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About a week before 9/11, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joe Allbaugh replaces the agency’s acting deputy director, John Magaw, a veteran federal law enforcement agent and experienced counterterrorism official, with Michael Brown, a close friend of his and a long-time political associate with no previous experience in emergency management. (Baker 2009, pp. 484) Magaw is a former director of the US Secret Service and of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In December 1999, Magaw was appointed at FEMA to coordinate the agency’s domestic terrorism efforts. (Market Wire 12/1999) Allbaugh nominated Michael Brown as the agency’s general counsel upon taking office in January. Brown previously worked as a lawyer for a horse racing association. He has no experience in disaster management (See March 1, 2003). According to Russ Baker, an independent investigative journalist and author of Family of Secrets, a Bush family expose: “One day, Mr. Allbaugh came in and said, ‘I know you’ve got these other things to do. I’m going to ask Mr. Brown to be deputy,’ recalled Magaw who promptly returned to the subordinate position assigned him by Clinton. The timing was remarkable. Just a week before September 11, 2001, Allbaugh replaced a key anti-terrorism official with a crony who had close to zero relevant experience.” (Baker 2009, pp. 484)
Michael D. Brown, an Oklahoma lawyer, replaces Joseph Allbaugh as Director of FEMA. Brown, who was Allbaugh’s college roommate, joined the Bush administration in 2001 as FEMA’s general counsel at Allbaugh’s invitation. (Stearns and Borenstein 9/3/2005; Arends 9/3/2005; Shane 9/7/2005) Upon Brown’s appointment, Allbaugh says, “The president couldn’t have chosen a better man to help… prepare and protect the nation.” However, prior to joining the Bush administration, Brown apparently had little prior experience in disaster relief or prevention. From 1991 to January 2001, Brown worked as the commissioner of judges and stewards of the International Arabian Horse Association, earning about $100,000 per year. In this role, Brown was charged with ensuring that horse-show judges followed the rules and investigating any allegations of cheating. He was asked to resign in 2001 after accepting donations to a personal legal defense fund. (Arends 9/3/2005; Shane 9/7/2005)
FEMA is merged into the Emergency and Response Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. Michael D. Brown, the agency’s new head (see March 1, 2003), assures skeptics that the revamped agency will be “FEMA on steroids.” (Elliston 9/22/2004) FEMA’s Cabinet status disappears as it becomes one of 22 government agencies to be consolidated into DHS. According to the Washington Post,“For a time… even its name was slated to vanish and become simply the directorate of emergency preparedness and response until then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge relented.” (Glasser and White 9/4/2005)
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). (Hsu 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.” (Nussbaum 10/8/2004)
Funding is cut for a FEMA disaster exercise meant to prepare government agencies for a major hurricane in New Orleans. The exercise, a follow-up to the Hurricane “Pam” exercise that was conducted the prior year (see July 19-23, 2004), was to develop a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of displaced residents. (Borenstein 9/1/2005) “Money was not available to do the follow-up,” Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will later say in an interview with the Associated Press. (Fournier and Bridis 9/9/2005) After the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, Eric Tolbert, FEMA’s former disaster response chief, will tell Knight Ridder Newspapers: “A lot of good was done, but it just wasn’t finished. I don’t know if it would have saved more lives. It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives.” (Borenstein 9/1/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown appears on CNN’s Larry King to report on preparations: “FEMA is positioning all of its material and manpower to be ready to respond as this thing makes—begins to move through the Gulf and make landfall again,” and warns that “all those people living all the way from Louisiana over to the Florida Panhandle need to think now about getting ready for what could be a very major storm.” Brown continues: “You know, everyone has been talking about the fact that we’re over a million people without power [in Florida]. And that’s at a Category 1 level. Think about if this storm moves to a Category 4 level. I want folks in that potential strike zone to think very seriously this weekend about a storm striking anywhere from Louisiana over to the Florida Panhandle area.” Brown also explains FEMA’s role. According to Brown, FEMA prepares for the “maybes” (i.e., places like Mobile, New Orleans, and Mississippi), by pre-positioning things. “We have literally convoys of trucks going to different Air Force bases. We talk to the governors about what their potential evacuation plans are. And we really try to get the message out to individuals in those areas. To listen to your local newscast, listen to your local weather reports, follow those instructions.… And then we try to anticipate where it might make landfall across a broad range of land, and be ready to move in anywhere any governor might ask us to go.” (CNN 8/26/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown will spend today working on hurricane preparations in his office. Brown will sign off on two declarations; one releasing federal money for the response to Katrina, the other approving a similar request for money to battle a California wildfire, FEMA officials will later tell National Public Radio. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will monitor the situation from his home, according to a later statement from Russ Knocke, the Homeland Security representative. (National Public Radio 9/16/2005)
FEMA activates its National Emergency Response Team (Blue Team), deploying to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 8/28/2005) FEMA Director Michael Brown will tell the New York Times that the team arriving in Louisiana today to review evacuation plans with local officials consists of “10 or 20 people.” (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown appears on CNN to discuss the pending crisis in New Orleans posed by Hurricane Katrina. According to Brown, FEMA has “done a lot of planning for a hurricane striking New Orleans because of New Orleans lying below sea level.” He urges residents to evacuate, warning that there will be significant flooding, and travel will be impossible: “So, people have between now and Sunday afternoon to really get ready and I encourage them to do that right now.” According to Brown, FEMA has already dispatched teams to Mississippi and Louisiana, and “[w]e’re ready to respond in every possible way, because we do anticipate this being a very significant event.” Brown states that Governor Blanco is currently in conference with emergency officials, and, “once she gets all the detailed information from the hurricane center, from FEMA and the rest of us,” she will decide when to implement the Contraflow plan to facilitate the evacuation. Brown warns residents in the storm’s path: “[Y]ou have about 36 hours now to understand how serious this storm is, and to make your preparations to keep your family and to keep your business safe. You’ve got to do that now, tomorrow and Monday is going to be too late.” (CNN 8/27/2005)
President Bush declares an emergency for Louisiana, and orders federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the affected area. This declaration activates the National Response Plan, and authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives, protect property and public health and safety for parishes in the storm’s path and to minimize or avert the threat of a catastrophe in multiple parishes. Bush’s declaration authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, including specifically, “[m]easures undertaken to preserve public health and safety and to eliminate threats to public or private property.” In response to this declaration, FEMA Director Michael Brown appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. (White House 8/27/2005; US Department of Homeland Security 9/7/2005) . As Governor Blanco will later note, this pre-impact declaration is extremely unusual. The last time a president issued a pre-impact declaration was when Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Florida in 1992. (CNN 8/27/2005) Note that while President Bush’s emergency declaration identifies 39 parishes, it does not identify the parishes in Katrina’s path, apparently due to a clerical error. (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005) This omission has no practical effect, and a corrected declaration will be issued on Monday. (US Department of Homeland Security 9/7/2005)
Note 1 - Reuters will later incorrectly report that Bush appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer, and will imply that such action is somehow unusual. (Entous 9/15/2005) In fact, as reflected in the official Federal Register entry, and in the White House release, Brown appoints Lokey as the coordinating officer for Louisiana. This appointment is consistent with standard practice: For each declared emergency, a different (lower level) individual is appointed as the federal coordinating officer.
Note 2 - Knight Ridder (and other news media) will later incorrectly report that Bush failed to trigger the federal government’s responsibility, and that it is not triggered until DHS Secretary Chertoff’s August 31 announcement that the Katrina disaster is an “Incident of National Significance.” (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005; McCaffrey, Young, and Borenstein 9/15/2005) In fact, Bush’s declaration (a) effectively authorizes FEMA to provide a full and immediate federal response to the unfolding crisis, and (b) makes the crisis an “Incident of National Significance.” (US Department of Homeland Security 12/2004) , at 7 (“Note that while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.”); (US Department of Homeland Security 9/7/2005) (granting FEMA full authority to respond to the emergency.) The strategy behind DHS Secretary Chertoff’s much ballyhooed—and inaccurate—August 31 announcement that his declaration triggers for the first time a coordinated federal response to states and localities overwhelmed by disaster remains unclear at this time.
Beginning this morning, and throughout the day, FEMA representatives and other officials appear on TV shows throughout the day. When asked to identify the biggest challenge to preparing for Katrina, FEMA Director Michael Brown replies as follows: “Primarily making sure that as many people as possible get out of the way of the storm. The more people that are in the way of the storm, the more potential they have of becoming a disaster victim.” When asked whether it is possible for the area to weather the storm without loss of life, Brown responds that such an expectation is unreasonable. (CNN 8/29/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown appears on CNN this morning. Brown first assures viewers that FEMA has been preparing to respond to a catastrophic hurricane hitting New Orleans for two years, before turning to the issue of evacuation: “I’m more concerned right now, not about our readiness, but about the individual people in Louisiana. I understand that there are, you know, voluntary evacuations right now. I’ll tell you this personally. If I lived in New Orleans, I’d be getting out of there. I think it’s time to leave now.” Brown warns that the hurricane likely will bring massive flooding: “[T]he storm surge in a category five, can easily exceed 20 feet. You have areas that are already below sea level. We have photographs that show, graphically show what that means. If you go into the French quarter, we’re talking about a storm surge that is on the tops of those buildings. It’s very, very devastating. So people need to take the storm seriously. Let me put it this way. I’ve got rescue teams, urban search and rescue teams, swift water teams that are moving in there right now to be prepared. You don’t want them to have to come and rescue you. So you need to get out of the way of the storm now.” If the “devastation is widespread as we anticipate it to be,” people may be cut off from rescuers for up to 48 hours. Brown promises that FEMA is ready: “We’re going to respond and we’re going to do exactly what we did in Florida and Alabama and the other places. We’re going to do whatever it takes to help victims.” (CNN 8/28/2005)
According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that by this time, he has grown so frustrated with Mayor Nagin’s apparent refusal to order a mandatory evacuation that he calls President Bush to ask for help. “‘Mike, you want me to call the mayor?’ the president responds in surprise,” according to Brown. (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005)
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. (Swerczek and bureau 9/4/2005; Gold, Serrano, and King 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.
Responding to Governor Barbour’s request , President Bush declares an emergency for Mississippi, and orders federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the affected areas. This declaration authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives, protect property and public health and safety for counties in the storm’s path and to minimize or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the surrounding parishes of Louisiana. FEMA is thus authorized to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, including specifically, “[m]easures undertaken to preserve public health and safety and to eliminate threats to public or private property” in southern Mississippi. FEMA Director Michael Brown appoints William L. Carwile, III as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Mississippi. (White House 8/28/2005; US President 9/5/2005; US Department of Homeland Security 9/7/2005)
According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that upon return to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, he has become concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Louisiana officials. “What do you need? Help me help you,” Brown said he asked them. “The response was like, ‘Let us find out,’ and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing.” Bob Mann, Blanco’s Communications Director will assert, however, that during this period, Blanco becomes frustrated with Brown and FEMA for expecting itemized requests before they will do anything. According to Mann, “It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you.” (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005)
The 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise (see July 19-23, 2004) indicated that approximately 65 percent of the New Orleans-area population would evacuate before a major hurricane. (Glasser and Grunwald 9/11/2005) However, initial reports indicate that the Katrina evacuation has exceeded these expectations—significantly. Almost one million people (or about 80 percent of the population) have left the greater New Orleans area, according to Jeff Smith, Deputy Director of Louisiana’s Emergency Planning. Later, Smith will note that, “Everyone is kind of focusing on response at this point in time. I don’t hear anybody talking about how successful that evacuation was. It probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and nobody wants to talk about that.” Smith will acknowledge, however, that up to 100,000 residents may not have evacuated. (National Public Radio 9/9/2005 Sources: Jeff Smith) When asked about the evacuation of the reported 100,000 residents without transportation, FEMA Director Mike Brown will say “I think enough was done,” adding that his only question is whether the mandatory evacuation should have been announced sooner. (Wall Street Journal 9/12/2005) Jefferson Parish reports a 70 percent evacuation rate, in part due to a “church buddy program,” which provided rides for approximately 25,000 residents. St. Bernard Parish reports an astounding 90 percent evacuation rate. (Glasser and Grunwald 9/11/2005) The Chicago Tribune later reports that the area has achieved 75 percent evacuation. (Martin, Simpson, and James 9/11/2005)
According to FEMA Director Mike Brown, a field officer calls him on a satellite phone this morning to report that, “It is getting out of control down here; the levee has broken.” (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005)
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan reports that President Bush speaks with FEMA Director Michael Brown twice this morning, and that Brown has provided Bush with an update on the status of the storm. McClellan also reports that, “In addition to dealing with the urgent issues related to the hurricane, the President will be participating in conversations today in Arizona and Southern California with some people with Medicare experts working with Medicare beneficiaries and health professionals about the upcoming changes in the Medicare program.” (White House 8/29/2005)
White House officials, including Joe Hagin, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, participate in a video conference call with federal and state officials from aboard Air Force One, according to Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary. President Bush likely will not participate: “I think there is a little bit more of a staff participation in this call. This is something the White House has been doing both from D.C. as well as from Crawford over the last few days. We’ve been participating in these video conference calls with the federal authorities and with state emergency management operation centers.” McClellan will report at around 11:30 am that “One of the main things that [FEMA Director Michael Brown] emphasize[s during the call is] that it remains a serious situation, and there’s still a lot of concern about storm surge, flooding, the damage and destruction on the ground, power outages, and things of that nature.” FEMA also provides updates from other states as well. (White House 8/29/2005) McClellan will later state that that Hagin is the “point person in terms of overseeing efforts from the White House.”
(White House 8/30/2005)
Note - The Los Angeles Times will later report that the White House declines to say who is in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington, asserting that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes. “Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will say, “And the president is the one who’s in charge at the White House.” (Los Angeles Times 9/11/2005) Knight Ridder will report that no one at the White House has been assigned the task of tracking and coordinating the federal response on behalf of the White House. (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005)
FEMA Director Mike Brown arrives at the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, in Baton Rouge shortly before 11 am, and joins a conference call with Louisiana Governor Blanco and other federal and state officials. According to the Times-Picayune, “Researchers watching the storm from Baton Rouge have gotten reports of [six] feet of water at Jackson Barracks in the Lower 9th Ward, as well as flooding along the Industrial Canal.” Kevin Robbins, director of the Southern Regional Climate Center at LSU, states that water should begin receding around the Industrial Canal area, and they have received no reports of flooding in the Uptown area. Because Katrina destroyed or disabled many of the stations that record water surges in lakes and rivers, information about the worst surges is just not available. “We are working in a data poor environment,” Robbins says. (Times-Picayune Blog 8/29/2005)
Around this time, FEMA Director Michael Brown sends a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, requesting 1,000 additional DHS employees within 48 hours, and 2,000 within seven days. Based on the letter, Brown seeks volunteers to serve as community relations liaisons. Describing Katrina as “this near catastrophic event,” Brown describes the role of the requested volunteers as follows:
Establish and maintain positive working relationships with disaster affected communities and the residents of those communities.
Collect and disseminate information and make referrals for appropriate assistance.
[Identify] potential issues within the community and report to appropriate personnel.
Convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the public.
Perform outreach with community leaders on available Federal disaster assistance. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 8/29/2005 ) Natalie Rule, FEMA representative, will later confirm that Brown is seeking volunteers to “answer phones, do community relations and help set up field hospitals,” and similar “non-emergency tasks.” (CNN 9/7/2005)
Note - When this memo becomes public, many will criticize Brown, charging, for example, that “Brown waited until about five hours after the storm’s landfall before he proposed sending 1,000 federal workers to deal with the aftermath” (Carney et al. 9/11/2005) , or, as the Boston Globe reports, that “[Brown] did not ask the authority to dispatch FEMA personnel to the region until five hours after the storm had passed.” (O'Brien and Bender 9/11/2005) However these reports fail to recognize that, at the time Brown requests these volunteers, FEMA has already deployed more than 1,000 staff members workers to the area (see August 28, 2005). (CNN 9/7/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown reports that voluntary organizations are seeking cash donations to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states. However, Brown urges volunteers to not report directly to the affected areas unless directed by a voluntary agency: “We’re grateful for the outpouring of support already,” Brown says. “But it’s important that volunteer response is coordinated by the professionals who can direct volunteers with the appropriate skills to the hardest-hit areas where they are needed most. Self-dispatched volunteers and especially sightseers can put themselves and others in harm’s way and hamper rescue efforts.” However, “cash donations are especially helpful to victims. They allow volunteer agencies to issue cash vouchers to victims so they can meet their needs. Cash donations also allow agencies to avoid the labor-intensive need to store, sort, and pack and distribute donated goods. Donated money prevents, too, the prohibitive cost of air or sea transportation that donated goods require.” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 8/29/2005)
FEMA issues a release urging “all fire and emergency services departments not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities under mutual aid agreements and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.” According to FEMA Director Michael Brown, “The response to Hurricane Katrina must be well coordinated between federal, state and local officials to most effectively protect life and property. We appreciate the willingness and generosity of our Nation’s first responders to deploy during disasters. But such efforts must be coordinated so that fire-rescue efforts are the most effective possible.” The US Fire Administration, part of FEMA, asks that fire and emergency services organizations remain in contact with their local and state emergency management agency officials for updates on requirements in the affected areas. According to R. David Paulison, US Fire Administrator, “It is critical that fire and emergency departments across the country remain in their jurisdictions until such time as the affected states request assistance.… State and local mutual aid agreements are in place as is the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and those mechanisms will be used to request and task resources needed in the affected areas.” The National Incident Management System is being used during the response to Hurricane Katrina and that self-dispatching volunteer assistance could significantly complicate the response and recovery effort. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 8/29/2005)
Around this time, FEMA announces a plan to send 500 commercial buses into New Orleans to rescue the thousands of people still stranded there. Louisiana Governor Blanco will later recall that when FEMA Director Michael Brown personally notifies her of FEMA’s plan, she assumes that the buses are pre-staged near New Orleans. “I assumed that FEMA had staged their buses in near proximity,” she said. “I expected them to be out of the storm’s way but accessible in one day’s time,” Blanco will later recall. (Millhollon 9/18/2005)
Governor Kathleen Blanco holds a press conference urging evacuated residents to stay put. Blanco reports that officials have received calls from 115 people in New Orleans who say they are stranded, as well as an Unknown number of people in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. When the winds subside, boats will be deployed from Jackson Barracks in the Lower 9th Ward to go look for people who are trapped. Blanco discusses the widespread flooding in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, reporting that the water as deep as 10-12 feet in some places. Local officials at the St. Bernard courthouse are trapped on the second floor, and water is rising to that level. State officials have received reports that as many as 20 buildings in New Orleans have collapsed or toppled from the winds. Water is leaking from the 17th Street Canal floodwall. (Times-Picayune Blog 8/29/2005) During the press conference, Blanco thanks FEMA Director Michael Brown and says, “I hope you will tell President Bush how much we appreciated—these are the times that really count—to know that our federal government will step in and give us the kind of assistance that we need.” Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) reiterates Blanco’s praise: “We are indeed fortunate to have an able and experienced director of FEMA who has been with us on the ground for some time.” Brown responds to their praise in kind: “What I’ve seen here today is a team that is very tight-knit, working closely together, being very professional doing it, and in my humble opinion, making the right calls.” (Lipton et al. 9/11/2005)
In a subsequent interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown will state that by this evening, he is calling the DHS and White House to report that the emergency response is in chaos. Reportedly, in a status call with Washington, Brown reports that Governor Blanco’s office is “proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort.” (Bob Mann, Blanco’s Communications Director flatly denies Mr. Brown’s description: “That is just totally inaccurate. Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him.”) Brown also reports that his field officers are reporting an “‘out of control’ situation” in New Orleans. According to Brown, he informs the White House early and repeatedly that state and local officials are overwhelmed and that the response is going badly, saying a dozen times, “I cannot get a unified command established.” The White House, contend that Brown’s communications are “not filled with the urgency” that he later recalls. (Kirkpatrick and Shane 9/15/2005) Other officials report chaos within FEMA’s Washington headquarters. It becomes “a zoo” at the height of the disaster, according to one longtime FEMA official. “Everything is being done by the seat of the pants,” the official will say. “It’s like reinventing the wheel. We’re starting from scratch as though no planning had even been done before.” Chertoff representative Russ Knocke, however, will insist that FEMA’s response is relying upon long-standing plans and goes “much smoother than the response to the Sept. 11 attacks.” “Because of the National Response Plan,” Knocke will say, “‘there is no confusion, no chaos, there’s just immediate action and results.’” (Los Angeles Times 9/11/2005)
Apparently, only moments after saying that the New Orleans levees have not been breached (see 8:00 pm August 30, 2005), FEMA Director Michael Brown tells Fox’s Bill O’Reilly the opposite: “… Now we averted the catastrophic disaster here, but a lot of the things that we anticipated that we practiced for are coming true. We now have breaches. We now have water moving into New Orleans. And you know what? It’s going to be a long time to get that water back out of New Orleans.” (Fox 8/29/2005)
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.” (ABC 8/29/2005)
FEMA Director Michael Brown describes the situation to CNN’s Larry King as “a catastrophic disaster,” before focusing on the devastation to New Orleans, which he describes as follows: “It saved downtown New Orleans but it decimated everything east of downtown and then, of course, decimated everything up through Mississippi, so there’s always good news and bad news and it here is it means we don’t have the flooding in downtown New Orleans but we’ve got the flooding everywhere. We’ve got some storm surges that have come across the levees. We have some, I’m not going to call them breaches but we have some areas where the lake and the rivers are continuing to spill over. The flood waters are still spilling into those neighborhoods, so it’s frankly unfortunately going to get worse before it gets better.” Brown reports that FEMA is assessing the situation and remarks that, “It’s just amazing to see the pictures and to hear the firsthand reports of these FEMA folks who have been with the agency for, you know, 15 or 20 years to call in and talk about how this is the worst flooding they’ve ever seen in their entire lives and talking about just neighborhoods after neighborhoods gone.” Brown also praises the Coast Guard rescue efforts: “I can’t say enough about the Coast Guard. They go out and they’re trying to do reconnaissance and the next thing you know there’s a guy on the roof that needs rescuing, so they rescue that guy and try to get him back to safety. That’s the kind of stuff we’re going to find in the near future.” (CNN 8/29/2005)
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