Sunday, February 26, 2006

Katrina Report Spreads Blame, Part 5

More by Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post:

The first federal order to evacuate New Orleans was not issued until 1:30 a.m. Aug. 31, and came only after FEMA's ground commander in New Orleans, Phil Parr, put out a call for buses after finding water lapping at the approaches to the Superdome, where about 12,000 victims were camped.

The council's "failure to resolve conflicts in information and the 'fog of war,' not a lack of information, caused confusion," the House panel wrote. It added that the crisis showed the government remains "woefully incapable" of managing information, much as it was before the 2001 attacks.

The summary obtained by The Post generally praises pre-storm evacuations by Gulf Coast leaders, but it criticizes preparations and decisions by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D), who knew that 100,000 city residents had no cars and relied on public transit. The city's failure to complete its mandatory evacuation, ordered Aug. 28, led to hundreds of deaths, the report said.

Neighboring Plaquemines Parish, by contrast, issued its order Aug. 27, helping to hold the number of storm deaths there at three. Nursing homes outside New Orleans were able to find special transportation for patients, while at least one in the city could not find bus drivers by the time people were told to leave.

The investigation also condemned "hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness, legitimized by New Orleans authorities," for increasing security burdens, scaring away rescuers and heightening tension in the city.

It faulted Nagin for repeating, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, rumors of armed gangs committing rapes and murder in an "almost animalistic state." The report said few cases of gunshots or violence were confirmed, although it acknowledged that few police were able to investigate and victims may have had little incentive to report crime.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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