History > 2005 > USA > Natural
disasters > Hurricane Katrina > FEMA (VII)
Herbert Freeman Jr. and Veronica White
before the funeral service for his mother, Ethel Freeman.
Stephan Savoia/Associated Press
December 17, 2005
Louisiana's Deadly Storm Took Strong as Well
as the Helpless
Louisiana's Deadly Storm Took Strong
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
on Deaths From Hurricane Katrina and Later Flooding
Louisiana Releases Details
on Deaths From
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
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,
Officials' Memos After Storm
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
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
"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,
FEMA admitted broken Katrina reponse,
feared Mississippi riots, letters show
6:58 PM Updated 12/5/2005 7:16 PM
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
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
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,"
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
"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
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
"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."
broken Katrina reponse, feared Mississippi riots, letters show, UT, 5.12.2005,
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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.
Newly Released Documents, a View of the Storm After Katrina, NYT, 4.12.2005,
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