After the destruction waged by Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials claimed they did not know the levees would break, but recent documents released by Congress, as well as a testimony given by FEMA’s former chief, reveal that the administration and local government could have acted sooner because they were warned.Bush administration officials said that they were surprised when the levees broke, but now it is known that they had some warning that the levees would not hold and flooding would worsen.
FEMA official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a levee breach on the morning of Monday, Aug. 29. He telephoned the report to the FEMA headquarters in Washington, which then notified the Homeland Security Department. The e-mail notification sent to the Homeland Security Department on Monday warned that conditions in New Orleans were far worse than expected.
Bahamonde’s report was found in pages of documents recently released by two Congressional committees working to discover why the response to Hurricane Katrina was so sluggish.
Former FEMA Chief, Michael Brown, testified before Congress recently and also blamed administration officials for the inadequate response to the hurricane. He stated during his testimony, which occurred last week, that he spoke to White House officials on Aug. 29 about the severity of the disaster.
During his testimony, Brown also claimed that he was a scapegoat. He was pressured to resign after the disaster.
The Congressional committees also found that other levels of government were incompetent. The New York Times published the other discoveries on Saturday, Feb. 11. According to the report, federal officials knew before the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast that 100,000 people in New Orleans had no way to escape alone if a major hurricane struck.
The report also lays much blame on Michael Chertoff, the head of the Homeland Security Department. The findings by the Congressional committees state that Chertoff did not name a federal official to oversee the response before the hurricane hit.
Blame was also assigned at the local level. The findings stated that Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans originally was going to order an evacuation on Saturday, Aug. 27, before the storm hit. However, the mayor delayed the evacuation until Sunday, making it more difficult for people to escape.
The discoveries released by Congress are chilling. The government at all levels failed to protect its citizens. If the Bush administration knew the levees would break, why didn’t they do anything? Why did the president act so calm and pretend like New Orleans dodged the bullet when the storm first struck? Why didn’t the local government in New Orleans have enough supplies to help evacuees? Why did the mayor delay the evacuation?
The report shows how incompetent and unprepared the government is. If another natural disaster strikes, will thousands of people die? Will others be uprooted? The government has a duty to protect its people, but unfortunately, as the Congressional committees have shown, the government failed with Hurricane Katrina.
Brian Fanelli is a senior majoring in comparative literature with minors in creative writing and journalism.