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History > 2005 > USA > Natural disasters > Hurricane Katrina > FEMA (VII)

 

 

 

 

Herbert Freeman Jr. and Veronica White

before the funeral service for his mother, Ethel Freeman.

 

Photograph:

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

December 17, 2005

 

Louisiana's Deadly Storm Took Strong as Well as the Helpless

NYT, 18.12.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/18/national/nationalspecial/18victims.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana's Deadly Storm Took Strong

as Well as the Helpless

 

December 18, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN
and JANET ROBERTS

 

NEW ORLEANS - More than 100 of them drowned. Sixteen died trapped in attics. More than 40 died of heart failure or respiratory problems, including running out of oxygen. At least 65 died because help - shelter, water or a simple dose of insulin - came too late.

A study by The New York Times of more than 260 Louisianans who died during Hurricane Katrina or its aftermath found that almost all survived the height of the storm but died in the chaos and flooding that followed.

Of those who failed to heed evacuation orders, many were offered a ride or could have driven themselves out of danger - a finding that contrasts with earlier reports that victims were trapped by a lack of transportation. Most victims were 65 or older, but of those below that age, more than a quarter were ill or disabled.

The results are not necessarily representative of the 1,100 people who died in the storm-ravaged part of the state. The 268 deaths examined by The Times were not chosen through a scientific or random sample, but rather were selected on the basis of which family members could be reached, and which names had been released by state officials.

Nonetheless, the study represents the most comprehensive picture to date of the Louisiana victims of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures. The Times conducted more than 200 interviews with relatives, neighbors and friends of the victims, and culled information from local coroners and medical examiners, census data, obituaries, and news articles.

The interviews add narrative and nuance to what has been a largely anonymous or purely statistical casualty list. Relatives were able to explain that what might have been listed as a simple drowning was really a tragic end to a rescue, or that medical care just a few minutes earlier might have meant the difference between life and death.

In New Orleans almost three-quarters of the black victims examined by The Times and almost half the white victims lived in neighborhoods where the average income was below $43,000, the city's overall average. In New Orleans, the median income for whites is almost twice what it is for blacks. Many, if not most, were Louisiana natives, and virtually all were members of the working class - nurses, janitors, barbers, merchant marines.

Among them was Althea Lala, 76, who suffered a heart attack while trying to saw through her roof. Prosper Louis Flint, blind, diabetic and dehydrated, was one of at least 19 people who died in the hot sun on Interstate 10, according to the state health department, waiting for help to come. Donise Marie Davis, 28, fell to her death from the rope of a rescue helicopter. Todd Lopez, 42, pushed his girlfriend's family into an attic before the water overtook him. Paul Haynes, 78, told his wife, "Marge, don't worry about me. I know how to survive."

State officials have released the names of only 512 victims - fewer than half the estimated deaths in the state - and have provided just a skeletal demographic breakdown, showing that most were 65 or older, about half were black and about half were female. Despite repeated requests, neither state officials nor the coroner of Orleans Parish, where the bulk of the deaths occurred, have released causes of death, and Louisiana death certificates are not a matter of public record.

More than 60 families told The Times that they still did not know how or in some cases even where their loved ones perished. As a result, a full portrait remains impossible.

The Times's examination encompassed about 175 of the approximately 360 New Orleans residents so far identified, along with about 60 people who died in the surrounding parishes and about 50 evacuees. One in the group was the victim of a criminal homicide.

"It's ironic that you can survive a storm," but still die, said Velda Smith, who lost her sister-in-law and three teenage nieces to the floodwaters. On the day they drowned, she said, "everything was fine. The sun was shining." Then the Industrial Canal's levee broke, prompting a panicked call by one of her nieces to their father. The girls, Kendra and Kendricka Smooth and Doneika Lewis, were spending the night at their aunt Ersell Smooth's house on Flood Street in the devastated Ninth Ward.

"The girls were hysterical," Ms. Smith said. "The water was rising so fast. Then the phone went dead. They did not know how to swim." By the time their father got to his own front door, the water was already rising in his house. He, his wife and four other children made it to a neighbor's house and were airlifted to safety.

Because of bodies that washed away or have not yet been found, a full accounting of the dead may not be available for months or even years. But more than 1,400 victims from along the Gulf Coast have been counted, including some who evacuated and whose deaths may later be determined to be unrelated to the storm.

Bodies were found floating alongside refrigerators, wedged under furniture, lashed to telephone poles or covered by makeshift shrouds. School buses arrived at shelters with some of their passengers already dead. The deaths tell of individual stubbornness, helplessness and selflessness, shortsighted government policy, and the hardships of poverty, aging and disability.

Some victims became emblematic of the horror in New Orleans and the inefficiency of the government response. There was Vera Smith, whose improvised grave proclaimed, "Here lies Vera. God help us." Ethel Freeman, slumped in her wheelchair under a plaid blanket outside the convention center. Xavier Bowie, a lung cancer patient whose girlfriend cried over his body in the street. Alcede Jackson, who lay on his front porch, in full view, until Sept. 12, and still has not been released by the central morgue. And withered, frail Edgar Hollingsworth, 74, whose rescue more than two weeks after the hurricane provided a rare glimmer of good news. Two days later, he died.

For each of those, hundreds died in obscurity. In the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where a deadly wall of water surged down streets and swept houses off their foundations, Karnettia Jacko, 26, slipped from her husband's grasp and sank into the murky water, relatives said. Her mother, 51-year-old Brenda Andrews, grabbed for her daughter and fell in as well. As the rest of the family watched from the roof, their bodies bobbed to the surface.

In Lakeview, Yvette Pereira, 54, died in her attic hours after the Coast Guard called her cellphone to say they were in the neighborhood but could not locate the house. An hour later, her 11-year-old daughter, Alexandra, who had been by Ms. Pereira's side for two days, was rescued.

Vanessa Pereira, Alexandra's grown sister and, now, her caretaker, had been evacuated but used her cellphone to stay in contact with her mother during the ordeal and made dozens of calls to find help. "I was just telling them stuff like, 'She's having a heart attack. She's with an 11-year-old child, you can't let this happen,' " Vanessa Pereira said. "The rescue people that were talking to me were crying."

Ms. Pereira said she lost more than her mother and her home - she lost her "false sense of protection," the notion that the government would be there to help in a crisis.

While the state's list of victims shows that a vast majority died alone, 31 families in the Times study lost more than one member. Anna Bonono, 85 and sick with cancer, died with her 80-year-old brother and caretaker, Luke Bonono. Their house was destroyed. "The house had been the family home for years," Rosalie Bonono, a niece, said. "It's like this family has been erased because of one hurricane."

Water - rising as fast as a foot every 10 minutes - overtook many who thought the worst had passed. In St. Bernard Parish, just east of the city, Joan Emerson, 57, was on the phone with her son at midmorning on Monday when he heard her screaming, then the phone went dead, a family friend said. Her body was found 18 days later.

In Arabi, the St. Bernard town adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, the water came so fast that Kenneth Young did not have time to save his wife of 56 years, Gloria, who was partly paralyzed and bedridden, relatives said. He stayed with her until the last possible moment, watching her drown before he narrowly escaped to the attic, where the couple's daughter waited.

Of the 126 people who were not in a nursing home or hospital, yet did not evacuate, only 25 families said transportation was an issue - although there could be many more such victims, because the Times study was less likely to include the homeless or those with no driver's license or other official documents. Others said the victims refused to leave because they had survived earlier hurricanes, were worried about their property or pets, or were simply obstinate. At least one victim tried to leave town, got stuck in traffic, and returned home.

Clarence Fleming, 64, had two amputated legs, but still told each of his family members he was riding with someone else and stayed in his home in the Lakeview section of New Orleans. Hannah Polmer said her 64-year-old mother, Rachel Polmer, simply felt safest in her own home. "Elderly syndrome," the daughter called it. Not including hospital patients or nursing home residents, two-thirds of those who did not leave were over 60. Thirty were ill or disabled.

Many said that mandatory evacuation orders came too late, or that leaving, even with transportation, was not a simple matter for older residents. LeShawn Hains could not find a special-needs shelter for her mother, Gilda, who was on oxygen and had heart and lung trouble. Eddie Cherrie Jr. stayed behind with his mother, Onelia, who relied on a walker and blood pressure medication. "It's true nothing stopped us from leaving," he said. "But also, it's not that easy to leave with a 91-year-old woman."

They survived the storm but were later taken by helicopter to the airport, where officials separated a badly dehydrated Ms. Cherrie from her son, leaving her to die alone, he said. Mr. Cherrie said if the levees had not broken, she would have survived. "That's malfeasance," he said.

For many, routine maladies turned fatal. Melvin Alexie Jr., 47, developed a mastoid infection in his ear after the storm. His father took him to Charity Hospital, which he said was too overwhelmed to help. A trip to a Federal Emergency Management Agency center proved fruitless as well, and Mr. Alexie died on Sept. 13 in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb. Edward Starks, 58, ran out of insulin at the convention center, his aunt, Dorothy Guy, said.

For others, help simply came too late, according to relatives. Earl Balthazar, 72, slipped out of his life jacket and drowned just as help arrived. Eunice Breaux, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, was trapped with 15 other people on the third floor of a home. Five days after the storm, a boat finally came and dropped them off on a levee, where Ms. Breaux, 76, died. Her death certificate says she drowned, a finding her family disputes.

Many family members said that although their older relatives were nearing the end of their lives, they had the right to peaceful, dignified deaths.

Louis Orduna Sr., a decorated World War II veteran, was 90 but in great shape, said his nephew, Jack Bunn. "His son begged him to get out," Mr. Bunn said. "He refused to leave. He felt he'd be safe there - he had no idea."

The water was up to his roof within nine minutes of the levee break.

"Every tooth in his head, every hair on his head was still there," Mr. Bunn said. "To go like that, drowning like a rat, it's terrible. It's not the way an individual like that was supposed to go."

Shaila Dewan reported from New Orleans for this article, and Janet Roberts from New York. Reporting for this article was contributed by Lara Coger, Micah Cohen, Brenda Goodman, Lily Koppel and Lee Roberts. Research was provided by Donna Anderson, Jack Begg, Nick Bhasin, Happy Blitt, Alain Delaquérière, Sandra Jamison, Toby Lyles, Jack Styczynski, Carolyn Wilder and Margot Williams.

Louisiana's Deadly Storm Took Strong as Well as the Helpless,
NYT,
18.12.2005,
https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/18/
us/louisianas-deadly-storm-took-strong-as-well-as-the-helpless.html

 

 

 

 

 

Lawmakers Question

Louisiana Governor

on Storm Response and Preparation

 

December 15, 2005
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - On a trip intended to drive home her state's urgent need for billions of dollars in additional federal aid, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana came under sharp questioning from Republican lawmakers on Wednesday about her handling of the prehurricane evacuation of New Orleans and the postflood rescue effort.

In a hearing by a special House committee investigating the preparations and response to Hurricane Katrina, Republicans repeatedly asked Governor Blanco, a Democrat, why she had not ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans 48 hours before the storm's landfall. An earlier evacuation, they said, might have forced poor, elderly and hospitalized people to leave the city.

"You are aggressively making an excuse when no excuse should be given," Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said in one of several heated exchanges between committee members and Ms. Blanco. "It should have been mandatory. It should have happened sooner. And I think that the fact that you don't recognize that is more troubling to me than I can express."

Ms. Blanco fiercely defended the evacuation effort, saying it moved 92 percent of the region's population to safe ground in barely 24 hours. And she questioned whether an earlier order - New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation the day before the storm hit - would have helped, asserting that many who stayed behind believed "they were tougher than the storm."

The hearing came as Ms. Blanco, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans were in Washington to lobby Congress and the Bush administration to support a wide-ranging aid package.

The centerpiece of their campaign is a $35 billion relief package that is likely to be offered as an amendment to a military appropriations bill. The package, which is being shepherded by Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, would double a $17 billion plan for the Gulf Coast that President Bush proposed earlier this year.

Mr. Cochran's measure, which is still being negotiated, includes money for people without flood insurance whose homes were damaged. It would also provide loans or grants to businesses and farms hurt by the storm. It would increase federal aid to schools that have absorbed large numbers of evacuated students. And it includes additional money for levee reconstruction.

On Wednesday, Ms. Blanco tried to use her testimony to prod lawmakers to support the aid package, which may come to a vote this week.

"In light of all the money the United States has forgiven foreign debtors, in light of the billions of federal dollars poured into New York after 9/11, into California after the earthquakes, and into Florida after Andrew, surely we are entitled to no less," Ms. Blanco said in her opening statement.

But faced with an onslaught of criticism, she later sounded a note of exasperation, telling Republicans that their focus on the evacuation seemed like "an excuse not to help us in the future."

On Wednesday the committee also issued a subpoena to the Defense Department for documents relating to its preparations and response to Hurricane Katrina. It rejected a Democratic proposal to subpoena the White House for similar records.

Though it seems likely that Congress will approve an aid package before it adjourns for the holidays, the size of that package - and the way it is divided between Mississippi and Louisiana - is the focus of intense closed-door negotiations.

Louisiana officials have raised concerns that Mississippi, whose governor and two senators are Republicans, will receive preferential treatment. Senate Republican officials deny that.

The package also faces opposition from the Bush administration and some fiscal conservatives in Congress who say it is too expensive. Though part of the $35 billion could be paid for by reallocating some of the $62 billion in hurricane relief approved by Congress earlier this year, part of it would have to be offset by spending cuts to other programs, the White House has told Mr. Cochran.

Even as Ms. Blanco made her case for additional aid, she was battered by sharp questions and biting criticism from Republicans who wondered why the state had not pre-positioned resources near flood zones or used the National Guard to force residents to evacuate.

Representative Henry Bonilla, Republican of Texas, said Ms. Blanco needed to counter the image that Louisiana was "a picture of dysfunction and confusion" after the storm. There is "Katrina fatigue" across the nation that might make lawmakers hesitant to increase assistance, Mr. Bonilla said.

After the hearing, Ms. Blanco told reporters: "They are losing sympathy. And we don't need sympathy. What we need is understanding, and then we need action."

Lawmakers Question Louisiana Governor on Storm Response and Preparation, NYT, 15.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/national/nationalspecial/15katrina.html?fta=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Releases Details

on Deaths From Hurricane Katrina and Later Flooding

NYT

10.12.2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/10/national/nationalspecial/10victims.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana Releases Details

on Deaths From Hurricane Katrina

and Later Flooding

 

December 10, 2005
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN

 

Nineteen bodies were found on the overpass where Interstates 610 and 10 split, where they were dumped or where people died while waiting to be rescued. Nearly 80 people died in pairs, found together in or near their houses.

A vast majority of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee breaks in New Orleans died alone.

Those were some of the details gleaned from a list of locations showing where victims' bodies had been found that Louisiana officials released yesterday. The list, which officials cautioned was incomplete and uncorrected, gave more than 800 addresses, including those of hospitals and nursing homes with multiple deaths.

Unsurprisingly, many bodies were in the neighborhoods that face Lake Pontchartrain and that were inundated after floodwalls gave way: Lakeview, with 40; Gentilly, 81; and New Orleans East, 97, including 13 at the Lafon Nursing Home of the Holy Family.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, where the Industrial Canal breached its levee, 72 bodies were found.

The list does not distinguish between people who died because of the storm and those already dead. The highest number of bodies, 58, was at 2700 Tulane Avenue, the location of the city morgue.

Thirty-nine bodies were found at the Lindy Boggs Medical Center.

The list does not include the number of bodies found at Memorial Hospital, where officials confirmed finding 45 bodies two weeks after the storm. Officials with Tenet Healthcare, the hospital operator, have said about 10 of those people died before the storm.

The list does appear to have inaccuracies. It says, for example, that 32 people died at 2725 Bayou Road, the address of Fernandez Nursing Home. But a spokesman for the Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department, Robert Johannessen, said there had been 32 deaths at St. Rita's Nursing Home, at 1422 East State Route 46, and not at Fernandez.

The list may also indicate points where bodies were collected rather than where people died, Mr. Johannessen said. It shows, for example, that 44 bodies were at Interstate 10 and St. Charles Avenue, near the convention center, where a collection site was set up.

Mr. Johannessen said the list would be revised and updated.

Bodies continue to be retrieved as residents return to their houses. Some families have complained that the initial search for the dead was not thorough.

Louisiana now counts 1,075 bodies among the dead from Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi had 230 deaths.

The recovery and identification of the dead has been criticized as being painfully slow, with 243 bodies still unidentified. After interagency fighting over who should pay for DNA tests, the first bone samples were sent yesterday to a laboratory, Mr. Johannessen said.

Of the 905 bodies examined at the central morgue set up by federal officials, 511 have been released for burial. Half of those were black, and almost all of the rest were white, according to State Health Department statistics. The latest breakdown, conducted when 488 victims had been released, showed that 248 were men and 240 were women. Most of the deaths, 360, were in New Orleans.

Louisiana Releases Details on Deaths From Hurricane Katrina and Later Flooding,
NYT, 10.12.2005,
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/10/national/nationalspecial/10victims.html

 

 

 

 

 

Officials' Memos After Storm

Vividly Spell Out Their Fears

 

December 7, 2005
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (AP) - Faced with a growing body count and shortages of food, water and ice, federal emergency officials braced for riots in Mississippi in the first days after Hurricane Katrina, newly released documents reveal.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency knew that their response system had been shattered by the hurricane, which struck on Aug. 29, and were unable to provide fast help, according to the documents. They were part of eight pages of correspondence among FEMA officials that were provided on Monday by a special House committee investigating the government's response to the storm.

On Tuesday, the committee heard from storm victims who said racism contributed to a slow response.

In the correspondence, William Carwile, then FEMA's top responder in Mississippi, said in a Sept. 1 e-mail message to officials at the agency's headquarters, "This is unlike what we have seen before."

Mr. Carwile was describing difficulties in getting body bags and refrigerated trucks to Hancock County, Miss., which was badly damaged by the storm. He wrote that he had authorized the county to buy refrigeration trucks because "the coroner was going to have to start putting bodies out in the parking lot."

The next day, in another e-mail message about substandard levels of food, water and ice being distributed in Mississippi, Mr. Carwile reported, "System appears broken."

In a Sept. 1 exchange, Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional response official, warned headquarters that the expected levels of water and ice being sent were far below needs.

"If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots," Mr. Fenton wrote.

Responding, Mr. Carwile wrote, "Turns out this report is true." He continued: "There seems to be no way we will get commodities in amounts beyond those indicated below. And it turns out these shortfalls were known much earlier in the day and we were not informed."

"Will need big-time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow," he wrote.

The release of the correspondence followed the release last week by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana of more than 100,000 documents. The House Government Reform Committee is reviewing thousands of documents from officials involved in the relief effort.

On Tuesday, black victims of the hurricane told the committee that racism had contributed to the slow response to the disaster.

Evacuees described being trapped in temporary shelters, where one New Orleans resident said she was "one sunrise from being consumed by maggots and flies."

"No one is going to tell me it wasn't a race issue," said the resident, Patricia Thompson, 53, an evacuee now living in College Station, Tex. "Yes, it was an issue of race. Because of one thing: when the city had pretty much been evacuated, the people that were left there mostly was black."

Officials' Memos After Storm Vividly Spell Out Their Fears, NYT, 7.12.2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/07/national/nationalspecial/07hearings.html

 

 

 

 

 

FEMA admitted broken Katrina reponse,

feared Mississippi riots, letters show

 

Posted 12/5/2005

6:58 PM Updated 12/5/2005 7:16 PM

USA Today

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — FEMA realized its response to Hurricane Katrina was "broken" and braced for rioting over woefully low supplies in Mississippi in the days just after the storm, according to new documents released Monday.

The correspondence among Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, provided by a special House committee investigating the government response to the storm, follows the release last week of more than 100,000 documents by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Taken together, the details from both states provide evidence that FEMA was unable to provide fast help at disaster sites — even when the needs were obvious.

"This is unlike what we have seen before," William Carwile, former FEMA's top responder in Mississippi, said in a Sept. 1 e-mail to officials at the agency's headquarters. He was describing difficulties in getting body bags and refrigerated trucks to Hancock County, Miss., which was badly damaged by the Aug. 29 storm.

"I personnally (sic) authorized Hancock County to buy refer (sic) truck that had been carrying ice becasue (sic) the coroner was going to have to start putting bodies out in the parking lot as his cooler was getting so full," wrote Carwile, who has since retired from FEMA. "Still lots and lots of bodies out there."

The next day, in another e-mail to headquarters about substandard levels of food, water and ice being distributed in Mississippi, Carwile reported: "System appears broken."

In a Sept. 1 exchange, FEMA regional response official Robert Fenton warned headquarters that the expected levels of water and ice being sent were far below what was needed.

"If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots," Fenton wrote.

Responding, Carwile wrote: "Turns out this report is true. .... There seems to be no way we will get commodities in amounts beyond those indicated below. And it turns out these shortfalls were known much earlier in the day and we were not informed.

"Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow," Carwile's e-mail continued. "All our goodwill here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is."

The special House committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., released eight pages of e-mails. While some Democrats are participating, their party leaders have asked lawmakers to boycott the inquiry that they believe should be done by an independent commission.

In all, the House committee is reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents from local, state and federal officials who were involved in the disaster relief effort.

The Louisiana documents released late Friday revealed delays and state claims that requests for federal help weren't received, and reflected partisan battling between the Republican Bush administration and Blanco, a Democrat.

The Mississippi documents, though only a handful were released, showed no political tensions between local officials and Washington. But FEMA officials in the state were among the first to admit that needs weren't being met.

"Gulfport Ms only has enough commodities for roughly 3 hours distribution tomorrow," FEMA deputy chief of staff Scott Morris wrote in an e-mail sent at 11:46 p.m. on Aug. 29 — just hours after the storm roared ashore. "Apparently, the local law enforcement officials have allowed evacuees back into city."

Replying to Carwile's e-mail about body bag shortages, Scott wrote: "Let me know how I can help. 24/7 whatever you need."

The House committee will hold a hearing Wednesday focusing on the response in Mississippi, at which Carwile and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour are scheduled to testify.

"These exchanges point once again to problems of coordination and communication — unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout our investigation," said committee spokesman Robert White.

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said the agency is undergoing an internal review for changes as ordered by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"One of the things we have learned is that our logistic resources weren't up to the task, and the technology that we were using wasn't up to the task." Andrews said. Chertoff "has said that one of his priorities is retooling FEMA and, as part of that, making it a 21st century agency."

    FEMA admitted broken Katrina reponse, feared Mississippi riots, letters show, UT, 5.12.2005,
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-12-05-katrina-documents_x.htm

 

 

 

 

 

In Newly Released Documents,

a View of the Storm After Katrina

 

December 4, 2005
The New York Times
By ERIC LIPTON

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 - It was Thursday, Sept. 1, three days after Hurricane Katrina had ripped across the Gulf Coast. As New Orleans descended into horror, the top aides to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana were certain the White House was trying to blame their boss, and they were becoming increasingly furious.

"Bush's numbers are low, and they are getting pummeled by the media for their inept response to Katrina and are actively working to make us the scapegoats," Bob Mann, Ms. Blanco's communications director, wrote in an e-mail message that afternoon, outlining plans by Washington Democrats to help turn the blame back onto President Bush.

With so much criticism being directed toward the governor, the time had come, her aides told her, to rework her performance. She had to figure out a way not only to lead the state through the most costly natural disaster in United States history, but also to emerge on top somehow in the nasty public relations war.

Drop the emotion, the anger and all those detail-oriented briefings, Ms. Blanco's aides told her. Get out to the disaster zone to visit emergency shelters, and repeat again and again: help is on the way.

"She must temper her anger and frustration," Johnny Anderson, Ms. Blanco's assistant chief of staff, wrote a day after it became widely known that large crowds were suffering at the New Orleans convention center. "We have work too hard to lose the public relations battle."

These candid exchanges are just a few of the glimpses inside Louisiana's highest leadership that emerged late Friday in an extraordinary release of about 100,000 pages of state documents detailing the response to Hurricane Katrina by Ms. Blanco and her staff. The state compiled the documents - including e-mail messages, hand-written notes, correspondence with the White House, and thousands of offers of assistance and desperate pleas for help - at the request of two Congressional committees looking into the state's preparedness and response.

"As we move forward, I believe the public deserves a full accounting of the response at all levels of government to the largest natural disaster in U.S. history," Ms. Blanco said in a statement about the release of the documents.

She said the documents demonstrated "hard-working, sleep-deprived public servants operating under enormous pressure and rapidly changing circumstances." They also show that as Hurricane Katrina approached and inundated New Orleans, Ms. Blanco's top aides realized how quickly it was becoming both a human and a political nightmare.

"This is absolutely the worst-case situation we have long feared," Andy Kopplin, the governor's chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail message to the Blanco administration's top aides the day before the storm hit New Orleans. "Pray for Louisiana citizens as this storm nears."

The correspondence released on Friday apparently received almost no editing, other than the blacking out of certain names and telephone numbers for people not associated with the state government. It includes handwritten notes, audio recordings of conference calls and even a few doodles on legal pads.

Most of the material was scanned into a computer and placed on a state Web site, but access was restricted to members of the news media.

The documents and correspondence put in full light the rivalry between the White House and the governor, a Democrat, along with the rising anger in Louisiana as requests for federal assistance went unanswered.

"We need to keep working to get our national surrogates to explain the facts - that the federal response was anemic and had been shortchanged by budget cuts and avoiding responsibilities like protecting Louisiana levees and wetlands," Mr. Kopplin wrote in one e-mail message a week after the storm hit.

"The governor needs to stay on message, and that is getting people out of New Orleans, provide stability for them and rebuild," Mr. Anderson wrote on Sept. 1. "The governor must look like the leader at all times."

Dana M. Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush never tried to single out Louisiana for blame. But she added that all government agencies bore some fault.

"President Bush has been very clear that all levels of government could have done a better job," Ms. Perino said, "and we are focused on completing our lessons learned and making sure we understand what went wrong and that it never happens again."

The documents also demonstrate the enormous sense of frustration that overcame Ms. Blanco's staff members as they fielded thousands of desperate calls, few of which they were able to act on effectively.

"Whoever is in charge needs to get control of the situation regarding the thousands of people (including elderly, babies, infirmed, etc.) up on I-10 in New Orleans," according to one e-mail message a Blanco aide received from his cousin on Aug. 31, two days after the storm hit. "They need food and water to start with. They seem to be in need of specific direction from the 'powers that be,' at the very least."

The response of another Blanco aide to this plea was similarly exasperated. "I am getting these calls too, and I have buses and water but can't get word on where and how to send," wrote Kim Hunter Reed, director of policy and planning.

Offers of help came in from around the world, including from former President Bill Clinton, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba. ("We cannot let this get out," Mr. Mann, the communications director, wrote about Mr. Castro's offer.)

The sense of growing chaos is evident in the documents, as state officials found themselves unable to handle the onslaught of calls for help and offers of aid, resorting largely to recording them and focusing on the most life-threatening pleas.

There was, for example, the report of 14 elderly people without food or water at the St. Pius X Church in New Orleans. About 300 others stranded at a gym at St. Augustine High School. The news from the mayor of Slidell, near New Orleans, that he was desperate.

"They are unable to make contact with anyone," one e-mail exchange among the governor's aides said, referring to residents of Slidell. "They are under water, major damage and they need someone from the state and FEMA to help them."

And there were many calls from New Orleans residents trapped in attics or on rooftops, after floodwaters rose around their homes.

"We have got to get there," Ms. Reed wrote about St. Bernard, the flooded parish east of New Orleans. "My hubby just came in and said they are getting calls that half the people on the courthouse roof may have died. They have been calling for two days for help, and I personally have taken these calls."

The struggle with Washington and questions of who was in charge - the state or federal government - emerge frequently in the correspondence. It is also clear that Democrats in Washington recognized that the federal response to the storm provided an opportunity to win some political points.

Aides to Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, called Mr. Mann to discuss strategy, a conversation that indirectly included Mike McCurry, the former press secretary to President Clinton, according to one e-mail message.

"By the weekend, the Bush administration will have a full blown PR disaster/scandal on their hands because of the late response to needs in New Orleans," Mr. Mann wrote on Sept. 1, the Thursday after the storm, attributing that observation to Mr. McCurry. The same day, Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans gave an emotional radio interview in which he criticized Mr. Bush for having merely flown over the city in Air Force One.

In the documents, Ms. Blanco and her advisers, as well as some outside allies, defended her decision to reject a request by the Bush administration to take control of the National Guard.

"If Bush and FEMA couldn't deliver meals after 5 days how could LA expect them to take over our Natl Guard and do better job????" John B. Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana who is now a Washington lawyer, wrote in an e-mail message to Mr. Mann.

In the mountain of documents, though, there are also stories of important victories. One involved a woman who had become separated from her newborn, which set off a desperate search at area hospitals. The search ultimately brought the family back together.

"That is the best news I've heard in several days," one state official wrote to Ms. Reed. "These small miracles make the days worth it! God bless!"

 

Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from New York
for this article, Adam Nossiter from New Orleans,
and Gary Rivlin from Baton Rouge, La.

 In Newly Released Documents, a View of the Storm After Katrina, NYT, 4.12.2005,
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/national/nationalspecial/04blanco.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related > Anglonautes > History > Early 21st century

 

Hurricane Katrina > 2-11 September 2005

 

Hurricane Katrina > 12 September - 30 November 2005

 

Hurricane Katrina > Maps

 

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Hurricane Katrina > Diaspora

 

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Related

 

The Guardian > Hurricane Katrina timeline

– how the disaster unfolded 10 years ago - 17 August 2015

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/aug/17/
hurricane-katrina-timeline

 

 

The Guardian > After Katrina: New Orleans then and now

– interactive photographs - 13 August 2015

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/13/
after-katrina-new-orleans-then-and-now-interactive-photographs

 

 

NPR > hurricane Katrina: 10 years of recovery and reflection

http://www.npr.org/series/429056277/
hurricane-katrina-10-years-of-recovery-and-reflection

 

 

USA Today > Hurricane Katrina > Full Coverage

https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/hurricane.htm 

 

 

 

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