Thursday, February 23, 2006

Katrina Report Spreads Blame, Part 4

More by Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post:

The report said the single biggest federal failure was not anticipating the consequences of the storm. Disaster planners had rated the flooding of New Orleans as the nation's most feared scenario, testing it under a catastrophic disaster preparedness program in 2004.

About 56 hours before Katrina made landfall, the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center cited an "extremely high probability" that New Orleans would be flooded and tens of thousands of residents killed.

Given those warnings, the report notes Bush's televised statement on Sept. 1 that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," and concludes: "Comments such as those . . . do not appear to be consistent with the advice and counsel one would expect to have been provided by a senior disaster professional."

As the president's principal disaster adviser, Chertoff poorly executed many decisions, including declaring Katrina an "incident of national significance" -- the highest designation under the national emergency response plan and convening an interagency board of experienced strategic advisers on Aug. 30 instead of Aug. 27; designating an untrained Brown to take charge of the disaster; and failing to invoke a federal plan that would have pushed federal help to overwhelmed state and local officials rather than waiting for them to request it.

The report said Chertoff was "confused" about Brown's role and authority, and that it was unclear why he chose him, given his lack of skills and his hostility to FEMA's downgrading under new plans.

After failing to foresee the need to muster buses, boats and aircraft, the next critical federal mistake was failure to confirm catastrophic levee breaches, the report asserts.

Despite a FEMA official's eyewitness accounts of breaches starting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29, the president's Homeland Security Council, led by homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend and her deputy, Ken Rapuano, did not consider them confirmed until 11 hours later, on Aug. 30.

More next time ...


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