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Profile: Max Mayfield
Max Mayfield was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
During FEMA’s daily video conference, Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center Director, warns FEMA officials that Hurricane Katrina could make landfall near New Orleans as a Category 4 hurricane: “This one is different… It’s strong, but it’s also much, much larger.” Mayfield also warns FEMA that the anticipated storm surge could overwhelm the levees. Mayfield will later recall that he sees many “newcomers to the disaster world” around the table during this conference. However, he knows that many professionals listening in from the Gulf states have been through his hurricane prep course and they know that this is no drill: “The emergency guys, they know what a Cat 4 is,” Mayfield states. Jack Colley, State Coordinator for Texas’ Division of Emergency Management similarly recalls that, “Clearly on Saturday, we knew it was going to be the Big One.… We were very convinced this was going to be a very catastrophic event.”
[Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, warns the Times-Picayune that Hurricane Katrina poses an imminent danger to New Orleans: “The guidance we get and common sense and experience suggests this storm is not done strengthening.… This is really scary. This is not a test, as your governor said earlier today. This is the real thing.” Katrina “is a very, very dangerous hurricane, and capable of causing a lot of damage and loss of life if we’re not careful.”
“This thing is like Hurricane Opal,” Mayfield says, referring to the 1995 Category 3 hurricane that hit the Florida panhandle. “We’re seeing 12-foot seas along the Louisiana coast already.”
[Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005]
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) appears on CNN to warn that Hurricane Katrina is a very dangerous storm: “Well, it’s very serious. And it can not only cause a lot of damage, but large loss of life if people don’t heed the advice of those local officials. This could be stronger than Hurricane Betsy in 1965. And I know there’s been a lot of focus on New Orleans, as there should be, but we don’t want to forget about Mississippi and Alabama. They’re going to have a tremendous storm surge, not only near, but well out to the east to where the center of this hurricane makes landfall.” Mayfield states that “I certainly would [evacuate] if I lived in a place that did not have some high terrain. And that’s much of southeast Louisiana. This has always been our greatest, you know, concern anywhere on the Gulf of Mexico. And I think when we start talking about storm surge values, up as high as Camille, you know, that will get people’s attention. We’re going to very likely put up the hurricane warning later tonight.”
NHC Director Max Mayfield personally calls Louisiana Governor Blanco and Mississippi Governor Barbour. Mayfield tells Barbour that Katrina may be a “Camille-like storm.” He tells Blanco that this one will be a “big, big deal.”
“I wanted to be able to go to sleep that night,” he will later recall. According to Mayfield, Blanco is unsure that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has fully grasped the situation and urges Mayfield to call him. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
NHC Director Max Mayfield calls New Orleans Mayor Nagin: “This is going to be a defining moment for a lot of people.”
[Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Washington Post, 9/11/2005] Nagin will tell City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning, “Max Mayfield has scared me to death.”
[Newsweek, 9/19/2005] Nagin will later recall that Mayfled’s message “scared the crap out of me.”
“I immediately said, ‘My God, I have to call a mandatory evacuation,’” according to a later Knight Ridder report. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] Nagin will call for the evacuation Sunday morning at 9:30 am (see (9:30 am) August 28, 2005).
Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center hosts a teleconference with FEMA officials, including FEMA Director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. [Times-Picayune, 9/4/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/5/2005] President Bush receives a briefing via video conference from his ranch in Crawford Texas. [US President, 9/5/2005] Brown assures Bush during this briefing that FEMA is ready for the storm, according to ABC News. [ABC News, 9/8/2005] Bush tells Brown that he is very impressed with everything FEMA is doing, according to Brown [CBS News, 8/29/2005]
Note - Whether President Bush participates in this particular briefing is not clear from current reports. However, it is undisputed that Bush receives a briefing from Mayfield via videoconference at some point this morning.
FEMA Director Michael Brown appears on ABC’s Nightline. When Ted Koppel asks Brown about the massive flooding in New Orleans and the need to drain the water from the city, Brown responds as follows: “[A] few years ago, I decided that FEMA really needed to do some catastrophic disaster planning. And so, the President gave us the money to do that and the first place we did a study was in New Orleans. And as you know, you’ve probably heard everyone talk about the bowl. What happened is, you know, Max Mayfield at the National Hurricane Center was right. We had a huge storm surge that came across those levees. I’m not sure we had breeches but we certainly had some areas where there’s some leaks and flooding continuing to occur. That water all gets in. We now have to rely upon the pumps. We need generators to do that pumping because the power was out. And some of those pumps may or may not fail. So, it’s going to be a long, tedious process to now get that water back out so we can then even start rebuilding homes, let alone let people back into them.” Asked to compare the damage in New Orleans to elsewhere in the region, and even though he has just acknowledged the widespread flooding in the city, Brown responds as follows: “[W]hat happened—believe it or not, I think New Orleans is the one that got off easy because Katrina moved to the east 30 or 45 miles. And that prevented what we would have seen had it hit the bull’s eye. And that is widespread flooding, breeches of all of the levees. And you would have seen downtown inundated also.”
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