In the midst of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official in New Orleans sent a dire e-mail to Director Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying. No response came from Brown.
Instead, less than three hours later, an aide to Brown sent an e-mail saying her boss wanted to go on a television program that night after needing at least an hour to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge, La., restaurant.
The e-mails were made public Thursday at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing featuring Marty Bahamonde, the first agency official to arrive in New Orleans in advance of the Aug. 29 storm. The hurricane killed more than 1,200 people and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate.
Oy. Judging from the emails, Michael Brown was much, much worse than anyone thought. (And we thought it was pretty bad.) Meanwhile, a piece by Richard Clarke in the Atlantic Monthly gets at the point regarding the dismal response to Katrina:
Imagine if, in advance of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of trucks had been waiting with water and ice and medicine and other supplies. Imagine if 4,000 National Guardsmen and an equal number of emergency aid workers from around the country had been moved into place, and five million meals had been ready to serve. Imagine if scores of mobile satellite-communications stations had been prepared to move in instantly, ensuring that rescuers could talk to one another. Imagine if all this had been managed by a federal-and-state task force that not only directed the government response but also helped coordinate the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other outside groups.
Actually, this requires no imagination: it is exactly what the Bush administration did a year ago when Florida braced for Hurricane Frances. Of course the circumstances then were very special: it was two months before the presidential election, and Florida’s twenty-seven electoral votes were hanging in the balance. It is hardly surprising that Washington ensured the success of “the largest response to a natural disaster we’ve ever had in this country.” The president himself passed out water bottles to Floridians driven from their homes.