of the International Arabian Horse Association are reported. "When Bush was elected, Mike knew he was going to Washington," says Lorre Wagner, a Brown friend. His last job as head of the IAEA was a year-long investigation into whether a horse breeder was "prettying up" his horses for competition. Even Republicans are targeting Brown, with senator Trent Lott of Mississippi warning Brown that if he doesn't start doing a better job, "he ain't gonna be able to hold a job, 'cause what I'm going to do to him ain't gonna be pretty." Meanwhile the news that FEMA has been staffed with what the New York Daily News terms a gaggle of "W's pals" hits the media: the two top FEMA officials under Brown are, respectively, a PR advance man for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign (Patrick Rhode) and a PR expert who made Bush campaign spots (Scott Morris). Additionally, midlevel jobs at FEMA were routinely, and systematically, given to Bush campaign donors and pals with no emergency response experience. The reports blame former FEMA chief Joe Allbaugh, himself a Bush donor with no emergency experience, for packing the agency with Bush cronies.