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Context of 'August 28, 2005: Jefferson Parish Fire Department Blares Evacuation Alerts from Trucks'

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After FEMA is incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security (see March 1, 2003), veteran FEMA employees complain of a massive “brain drain.” FEMA “has gone downhill within the department, drained of resources and leadership,” I.M. “Mac” Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, will tell the Washington Post shortly after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. At least one veteran FEMA staff member, Pleasant Mann, complains on the record about the changes FEMA is undergoing (see Mid-September 2004). [Washington Post, 9/9/2005] Local officials complain that FEMA’s new focus on terrorism threatens other necessary prevention programs. “With the creation of Homeland Security, [natural disaster prevention programs] have taken a backseat,” says Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish. “To us, it is pretty obvious which is the greater threat. One is maybe, the other is when.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, which borders New Orleans’ west and south side, tells the local Times-Picayune that the war on terror is endangering flood control: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.” [Editor & Publisher, 8/31/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Walter Maestri

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Walter Maestri, Director of the Emergency Management Center in Jefferson Parish, receives a call from Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center. As Maestri later recalls, “Max said to me, ‘Walter, I just want to alert you that a couple of the models are heading this thing right to New Orleans, and I think this thing is going to seriously intensify. You need to be ready.’ At that time, the track was going up the west coast of Florida, so I said to Max, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And he said, ‘No, Walt, this is real.’” Maestri immediately convenes his staff to begin preparations. According to Maestri, government officials—at all levels—have prepared for this event for years. During conferences, officials repeatedly have repeatedly discussed the fact that a hurricane could flood all of New Orleans and kill up to 40,000 people. Manuals, spanning hundreds of pages, set forth who (local, state, and federal) will do what and when, when the “monster storm hits.” These officials have repeatedly run hurricane exercises to practice execution of the plans. Mayfield will also warn Louisiana and FEMA officials. He briefs FEMA headquarters in a video teleconference, so that he can see the decision-makers during the call. [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Walter Maestri, Max Mayfield, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

As set forth in the emergency planning manuals, Walter Maestri, Director of the Emergency Management Center in Jefferson Parish, calls Jeff Smith, Deputy Director of Louisiana’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Planning. Maestri learns that NHC Director Max Mayfield has called them too. “So I said, ‘Then you know what he’s sharing?’ And he says, ‘Yes, but the storm right now…’ and I said, ‘Please, please. You’ve indicated you don’t know Max. Let me tell you. When he calls you like that, he’s telling you you need to be ready, be prepared.’” [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Jeff Smith, Walter Maestri, Max Mayfield

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Emergency Director Walter Maestri sends the parish fire department to the streets. Beginning this morning, and throughout the day, fire trucks travel throughout the parish, their loudspeakers blaring, “‘Alert! Alert! For your information, you live in a low-lying area that is highly prone to flooding. And it is the recommendation of your parish government that you immediately evacuate.’” [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Walter Maestri

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Kenner police receive reports of street flooding in the 900 to 1200 blocks of Williams Boulevard, and reports that the Duncan Canal is close to overflowing. (Kenner is located just south of Lake Pontchartrain, in Jefferson Parish) Armstrong International Airport and St Charles Parish each record winds of at least 80 mph. St. Bernard records winds up to 70 mph and loses power by 5:00 am. More than 348,000 area residents lose power. Some East Jefferson drainage canals already are topping out as huge pumps struggle to drain the rain out of neighborhoods and into Lake Pontchartrain, according to Walter Maestri, Director of the Emergency Management Center in Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish streets near Transcontinental Drive and Kawanee Avenue, a frequent trouble spot about halfway between the Suburban and Elmwood canals, are also flooded. However, according to Maestri, “We have had no reports of serious wind damage, and we don’t see any indication of tidal surge problems. But of course it’s still really early. The next four to five hours will tell the tale.” [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005; Schleifstein and Broach, 8/29/2005 Sources: Walter Maestri]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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