Monday, September 12


Couldn't believe what I heard Sean Hannity say this afternoon on his radio show. When a caller suggested that Bush and the federal government's response to the Hurricane Katrina crisis might have been lacking, Sean exploded, "Nobody knew it was coming, nobody knew the magnitude, and they thought it had passed by!"

I guess all those dire warnings from the National Weather Service before Katrina made landfall that caused Bush and the governors to declare states of emergency were just hallucinations. And who besides Bush and his spokespeople ever thought the region "dodged the bullet"?

Knight Ridder has done a creditable job of documenting the failures.

There were many other instances of bungling. Federal officials, accustomed to serving a supportive but not commanding role in a disaster, waited for specific requests from state and local officials. Local officials, overwhelmed, trapped by the devastation around them, and unable to survey the damage, couldn't gather the information they needed to make specific requests. Radio communication was impossible and phone service as bad.

"You don't have to be a genius to know when the storm hits, you're going to need water, food, diesel, gasoline, evacuation needs, helicopters, boats, medicine," said Terry Ebbert, New Orleans' director of homeland security. "So why does someone call me up when I don't have any communications and ask me, "What do I need?' The system needed to go into automatic."
On Saturday evening, around dinnertime, the Hurricane Center's Mayfield made a round of phone calls to top state and local officials. He wanted to impress on them the severity of what was about to happen - and to be able to go to sleep that night knowing that he'd done everything in his power to save lives.
Now Mayfield told Nagin, who was having dinner at home with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, that this was the worst hurricane he'd ever seen and that public officials ought to do everything in their power to get people out of the way.

"It scared the crap out of me," Nagin recalled. "I immediately said, `My God, I have to call a mandatory evacuation.'"
As he was speaking, the National Weather Service at 10:11 a.m. [Sunday] issued a warning that Katrina, by then a Category 5 storm - the most severe, with winds of 155 mph or more - would make most of southeast Louisiana "uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer." The forecast predicted "human suffering incredible by modern standards."
At the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters near Tulane University in central New Orleans, the phone call came into the bunker at 5 a.m. Monday, just as the storm was blasting the city. The caller said that there was a breach in the levee along the 17th Street Canal, which runs along the boundary between Orleans and East Jefferson parishes.

No news could have been worse. The levees were the reason that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting the city had long been considered one of the nation's most likely catastrophes-in-waiting.
Mayor Nagin told reporters there were unconfirmed reports of a breach on the 17th Street Canal during a 1 p.m. news conference.


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