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"Brown Asserts He Alerted White House Quickly on Katrina"

From this:

Michael D. Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, testified today that he let senior White House staffers know as soon as he had heard that flooding had begun in New Orleans on the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Mr. Brown also called claims by top officials at the Department of Homeland Security that they weren't aware of levee breaches until the next day " just baloney."
Mr. Brown said that homeland security officials were being regularly updated by reports delivered through video conference calls, and that he personally contacted White House officials.
"My obligation was to the White House and to make sure the president knows what's going on," he said, "and I did that."

Some of the emails are in this PDF file.
Regarding one of the emails, the following remains to be verified:

- Brian Besanceney, author of the email, is the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security
- Cynthia Bergman is an EPA spokeswoman
- Jeff Karonis is the Director of Incident Communications for DHS Public Affairs
- William R. "Russ" Knocke is a DHS spokesman
- Chad Boudreaux is Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at DHS
- Ashley Cannati is Counselor to the Deputy Secretary, Office of the Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security

Agencies knew about levee breaks within hours after landfall

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."

Is Michael Brown free to tell all?

It appears the White House has cut him loose and have given the word that they won't defend him. And, he's asking whether he can now tell all that he knows:

Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.
Brown's stance, in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, follows senators' complaints that the White House is refusing to answer questions or release documents about advice given to Bush concerning the August 29 storm.
In a February 6 letter to White House counsel Harriet Miers, Brown's lawyer wrote that Brown continues to respect Bush and his "presidential prerogative" to get candid and confidential advice from top aides.
The letter from Andrew W. Lester also says Brown no longer can rely on being included in that protection because he is a private citizen.
"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications," the lawyer wrote.
Brown's desire "is that all facts be made public."
White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on the letter, instead pointing to remarks two weeks ago in which Bush avoided directly including Brown among his advisers...

FEMA putting smily face on trailer parks?

Freelance writer Chuck Hustmyre tried to visit a FEMA trailer park in Baton Rouge and got the run-around. None of the FEMA employees would allow him to interview residents. While a certain part of that is no doubt due to a concern for their privacy, there might also be something else involved.
Named "Renaissance Village", it appears to have a flourishing drug trade and various other forms of crime. And, it's alleged that employees of the park have made off with donated items like turkeys.
Long recount here (also here).

FEMA failed to use all available resources

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has released FEMA documents showing yet another series of lapses in their response. "Hundreds of available trucks, boats, planes and federal officers were unused in search and rescue efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit because FEMA failed to give them missions".
The ever-dependable DHS spokesman Russ Knocke says:

Katrina "pushed our capabilities and resources to the limit - and then some."

FEMA also called off their search and rescue operations three days after the storm hit, apparently because they were concerned for the safety of the rescuers. However, that might have just been a temporary suspension and Knocke says which it was will be determined later. From the email sent before the suspension:

"All assets have ceased operation until National Guard can assist TFs (task forces) with security."

See also "FEMA suspends PHX SAR team over bringing in own security" and "Canadian SAR team describes rioting, looting"
More:

Responding to a questionnaire posed by investigators, Interior Department Assistant Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett said her agency offered to supply FEMA with 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, 300 boats, 11 aircraft and 400 law enforcement officers to help search and rescue efforts.
"Although the department possesses significant resources that could have improved initial and ongoing response, many of these resources were not effectively incorporated into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina," Scarlett wrote in the response, dated Nov. 7.
Scarlett added: "Although we attempted to provide these assets through the process established by the [National Response Plan], we were unable to efficiently integrate and deploy those resources."
At one point, Scarlett's letter said, FEMA asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to help with search and rescue in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and St. Tammany Parish but that the rescuers "never received task assignments." The agency, a branch of the Interior Department, apparently went ahead anyway, according to the letter, which said that Fish and Wildlife helped rescue 4,500 people in the first week after Katrina.
Other Interior Department resources that were offered, but unused, included flat-bottom boats for shallow-water rescues. "Clearly these assets and skills were precisely relevant in the post-Katrina environment," Scarlett wrote.
Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, said up to 60,000 federal employees were sent to the Gulf Coast to response to Katrina. However, "experience has shown that FEMA was not equipped with 21st century capabilities, and that is what (Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff) has committed as one of our top priorities going forward," he said.

They're always looking forward, and getting control over things, aren't they? Of course, competent administrations would actually try to get things right the first time.

"White House Got Early Warning on Katrina"; local officials get pass

At 1:47 a.m. (Eastern) on Aug. 29 the White House's situation room received an email from the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) containing a dire assessment of Katrina's likely impact, the WaPo breathlessly reports:

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.

The assessment was 41 pages. In other words, it had probably been prepared well before Aug 29. In other words, it's not like the White House was suddenly presented with stunning new information; that info had been "in the system" for a while.

In a second document, also obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of "Hurricane Pam," a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.
The hurricane's Category 4 storm surge "could greatly overtop levees and protective systems" and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted "incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)" and the displacement of more than a million residents.

That also represented information that was in the system. Obvious to all but the WaPo and Democrats, this was a systemic failure involving all levels of government and not just one specific to the White House.

11/16: Kenyon stops collecting bodies; history of their involvement

As of mid-November, the number of recoveries had dwindled to a one or two a week, and Kenyon International Emergency Services' contract to do collections ended around that time.
The backstory is in this story from 11/16:

Kenyon... first arrived in the storm-ravaged region Sept. 7 as a short-term contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Six days later the company signed a contract with the state after nearly pulling out of Louisiana entirely because of what a top executive characterized as government "roadblocks" that thwarted recovery teams' ability to maintain professional standards.
The deal was sealed amid cries from Gov. Kathleen Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., and U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, that too few people were handling the dead, some of whose bodies lay exposed in the streets. FEMA policy prohibited tens of thousands of National Guard troops and municipal police officers on the ground at the time from touching the bodies, except to tag them and report their locations to higher authorities.
Since mid-September, Johannessen said he has not fielded any complaints about Kenyon, which worked at the World Trade Center site in 2001 and retrieved the bodies of Australian citizens in Thailand after last year's tsunami. He said the state expects to be fully reimbursed by the federal government for the cost of Kenyon's contract.
The company collected more than 800 bodies, mostly from Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, and brought them to St. Gabriel, state officials said. As of Nov. 9, the tally of hurricane deaths had reached 1,056, with 883 bodies examined at St. Gabriel...

Turf wars, Chertoff, Ridge to blame for FEMA woes and not Michael Brown?

The WaPo offers "Brown's Turf Wars Sapped FEMA's Strength" says that the new DHS under Tom Ridge trimmed FEMA's budget, making it a shadow of its former self. FEMA head Michael Brown was a turf warrior who tried to use his White House connections to undercut the DHS, but they didn't support him:

In many ways, Brown is a cautionary tale of what can happen to Washington officials who make mistakes in the public eye after making enemies behind the scenes. Brown spent two years trying to use his contacts with White House officials to undercut DHS, but the White House rarely backed him, and DHS leaders responded by shifting FEMA's responsibilities and resources to more cooperative agencies.
Ridge stripped FEMA's power over billions of dollars worth of preparedness grants as well as the creation of a national disaster response plan. Most of the agency's top staff quit. And after he arrived at DHS in February, Chertoff decided to take away the rest of FEMA's preparedness duties.

The rest of it goes into rather disgusting bureaucratic soap opera. For instance:

"[Brown] fought being part of DHS from Day One," another top DHS official recalled.
Brown got his way on the name; Ridge and his brand-conscious aides had to admit that "FEMA" sounded better than "EP&R." But when Brown sent a memo urging Ridge to defy Congress and move the ODP into FEMA, Ridge refused.

St. Bernard Parish: people living in cars, barns, tents

St. Bernard Parish president, Henry "Junior" Rodriguez, says they need 12,000 trailers, but only a small percentage of that amount have been set up:

...1,400 trailers are sitting unused in St. Bernard Parish. The parish ordered them from a private contractor days after the hurricane hit on August 29, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not agreed to pay for them.
There are also more than 5,000 FEMA mobile homes in Arkansas sitting unused, CNN has learned.
FEMA responded Tuesday, telling CNN it is ready to deliver 125,000 trailers to the area but that parish officials "still have to identify places to put them."

From the pull-up-your-socks file, Rodriguez says:

"We got a serious situation in St. Bernard Parish... We got people living in tents and automobiles. We got people living in barns. We got people living in their houses -- in tents... This is the beginning of winter. This is unacceptable."

It's certainly unacceptable from the standpoint that those residents have paid for such federal assistance through taxation. However, perhaps it would be best for all concerned if they considered how this would have been handled a hundred years ago: residents would have gotten together and helped each other out rather than simply giving up and relying on the federal government.

Aides worried over Blanco's image

A set of emails released by Congress show Blanco's aides offering wardrobe and image advice:

...In a Sept. 4 e-mail exchange, top Blanco aides bristled at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's remark that the federal government "is in control of New Orleans."
"Our answer is the National Guard is in charge of security under her direction," Blanco chief of staff Andy Kopplin wrote. "The mayor is in charge of the city. The governor is in charge of the state and the guard and security. The federal government is now meeting important missions that it has."
The next day, two Blanco press staffers appealed to other senior aides to stop travel that would have had the governor leaving the state on a day when President Bush was scheduled to be there.
"Reinforces the notion that she's not in charge and LA (Louisiana) needs to be federalized," wrote Blanco press secretary Denise Bottcher in a Sept. 5 e-mail.
Agreed Blanco communications director Bob Mann: "White House will be thrilled that she left the state. They will eat us for lunch. She cannot snub potus [Bush]."
...Their ideas, according to the e-mails, included having Blanco "put a few bags of ice in the hands of the citizens who need it" and stop "doing too many 'first lady' things."
... "You send that many black folks out of state, we will have a perception problem," Blanco assistant chief of staff Johnny Anderson wrote in a Sept. 2 e-mail.
"Word is already that we are only sending blacks out of this state," Anderson wrote. We are make (sic) a strategic error. FEMA will not have to answer to the people, we will."

Another part of the emails was discussed in Kathleen Blanco is MOVING MOUNTAINS

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