Around noon on the day when Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco told the Bush administration that the levees were safe:
"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees... We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time."
In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House's formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.
She reported that floodwaters were rising in parts of the city "where we have waters that are 8 to 10 feet deep, and we have people swimming in there."
"That's got a considerable amount of water itself," the governor said. "That's about all I know right now on the specifics that you haven't heard."
Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Thursday that "our people on the ground were telling us that there could be overtopping and breaching, but it was hard to tell" by the noon briefing.
Another official who was heard but not seen on the video was then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Michael Brown, who was at the federal emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, La. He implored officials to "push the envelope as far as you can," noting that he had already spoken to President Bush twice that day and described the president as "very, very interested in this situation."
"He's very engaged, and he's asking a lot of really good questions I would expect him to ask," Brown said of Bush. "I say that only because I want everyone to recognize ... how serious the situation remains."
According to emails and other documents recently released, no less than twenty-eight government agencies - ranging from the local level all the way up to the White House - knew that the levees had broken on August 29, the day the storm landed.
In fact, "the Bush administration" knew about the failures at 7:30 am NO time [But, see update below]:
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said President Bush and his top aides were fully aware about the massive flooding - and less concerned whether it was caused by levee breaches, overtoppings of failed pumps, all three of which were being reported at the time.
"We knew there was flooding and that's why the No. 1 effort in those early hours was on search and rescue, and saving life and limb," Duffy said.
Shortly after the disaster, Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." He later said his comment was meant to suggest that there had been a false sense of relief that the levees had held when the storm passed, only to break a few hours later.
Democrats said the documents showed there was little excuse for the tardy federal response.
"The first communication came at 8:30 a.m.," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "So it is inexplicable to me how those responsible for the federal response could have woken up Tuesday morning unaware of this obviously catastrophic situation."
The first internal White House communication about levee failures came at 11:13 a.m. on Aug. 29 in a "Katrina Spot Report" by the White House Homeland Security Council.
"Flooding is significant throughout the region and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6-8 feet of water throughout the 9th ward area of the city," the internal report said.
UPDATE: The NYT's "White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm" offers a contradictory tale:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.
"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought - also a number of fires."
...Buses are not among [FEMA's] pre-staged supplies [MREs, cots, etc.].
Within hours of Katrina hitting on Monday [Aug 29], FEMA promised to deliver buses, according to Blanco.
On Tuesday [Aug 30], Blanco aide Leonard Kleinpeter recalled, the governor asked him to start trying to arrange for use of school buses.
FEMA relies on the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has a contract with a provider to locate for-hire buses and other types of transportation and get them to staging areas.
Federal transportation records show FEMA gave the agency the go-ahead at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31. Five hours later, buses were being dispatched from points around the country to LaPlace, 25 miles west of New Orleans, and by midnight some 200 buses had arrived.
By the end of Thursday, there were 657 buses on hand. By Friday there were 935 buses and by Saturday 1,094 buses.
In congressional testimony earlier this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta blamed FEMA for holding up his department's efforts to move people out of New Orleans. He said buses that arrived in the first wave Wednesday sat there because FEMA didn't give orders to move.
"What we heard from drivers who arrived at the rallying point in the first hours of the first day was that dispatch operations of the buses were being handled on a piecemeal basis," said DOT spokesman Brian Turmail.
Questions to FEMA in Washington, D.C., about the bus situation went unanswered...
...the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said yesterday that its official timeline had discounted eyewitness reports by its top official in New Orleans, Col. Richard Wagenaar, confirming a levee breach Monday night. Instead, the Corps said the break was confirmed at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
"We probably had some calls over the period of the night, 'Hey, this might be going on,' " said Lauren Solis, spokeswoman for the Corps task force working in New Orleans, "but with the storm and everything else, we [the Corps's district engineers] went out the first we possibly could, which was daybreak Aug. 30 . . . and confirmed with our own eyes."
According to Bush Adviser Acknowledges Lack of Preparation for Katrina, on the night of Monday August 29, Marty Bahamonde reported to Michael Brown that "he had observed a massive break on the Lake Pontchartrain levee [the 17th Avenue Canal levee] and flooding over 80 percent of the city". Brown told Bahamonde that he would call the White House, but Chertoff denies that Brown told him that.
"The tenor of his discussions on Monday . . . was, this was bad, but it could have been worse," Chertoff said in an interview, adding that he learned of Bahamonde's report only after meeting him personally days later. "There was not a report to me until the following morning that there was a significant breach of the 17th Street levee."
The AP story "Monstrous Hurricane Heads for New Orleans" has a date of Monday, August 29, 2005; 2:50 AM, although what timezone and whether that's accurate is not known. It's also available here under the title "New Orleans flees as Katrina approaches Gulf Coast" and with a date of 8/28/2005 8:02 AM, although I'm pretty sure that's either a mistake or it refers to what used to be at that URL. But, if someone can find exactly when the article was written that would be helpful.
I'm going to try to split it into categories, with the most important item first:
Terry Ebbert, New Orleans director of homeland security, said more than 4,000 National Guardsmen were mobilizing in Memphis and will help police New Orleans streets.
So, what happened to those troops? Under whose command were they? Presumably the state of Tennessee, but you never know.
The head of Jefferson Parish, which includes major suburbs and juts all the way to the storm-vulnerable coast, said some residents who stayed would be fortunate to survive. "I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard," said parish council President Aaron Broussard.
Mayor Ray Nagin said he believed 80 percent of the city's 480,000 residents had heeded an unprecedented mandatory evacuation as Katrina threatened to become the most powerful storm ever to slam the city... Nagin said he expected the pumping system to fail during the height of the storm. The mayor said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was standing by to get the system running, but water levels must fall first. "We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."
The Louisiana Superdome, normally home of professional football's Saints, became the shelter of last resort Sunday for thousands of the area's poor, homeless and frail. Among those who lined up for blocks as National Guardsmen searched them for guns, knives and drugs were residents who hobbled to safety on crutches, canes and stretchers.
(Remember when the "liberals" were complaining about those searches? Oh, those were the days.)
Holding their breath:
By early Monday, there was little more anyone could do but hope. City streets were empty and bars were closed as gusts up to 55 mph were felt. Landfall of the eye was expected around 8 a.m. at Grand Isle, about 60 miles south of New Orleans.
The first devastating effects of the storm were felt in New Orleans around 8AM CDT.
What might happen:
By 1 a.m. EDT, Katrina's eye was 170 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. A hurricane warning was in effect for the north-central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line. The storm held a potential surge of 18 to 28 feet that would easily top New Orleans' hurricane protection levees, as well as bigger waves and as much as 15 inches of rain... For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare scenario a big storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl of a city that's up to 10 feet below sea level in spots and dependent on a network of levees, canals and pumps to keep dry from the Mississippi River on one side, Lake Pontchartrain on the other. ...The fear is that flooding could overrun the levees and turn New Orleans into a toxic lake filled with chemicals and petroleum from refineries, as well as waste from ruined septic systems.
Major highways in New Orleans cleared out late Sunday after more than 24 hours of jammed traffic as people headed inland. At the peak of the evacuation, 18,000 people an hour were streaming out of southeastern Louisiana, state police said... On inland highways in Louisiana and Mississippi, heavy traffic remained the rule into the night as the last evacuees tried to reach safety. In Orange, Texas, Janie Johnson of the American Red Cross described it as a "river of headlights."
In Washington, D.C., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has been advised that the Waterford nuclear plant about 20 miles west of New Orleans has been shut down as a precautionary measure.
Evacuation orders also were posted all along the Mississippi coast, and the area's casinos, built on barges, were closed early Saturday. Bands of wind-whipped rain increased Sunday night and roads in some low areas were beginning to flood... Alabama officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying coastal areas. Mobile Mayor Michael C. Dow said flooding could be worse than the 9-foot surge that soaked downtown during Hurricane Georges in 1998. Residents of several barrier islands in the western Florida Panhandle were also urged to evacuate.
From Hugh Hewitt:
The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center. Garrett has no paper trail yet, but will follow up on his verbal confirmation from sources at the highest levels of the Red Cross.
UPDATE: A transcript is here. Apparently the Red Cross had a "literal vanguard of trucks with water, food, blankets and hygiene items". On Monday or Tuesday ("immediately after the storm passed"), at an as yet unknown time, the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security explicitly told them they couldn't come to the Superdome to distribute those goods.
From the transcript:
HH: Any doubt in the Red Cross' mind that they were ready to go, but they were blocked?
MG: No. Absolutely none. They are absolutely unequivocal on that point.
HH: And are they eager to get this story out there, because they are chagrined by the coverage that's been emanating from New Orleans?
MG: I think they are. I mean, and look. Every agency that is in the private sector, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Feed The Children, all the ones we typically see are aggrieved by all the crap that's being thrown around about the response to this hurricane, because they work hand and glove with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When FEMA is tarred and feathered, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are tarred and feathered, because they work on a cooperative basis. They feel they are being sullied by this reaction...
The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
See also the Sep. 3 article "Homeland Security won't let Red Cross deliver food".
The government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region - and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.
Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.
Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged...
...Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Brown had positioned front-line rescue teams and Coast Guard helicopters before the storm. Brown's memo on Aug. 29 aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications and coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke said.
Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees would focus on helping victims find the help they needed, he said...
...Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."
"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.
Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said.
Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day," Brown wrote.
The same day Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or emergency workers into disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate fire and rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, the airline industry said the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the group could participate in an airlift for refugees.
In addition to all the complaints about the numbers and dates, shouldn't they have been trained well in advance?
As of Sunday, August 28, the blog side of HP hadn't mentioned the hurricane: there's nothing in Arianna's wrapup nor in that from Richard Valeriani.
On Monday, August 29, the very first mention of the hurricane seems to be in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s "For They That Sow the Wind Shall Reap the Whirlwind". From the current version; note the update at the end:
As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi's Gulf Coast, it's worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush's iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2...
...Now we are all learning what it's like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged. Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and--now--Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children.
In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast. [UPDATE: Alas, the reprieve for New Orleans was only temporary. But Haley Barbour still has much to answer for.]
Hopefully someone else can provide a summary of the response to RFK Jr.'s post.
This lack of initial coverage at the HP is despite one of their contributors, Harry Shearer, being a resident of New Orleans. Later that day, he weighed in with "Katrina and the Waves of Fear":
As an adopted New Orleanian, I sat glued to the news channels as the only way of knowing what was happening to my residence, my friends, and my favorite city. Thankfully, nature was kinder to New Orleans than the news channels, particularly Fox. At approximately 7:50 am PDT Monday, an offscreen Fox anchor declared that one of New Orleans' levees had been breached.
Had New Orleans' levee system failed, that presaged very serious flooding for the city.
However, just ten minutes earlier on CNN, a FEMA official stated plainly that the levee system appeared to be holding, and several hours later this Reuters report pinpointed the only levee break as occurring in St. Bernard Parish, which is not New Orleans... [...reporters get locations wrong...]
...But, scaring out of towners about damage to a part of New Orleans they've heard of (no breasts are bared in the CBD, after all) was a higher priority for much of the past two days for the news channels, though MSNBC played it straighter most of the time...
A commenter calls him on his blase coverage, and at 8/30 11:32AM he responds in the comments:
...I had the opportunity to take a "virtual car trip" around much of NO on MOnday, seeing raw tape footage of the city, so I know, as of Monday afternoon, that much of the high ground--the Quarter, certain other areas, had window, sign, sheet metal damage, but no serious flooding. What's breached now, according to a Corps of Engineer spokesman on npr, is a water wall along the 17th St. canal, not a levee. Reporting potential disasters before they happen is not news, it's fear mongering...
A couple hours later, a commenter adds:
Mr. Shearer, CNN and FNC are reporting 80% of the city is under water and the level is rising. (Of course this may just be a ratings stunt.) If you take any actual (rather than virtual) tours for the next few days (or maybe weeks) I would suggest it be a boat tour not a auto tour...
Another commenter mentions HAARP after that comment; note that the first Bush-bashing in those comments appears to have started on 8/30 in the morning.
On August 31, a commenter adds:
I must defend Harry on this one. Everyone got this one wrong. Even today, TUESDAY! I cannot believe the lack of coverage and consistency. Sure, they had the pictures of rescues and damage. That's fine. But I cannot believe they will not really discuss the end of New Orleans. At least the end of New Orleans for a really long time.
Nine Australian tourists were among those in the Superdome; one of them says it was "like being in a Third World country, in a maximum security prison":
Women among their group had been harassed and grabbed by marauding men. Faeces lined the toilet walls. There had been suicides, rapes and murders. It was "like being in a Third World country, in a maximum security prison", Ms Cullington said.
After two days she spoke to her consulate and they were seemingly unaware of the situation, then after another few days:
Their escape from the Superdome had to be clandestine. The tourists left in dribs and drabs, heading for a basketball arena nearby, with the help of an American sergeant.
Some survivors, angry that they were not going too, tried to pull the tourists back inside. "The last people who were walking out the door were grabbed, were screamed at," she said.
A place of refuge became a terrifying trap, where knives and guns, crack cocaine use, threats of violence and racial abuse were rife.
Jamie Trout, 22, who kept a record of his four days there, said: "It was like something out of Lord of the Flies - one minute everything is calm and civil, the next it descends into chaos."
In one diary entry, he said: "A man has been arrested for raping a seven-year-old in the toilet, this place is hell, I feel sick. The smell is horrendous, there are toilets overflowing and people everywhere."
...He said of his eventual Superdome refuge: "There was a lot of heat from the people in there, people shouting racial abuse about us being white.
"The army warned us to keep our bags close to us and to grip them tight."
Jamie, an economics student from Sunderland, said he saw crack cocaine being used in the filthy toilets, youngsters breaking into soft drink machines and men brawling. Urine and excrement spilled into corridors where they were sleeping.
At one point, up to 30 British students gathered in the dome were so terrified of attack when the power went down that they set up a makeshift security cordon...
...Coast Guard Lt Cmdr Cheri Ben-Iesan said at emergency HQ: "Hospitals are trying to evacuate. At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them, telling them, 'You better come get my family'. City leader Mitch Landrieu toured stricken areas and was besieged by rescued people begging him to pass information to their families...
Good news came as eventually many of the students were moved to the nearby basketball arena, thanks to Sgt Garland Ogden, a full-timer with the National Guard...
"He went against a lot of rules to get us moved," she said. Then as soon as she was able, she called her family.
When Jane phoned on Thursday, she had been moved to a Marriott hotel where there was no power - but there was food and water. "It is being used as a Red Cross shelter with the army there too..."