Friday, March 03, 2006

Attack of the Living Katrina

From the sound of this article, the AP is actually tempering the hubbub regarding whether Bush knew the levees in New Orleans or not.  The release of a report by the Senate blaming officials at every level of government for the poor response to the disaster seemed to prompt the media to start the Bush-blaming game all over again.  Much ado was made about a video showing the President in conference with FEMA coordinator Michael Brown where Brown in telling Bush that the levees might just break.  This is used as proof that Bush lied when he said a few days later that they could not have imagined that the levees could have been breached. 

I’m not sure what to make of that statement.  My guess is that it was taken out of context, because in other reports now surfacing, Brown also makes statements to the effect that he thought Bush asked a lot of good questions regarding the situation, and in the transcripts (what isn’t being shown about the meetings) is that Brown is convincing Bush that FEMA has the situation in hand.  Bush believes this, and considering that the last few major hurricanes that hit Florida were handled well, he certainly has reason to have faith in the agency.

The problem, again, that the national media likes to ignore is the difference between the state and local responses to the disaster and the fact that Florida is far better equipped to deal with hurricane events. 

Now we get this information about what Blanco was saying the day after the storm hit:

      "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."

So Blanco didn’t believe, and certainly didn’t know.  She is the one heard on several tapes being asked what the situation is, and she told FEMA that she couldn’t be sure whether the levees had been breached or not. 

      The video shows weather forecasters predicting the storm's path and also briefly cuts to White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin asking Blanco about the status of the levees and the situation at the Superdome in New Orleans.

So the White House, while knowing that a breach COULD have happened, didn’t know until well after the storm left – because the local officials didn’t know.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the local response is what happens first and foremost and the feds don’t come in until later.  They can’t move faster than that, and their role in this situation is that of support and resources.  How do you reconcile what the critics of the federal response are saying to this gem from Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana director of emergency preparedness:

      Still, "the coordination and support we are getting from FEMA has just been outstanding," Smith said.

Yes, considering that the federal response to the last big hurricane in Florida was 5 days, and this time it was about 3 days, I would say that it was outstanding.

But no evidence to that effect would ever deter self-promoting politicians on Capitol Hill from trying to be the loudest voice of dissention. 

      Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said it "confirms what we have suspected all along," charging that Bush administration officials have "systematically misled the American people."

      Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California renewed their calls for an independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricane. The House and Senate have conducted separate investigations of the federal response, and the White House did its own investigation.

I’m sure another commission and another investigation is going to be exactly what we need to make everything right (read:  blame Bush).

1 comment:

Kat said...

The AP put out a correction about the video, which they had claimed showed President Bush was warned about the levees being breached. What the video in fact shows is that Bush was warned about the levees being overrun, not breached. Discussions about breaches, a much more serious problem, came later.

Fri Mar 03 2006 19:48:29 ET

Clarification: Katrina-Video story

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a March 1 story, The Associated Press reported that federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees in New Orleans, citing confidential video footage of an Aug. 28 briefing among U.S. officials.

The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun. The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking.

The day before the storm hit, Bush was told there were grave concerns that the levees could be overrun. It wasn't until the next morning, as the storm was hitting, that Michael Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bush had inquired about reports of breaches. Bush did not participate in that briefing.