A New York Times article posted information from an interview with former FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, who resigned recently. Although the Times took a decidedly different spin (desperately trying to blame Bush for everything... even when there was no evidence there to do so), I found the following very interesting:
Mr. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he told the officials in Washington that the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation.
"I am having a horrible time," Mr. Brown said he told Mr. Chertoff and a White House official - either Mr. Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin - in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established."
By the time of that call, he added, "I was beginning to realize things were going to hell in a handbasket" in Louisiana. A day later, Mr. Brown said, he asked the White House to take over the response effort....
Mr. Brown declined to blame President Bush or the White House for his removal or for the flawed response.
"I truly believed the White House was not at fault here," he said.
He focused much of his criticism on Governor Blanco, contrasting what he described as her confused response with far more agile mobilizations in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Florida during last year's hurricanes.
As I have said before, it is clear that Blanco's office failed to help FEMA organize a relief effort. At the same time, Mississippi and Alabama were taking care of business. You will notice we don't hear much about Mississippi and Alabama on the news anymore. Why? Because they have been successful at getting people out, and the Media doesn't like success.
Continuing... oh... this is the part where the times tries to blame Bush through Brown's "suggestion" of fault:
But Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making "a blur of calls" all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly.
A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Mr. Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview.
"There's a general recollection of him saying, 'They're going to need more help,' " said the official, who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of internal White House discussions.
Mr. Brown's version of events raises questions about whether the White House and Mr. Chertoff acted aggressively enough in the response. New Orleans convulsed in looting and violence after the hurricane, and troops did not arrive in force to restore order until five days later.
What? They are really trying to stretch. I'm going to go try and find a transcript of the interview... but even so, they are really extrapolating a lot of politically-motivated messages from this interview. Is this news? or a White House Witch Hunt?
Let's jump ahead here a little bit (I encourage you to read the full article, the Link will be below)...
Governor Blanco said Wednesday that she took responsibility for failures and missteps in the immediate response to the hurricane and pledged a united effort to rebuild areas ravaged by the storm, adding, "at the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again." A spokesman for Ms. Blanco denied Mr. Brown's description of disarray in Louisiana's emergency response operation. "That is just totally inaccurate," said Bob Mann, the governor's communications director. "Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him."...
As Mr. Brown recounted it, the weekend before New Orleans's levees burst, FEMA sent an emergency response team of 10 or 20 people to Louisiana to review evacuation plans with local officials.
By Saturday afternoon, many residents were leaving. But as the hurricane approached early on Sunday, Mr. Brown said he grew so frustrated with the failure of local authorities to make the evacuation mandatory that he asked Mr. Bush for help.
"Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?" Mr. Brown said he asked Mr. Bush in a phone call.
"Mike, you want me to call the mayor?" the president responded in surprise, Mr. Brown said. Moments later, apparently on his own, the mayor, C. Ray Nagin, held a news conference to announce a mandatory evacuation, but it was too late, Mr. Brown said. Plans said it would take at least 72 hours to get everyone out.
When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening, Mr. Brown said, he was concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Governor Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.
"What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. 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."
The most responsive person he could find, Mr. Brown said, was Governor Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Mr. Brown said.
Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.
On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could. Instead, he said, he repeated a dozen times, "I cannot get a unified command established."
The next morning, Mr. Brown said, he and Governor Blanco decided to take a helicopter into New Orleans to see the mayor and assess the situation. But before the helicopter took off, his field coordinating officer, or F.C.O., called from the city on a satellite phone. "It is getting out of control down here; the levee has broken," the staff member told him, he said.
The crowd in the Superdome, the city's shelter of last resort, was already larger than expected. But Mr. Brown said he was relieved to see that the mayor had a detailed list of priorities, starting with help to evacuate the Superdome.
Mr. Brown passed the list on to the state emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, but when he returned that evening he was surprised to find that nothing had been done.
"I am just screaming at my F.C.O., 'Where are the helicopters?' " he recalled. " 'Where is the National Guard? Where is all the stuff that the mayor wanted?' "
FEMA, he said, had no helicopters and only a few communications trucks. The agency typically depends on state resources, a system he said worked well in the other Gulf Coast states and in Florida last year.
Meanwhile, "unbeknownst to me," Mr. Brown said, at some point on Monday or Tuesday the hotels started directing their remaining guests to the convention center - something neither FEMA nor local officials had planned.
At the same time, the Superdome was degenerating into "gunfire and anarchy," and on Tuesday the FEMA staff and medical team in New Orleans called to say they were leaving for their own safety.
That night, Mr. Brown said, he called Mr. Chertoff and the White House again in desperation. "Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle," he told them, he said. "This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help."
"Maybe I should have screamed 12 hours earlier," Mr. Brown said in the interview. "But that is hindsight. We were still trying to make things work."
By Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown said, he learned that General Honoré was on his way. While the general did not have responsibility for the entire relief effort and the Guard, his commanding manner helped mobilize the state's efforts.
"Honoré shows up and he and I have a phone conversation," Mr. Brown said. "He gets the message, and, boom, it starts happening."
Mr. Brown said that in one much-publicized gaffe - his repeated statement on live television on Thursday night, Sept. 1, that he had just learned that day of thousands of people at New Orleans's convention center without food or water - "I just absolutely misspoke." In fact, he said, he learned about the evacuees there from the first media reports more than 24 hours earlier, but the reports conflicted with information from local authorities and he had no staff on the site until Thursday.
There were also conflicts with the Congressional delegations that wanted resources for their offices and districts, FEMA officials said. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said he "resisted aggressively" a decision by Mr. Brown to dispatch a Navy medical ship to Louisiana instead of his home state.
Mr. Brown acknowledged that he had been criticized for not ordering a complete evacuation or calling in federal troops sooner. But he said the storm made it hard to communicate and assess the situation.
"Until you have been there," he said, "you don't realize it is the middle of a hurricane."
(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/15/national/nationalspecial/15brown.html, Free Registration Required)
Ok, I think they included that last statement to make the man look stupid, but that's not the important issue.
From these chain of events, does it sound like Bush is to blame? Brown was to the point where he called the President of the United States asking him to tell a Mayor to evacuate his city. Shouldn't that be the Governor's job? Shouldn't Blanco's office be there telling her mayor to evacuate the city?
Brown's biggest mistake was waiting too long to call in the cavalry. But, he was overwhelmed. I agree that Brown was the wrong man for this job, but he is being crucified by media sadducees.
Overall, I continue with my assertion that Blanco needs to take some heat for this one. Everyone is blaming the failure on Bush and Brown... clearly Blanco's failure and incompetence eclipses the failures of either.
After all, she is responsibile for the state of Louisiana. And, aren't Democrats supposed to save the helpless through government intervention? Maybe she's not taking any media heat because she's a Democrat.
At least Bush cares.
That is all.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
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At least Brown tried. What, if anything, did Landreneau do?
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