When former FEMA chief Michael Brown testified in February before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigating the government’s failings in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that he felt like a scapegoat “abandoned” by the Bush administration, I thought he might have a point but figured that he was just as much part of the problem as Bush and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were.

However, the Associated Press has obtained video of briefings conducted in the days before Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that seem to bolster Brown’s claims.

Linked by secure video, Bush’s bravado on Aug. 29 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced “grave concerns” about the levees and then- Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren’t enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

“I’m concerned about … their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe,” Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

Some of the footage conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response…

A “catastrophe within a catastrophe”? Those were Brown’s words to Bush and Chertoff. Brown actually tried to tell them that a failed aid and recovery plan would lead to a disaster on top of the initial disaster from the storm.

Interestingly enough, Chertoff — Brown’s boss at the time — said the following in an interview about a week after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast:

“…if we had an atomic bomb on top of this…and we could pile on catastrophes…whenever you do a planning process, you have to deal with what is reasonably foreseeable. It is true that you can sometimes have a combination of things that are reasonably foreseeable but that combination is unforeseeable.”

Uh, Chertoff…according to these videos, your own FEMA director warned you about the multiple catastrophes on the day the storm hit New Orleans.

Another great line the Bush administration used in the days right after Katrina was that New Orleans appeared to dodge a bullet and that nobody knew about the levee breaches until the following day, Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Of course, just before Brown’s appearance before the Senate committee last month, e-mails were produced that showed federal, state and local government officials were notified of levee breaches as early as 8:30 a.m. ET on Monday, Aug. 29.

And then there is the line Bush himself used — “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” — during a “Good Morning America” interview on Sept. 1.

Hmm…those videos AP got a hold of apparently tell a different tale.

Bush declared four days after the storm, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility — and Bush was worried too.

I guess he was worried because he knew there was no way his administration could deal with a recovery and relief effort that huge — something that actually required so much of the humanity and compassion his administration seriously lacks.

So Bush decided to play the “ignorance” card, which comes oh so naturally to him.

As David Letterman would say, “George Bush. Oh…my…God!”

(P.S. Thanks to Katie, I attended last night’s taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman”…woo-hoo!)

2 thoughts on “Katrina revisited: Perhaps “Brownie” was the scapegoat

  1. BK,Were there really talks of “breaches”?I see only reference to the levee’s ‘toppig off’, and yes they are two different things.Also, despite failings on Federal, State and Local Levels tens of thousands of folks were rescued (those who who did not initially evacuate). While 1300 souls were lost to this disaster, all estimate (for the past 35 years) anticipated much more loss of life The most conservative estimate I have seen is something like 60,000 dead.Again, rather than actually learning from this the American people and our politicians are savoring the moment to point fingers. It seems like in the end all we care about is the drama of it all.

  2. Merk,Yeah, the local and state people were completely out of touch, too. This latest thing with Gov. Kathleen Bianco of Louisiana believing there were no breaches during a noon briefing on Aug. 29 is insane:“We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee,” she said on a video of the day’s disaster briefing that was obtained Thursday night by The Associated Press. “I think we have not breached the levee at this time.”Now, from whom was she getting her information? The National Weather Service reported a levee breach that morning and NOLA.com’s Breaking News Weblog reported around 2 p.m. on Aug. 29 that “City Hall confirmed a breach of the levee along the 17th Street Canal at Bellaire Drive.”But that 2 p.m. time was when it was confirmed. It had been reported hours earlier.Bianco should have at least stated they were still looking into the possibility that a breach had taken place.Apparently, NWS and the New Orleans Times-Picayune have better sources than the governor of the state.In regards to the terminology used regarding the breaches in the videos, my post came shortly after the AP story hit the wire. The part about the discussion of breaches was written that way in the initial story and I reacted to that. But I just did a quick scan of the transcripts and I only see a mention of the levees being topped as well.But to not consider the levees being breached seems a bit odd when the New Orleans Time-Picayune published a five-part series called “Washing Away” in 2002 that included this passage in the first installment (“The Big One”):“All of a sudden you’ll start seeing flowing water. It’ll look like a weir, water just pouring over the top,” Suhayda said. The water will flood the lakefront, filling up low-lying areas first, and continue its march south toward the river. There would be no stopping or slowing it; pumping systems would be overwhelmed and submerged in a matter of hours.”Another scenario is that some part of the levee would fail,” Suhayda said. “It’s not something that’s expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees broke, the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That’s 25 feet high, so you’ll see the water pile up on the river levee.”Yes, it does say a breach isn’t expected, but the scenario did exist.Also, regarding the 1,300 casualties. I think that represents only those who have been identified. I don’t think we know the full number yet, although I would think it’s still well under 60,000.

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