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Video Shows Bush Was Warned Before Katrina

WASHINGTON (AP)—In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage—along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press—show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 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 and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 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:

—Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the `fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."

—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.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

"I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," Brown said. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches."

—Louisiana officials angrily blamed the federal government for not being prepared but the transcripts shows they were still praising FEMA as the storm roared toward the Gulf Coast and even two days afterward. "I think a lot of the planning FEMA has done with us the past year has really paid off," Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness deputy director, said during the Aug. 28 briefing.

It wasn't long before Smith and other state officials sounded overwhelmed.

"We appreciate everything that you all are doing for us, and all I would ask is that you realize that what's going on and the sense of urgency needs to be ratcheted up," Smith said Aug. 30.

Mississippi begged for more attention in that same briefing.

"We know that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana that need to be rescued, but we would just ask you, we desperately need to get our share of assets because we'll have people dying—not because of water coming up, but because we can't get them medical treatment in our affected counties," said a Mississippi state official whose name was not mentioned on the tape.

Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing, the final one before Katrina struck, showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.

"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned. He called the storm "a bad one, a big one" and implored federal agencies to cut through red tape to help people, bending rules if necessary.

"Go ahead and do it," Brown said. "I'll figure out some way to justify it. ... Just let them yell at me."

Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event.

One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.

The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

"I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing.

Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.

"They're not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans. So I'm very concerned about that," Brown said.

Despite the concerns, it ultimately took days for search and rescue teams to reach some hospitals and nursing homes.

Brown also told colleagues one of his top concerns was whether evacuees who went to the New Orleans Superdome—which became a symbol of the failed Katrina response—would be safe and have adequate medical care.

"The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane," he said.

Brown also wanted to know whether there were enough federal medical teams in place to treat evacuees and the dead in the Superdome.

"Not to be (missing) kind of gross here," Brown interjected, "but I'm concerned" about the medical and mortuary resources "and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe."


Mar. 2nd, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
horse is alive and kicking
What a crock of horsehit hyperbole. I consider myself more to the left, but I don't think it's conclusive that he's the worst president, not at all. The first thing that comes to mind is Wilson, who ran on a "we'll stay out of war" campaign that was TOTAL BULLSHIT. His countless lies resulted in our involvement in a war that was a MUCH bloodier mess than Iraq. And what about the executive lies that led to Vietnam, again, a MUCH bloodier battle! What about Truman and the tens of thousands who were nuked? And if we want to talk about character, for fucks sake, Andrew Jackson used to ride around scalping indians and hanging them from his saddle! Teddy Roosevelt was a fucking outspoken white supremicist!

Nothing is closed for debate, whether you support the war or not. Bush may have made a mistake, but the consensus was that *something* needed to be done in the middle east, and nothing before had ever worked, and we still don't know what's going to happen. So much room for debate. And whether you like him or not, to declare it a closed issue that he's the worst president ever is fucking retarded and makes the left sound like a bunch of young fucking morons who haven't lived enough or studied history enough to gain the necessary wisdom which would warrant attention to thier opinions.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC)
i'm playing some advocate here, so if you are gonna shoot, aim to pepper
to me, there is no imaginable burden heavier than leadership, particularly of a people as diverse and disagreeable as out country. that being said, i find the duties and responsibilities of those leaders to be of utmost concern to the people they lead. this administration has spent a large amount of time, money, and resources misleading the herd that might disagree with policy, on all sorts of issues, while, at the same time, using the strings of the popular issues they are aligned with to ensure solidarity in times of bumpy process. the longer they have bene in office, the more you see the political brilliance of the platform - play both sides against the middle, and by the time anyone figures it out, you are out of office.

i don't think it is a closed issue that he is THE worst ever. I think it foregone that he is one of the great bads. that is why i was asking for criteria in terms of what determined "point of failure".

people are suppposed to learn from history. the fact that most people tend not to, i guess, means it is unfair to assume that politicians will as well. the issue i have with this administration (not just the talking head) is that the activities it has undertaken and promoted have all been "in the good of the many" but the numbers seem to suggest that "the many" are not making out as well as the spin doctors perscribe.

this war has a very low body count, undeniable. the burden of dollars, and, wether or not we should be there in the first place is much more poignant to this situation. vietnam was worse precisely because so many more died. dresden and japan were choices woodrow made to try and end a way - heinous ones at that. teddy and jackson are, on a character level, assasinateable from many directions, but so are most people removed by a century and a half or more from their life and times.

the one bone i have to pick with you is wilson. while he did get re-elected on a crock, he didn't lie to people about why he was going to war. he also did so much to try and broker the peace at the end that it almost killed him. he spent his first term adressing the domestic issues which were in dire need of redress, and THEN he moved into international affairs. if bush and co spent the first 4 years making sure our industry/economy/financial security was rock-solid, and that the people in the country who would be affected most by an upcoming war had a better base to build from when the hardship of war hit home, i'd have much less to gripe about. the facts show that bush planned iraq even before 9/11.

if you judge the ratio of actions-death as the means to determining success/failure of a leader, there are much better examples in history. if you judge it by spin/marketing-death, the market gets a lot slimmer. i have gobs more to say about this, but i am probably out of comment room - if you get a chance, i'll pick up and continue this - hell, maybe in person, with drinks?
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: i'm playing some advocate here, so if you are gonna shoot, aim to pepper
I always love talking politics, especially when booze is involved! Of course, the reality is that I never go out, but I'm sure we'll get into a solid drunken debate sooner than later. And without following the link, the fact that bush planned iraq even before 9/11 doesn't surprise me, considering Iraq broke the cease-fire long ago. Hell, Clinton had plans drawn up.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: i'm playing some advocate here, so if you are gonna shoot, aim to pepper
and really, I have several more negative things to say about bush than positive. I just have a strong distaste for empty rhetoric. I think of that was one of the largest problems with the left in this last election: cute anti-bush pins/slogans with no substantive alternative. At the time of the last election I lived near Union Square, so that may have contributed to my alienation from the left.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
i'd love to have this debate with you, but i'm over it.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Re: um
well, your fleet-ed interest in debate illustrates the point, I guess, namely that it's open for debate. That was the crux of what I was getting at, anyhow.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: um
if you'd read to the bottom of the thread, you'd have seen that i'm on the rag. why is this important? it's not. but the point is that bernie and i already reached that decision that this is still open to debate. which is part of the reason why i'm over this debate, having already done it once today. so, in sum: we agree! mazel tov!
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:46 pm (UTC)
Re: um
eh, it's much easier to jump on intial claims than to spend all that time following the evolution threads
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
grr argh!
when i finally meet you, i'm gonna smack you upside the head. you're quite possibly lazier than i am!

and shave your chest, for god's sake.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)
speaking of lazy...
yo mama so lazy she thinks a two-income family is where yo daddy has two jobs.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
alternate suggestion
you could shave his chest for him... that would also work.
Mar. 2nd, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
i love his chest just the way it is. ;-)


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