Friday, February 10, 2006
White House Knew of Levee Failure on Night of Storm
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.
The federal government let out a sigh of relief when in fact it should have been sounding an "all hands on deck" alarm, the investigators have found.
Investigators now have the documentation to pinpoint some of the fundamental errors and oversights that combined to produce what is universally agreed to be a flawed government response to the worst natural disaster in modern American history.
On Friday, Mr. Brown, the former FEMA director, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He is expected to confirm that he notified the White House on that Monday, the day the hurricane hit, that the levee had given way, the city was flooding and his crews were overwhelmed.
"There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was," Mr. Brown said in the interview.
Among the findings that emerge in the mass of documents and testimony were these:
¶Federal officials knew long before the storm showed up on the radar that 100,000 people in New Orleans had no way to escape a major hurricane on their own and that the city had finished only 10 percent of a plan for how to evacuate its largely poor, African-American population.
GOI: Mr. Brown also said that perhaps the White House was more worried about terrorism then homeland issues. He hinted that if the levees had been hit by terrorists then the federal response would have been immediate. He went on to say that what the [White House] is saying now that they didn't know ahead of time is bolonga. Looks like the rats are starting to jump off the U.S.S Bush.
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