proof government doesnt work and wont protect us!

Bush was forewarned of Katrina, tape shows

Margaret Ebrahim and John Solomon Associated Press Mar. 2, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - 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 although 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 expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous 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.

The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the video footage.

"I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," said presidential spokesman Trent Duffy, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Bush signed before the storm made landfall.

"He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times," Duffy added.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a critic of the administration's Katrina response, watched the footage on Wednesday.

"I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now," Nagin said.

"I was listening to what people were saying: They didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape, it looks like everybody was fully aware."

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," the National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned on the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the 'fog of war' defense," Brown said in an interview on 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 floodwaters into New Orleans.

He later clarified, saying officials wrongly believed after the storm passed that the levees had survived.

But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm and that 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 (Texas) 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 show 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, with his elbows on a table, appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas.

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 Katrina's reach, for a bird-flu event.

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