<\body> Stories in America: White House Remains Silent on Katrina

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

White House Remains Silent on Katrina

I'm posting this again because our news cycle is too fast these days and people who don't have the 'luxury' of checking the news multiple times a day quickly forget about important events.

Documents released yesterday by Congress show that on Aug. 27, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warning forecasts from Homeland Security officials predicting the levees might be breached:
On Aug. 27, two days before the storm made landfall, FEMA had prepared a slide presentation for White House officials. The FEMA slides said a Category 4 storm surge "could greatly overtop levees and protective systems." It's unclear who at the White House received this briefing or how its contents were distributed afterward.

Hours before the storm made landfall, the White House Situation Room received a report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in which experts predicted flooding "could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months." The report also said that hurricane damage could cost $10 billion to $14 billion.
On Sept. 1, President Bush told "Good Morning America": ''I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" that flooded New Orleans.

"When you have a natural disaster, the president needs to be hands-on, and if anyone in his staff gets in the way, he needs to push them away," said Representative Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican and member of the House investigating committee. "The response was pathetic."

Now the White House is refusing to release Katrina documents:
The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

The White House this week also formally notified Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money appropriated by Congress.

The White House's stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.

Yet even Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, objected when administration officials who were not part of the president's staff said they could not testify about communications with the White House.

"I completely disagree with that practice," Ms. Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an interview Tuesday.

"Our fears are turning out to be accurate," Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said Tuesday. "The Bush administration is stonewalling the Congress."
Here's a response from Senator John Kerry. I wonder where this version of Kerry was during the presidential election:
"How is it that the White House Situation Room received detailed warnings 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, that the National Hurricane Center was warning CNN and the world that Katrina could be The Big One, that FEMA reported two days before landfall that Katrina's surge `could greatly overtop levees and protective systems,' destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, require `incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus),' and displace more than a million people - and the President days later still insisted on national television, `I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees' that left 1,300 dead and thousands more homeless?

"Where's the accountability? Where's the compassion?

"Hurricane Katrina stripped away any image of competence and exposed the true heart and nature of this administration. It showed Americans at their best - and our government at its worst.

"Sadly, there's an enormous gap between what Americans deserve and what the government delivers. The shocking weakness of our government to deal with urgent challenges is tragically and dramatically underscored by the information that was being fed into the White House Situation Room, and the lack of response coming from a vacationing president on his ranch in Crawford.

"Beginning with the appointment of an Arabian horse executive to lead America's emergency preparedness in the post-9/11 world, to a president who remained away from the heart of the hurricane's devastation for five days, Katrina is the story of a failure of leadership and its very real human consequences.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if the people running our government in Washington had cared to listen. They didn't listen to the Army Corps of Engineers when they insisted the levees be reinforced. They didn't listen to the countless experts who warned this exact disaster scenario would happen. They didn't listen to years of urgent pleading by Louisianans about the consequences of wetlands erosion in the region, which exposed New Orleans and surrounding parishes to ever-greater wind damage and flooding in a hurricane. They didn't listen when a disaster simulation just last year showed that hundreds of thousands of people would be trapped and have no way to evacuate New Orleans. They didn't listen to those of us who have long argued that our insane dependence on oil as our principle energy source, and our refusal to invest in more efficient engines, left us one big supply disruption away from skyrocketing gas prices that would ravage family pocketbooks, stall our economy, bankrupt airlines, and leave us even more dependent on foreign countries with deep pockets of petroleum. And now it's a proven fact that they didn't listen when everyone was warning that Katrina was The Big One Louisianans had long dreaded. They didn't even abandon their vacations.

"The people of the Gulf Coast got more of the same hurricane force spin and deception when they needed action and compassion. To say it's an outrage is the understatement of the year - right up there with Brownie and his `heck of a job.'"


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