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Unanswered: Helicopters fired? Flight suspension order?

According to Shots at helicopters shrouded in a 'fog', the official word from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard is that they haven't been able to confirm any incidents of shots being fired at helicopters. The same goes for "members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations".

The storm created so much confusion that government officials cannot even agree on whether they ever issued an order to halt flights or other rescue efforts...
On the morning of Sept. 1, Mike Sonnier was directing rescue helicopters at his company, Acadian Ambulance, when one of his pilots called to say the military had suspended flights after gunfire was reported in the air near the Louisiana Superdome.
[He shut down flights...] Sonnier said that when he checked with the National Guard about two hours later, he was told it was OK to fly. At that point Acadian resumed operations. Even today, it's not clear whether a military order to stop flying was ever actually made.

Then, they include a USCG quote reprinted in "Sep 1: Charity, University hospitals situation" and say this:

...But that initial report proved hard to confirm. Two Coast Guard spokesmen who were asked in recent days about helicopter shootings said there were no incidents of any Coast Guard personnel or vehicles taking fire.

That's a bit at odds with the previous link.

''We don't know of any shots ever fired directly at us,'' said Capt. Bob Mueller, commander of the Guard's New Orleans station. "But there were a number of reports of shots fired in the air. There were two occasions where all helos were directed to land. I believe those orders came from the Superdome. Our flatboats did stand down Sept. 1.''
Lt. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the National Guard, which was handling Superdome evacuations, said it was a civilian who told guardsmen in the area that shots had been fired. Schneider said flights continued despite the danger...
But a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, contradicted that statement, saying Superdome flights were temporarily suspended because of gunfire.
The confusion affected more than just helicopter crews. Florida Task Force 1 was using boats to reach the stranded but not on Sept. 1.
Because of reports of gunfire, a FEMA support team ordered the Florida task force to stop work for the entire day unless law enforcement protection could be found, task force leader Dave Downey said.
That help never came. Meanwhile, thousands of people were stuck in attics and on roofs of flooded houses in New Orleans.
''We had just had a very successful day before,'' when they rescued 400 people, said Downey, whose crew manned boats. "It definitely slowed down our rescue efforts . . .
...FEMA sent mixed messages in recent days on whether rescue efforts were placed on hold.
''If, on the ground, if they were in middle of a search and they were being shot at, for safety reasons, they may have temporarily put that search on hold,'' said Deborah Wing, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington.
Later, she said by e-mail that no operations were ever suspended, despite "reports of gunfire.''
Some who were in New Orleans that day described moments of real peril. Tyler Curiel, a cancer doctor at Tulane University Hospital, said a sniper shot at him and his military escorts in the street as they evacuated patients from Tulane and Charity hospitals.
Curiel said the gunman was in a nearby parking deck shooting at Charity's emergency room about noon Sept. 1.
One month later, Downey, of Florida Task Force 1, isn't sure the decision to halt operations was the right one...

FEMA pays $100/night for evacuees' motel rooms

In a trip across the country, the most I paid was probably in Boston, and that was, IIRC, $55 at a Motel6. I paid as little as $25 in parts of Texas, and around $30 in other places far from big cities. Despite that, the WaPo offers "Housing Promises Made to Evacuees Have Fallen Short":

Two weeks before President Bush's mid-October goal for moving Hurricane Katrina victims out of shelters, more than 100,000 people still reside in such makeshift housing, and 400,000 more are in hotel rooms costing up to $100 a night.
Housing options promised by the federal government a month ago have largely failed to materialize. Cruise ships and trailer parks have so far proved in large part to be unworkable, while an American Red Cross program -- paid for by the federal government -- that allows storm victims to stay in motels or hotels is scheduled to expire Oct. 15. It is projected to cost the Federal Emergency Management Agency as much as $168 million...
...In search of temporary housing immediately after the hurricane, FEMA officials went on a $1.5 billion spending spree, buying out entire dealerships of recreational vehicles and signing contracts for more than $500 million with one manufacturer of mobile homes. But the plan to create "cities" of 500 to 600 RVs across the South has run into major logistical and political problems.
In FEMA lots in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, several thousand trailers stand empty, waiting for the agency to navigate land leases, zoning laws, local opposition and policy questions.
"We have 12,000 mobile homes with no place to put them," said Rosemarie Hunter, a FEMA spokeswoman in Baton Rouge...

NYT on the ice trucks to nowhere

The NYT offers "Stumbling Storm-Aid Effort Put Tons of Ice on Trips to Nowhere", reporting on the vagabond FEMA ice trucks:

In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Kostinec's government-ordered meandering was not unusual. Partly because of the mass evacuation forced by Hurricane Katrina, and partly because of what an inspector general's report this week called a broken system for tracking goods at FEMA, the agency ordered far more ice than could be distributed to people who needed it.
Over about a week after the storm, FEMA ordered 211 million pounds of ice for Hurricane Katrina, said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which buys the ice that FEMA requests under a contract with IAP Worldwide Services of Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Officials eventually realized that that much ice was overkill, and managed to cancel some of the orders. But the 182 million pounds actually supplied turned out to be far more than could be delivered to victims.
In the end, Mr. Holland said, 59 percent of the ice was trucked to storage freezers all over the country to await the next disaster; some has been used for Hurricane Rita.
Of $200 million originally set aside for ice purchases, the bill for the Hurricane Katrina purchases so far is more than $100 million - and climbing, Mr. Holland said. Under the ice contract, the government pays about $12,000 to buy a 20-ton truckload of ice, delivered to its original destination. If it is moved farther, the price is $2.60 a mile, and a day of waiting costs up to $900, Mr. Holland said.
Those numbers add up fast, and reports like Mr. Kostinec's have stirred concern on Capitol Hill, as more wearying evidence of the federal government's incoherent response to the catastrophe.


Allbaugh: DHS merger hurt FEMA

The article "FEMA troubles no shock to previous chief" reports the thoughts of former head of FEMA Joe Allbaugh:

[He says:] "FEMA has been broken for quite some time..."
The FEMA that he directed did a good job responding to the 9-11 terrorist attacks four years ago, he said. But now it suffers as one of 22 agencies rolled into the new Department of Homeland Security.
"Functions have been moved out of FEMA. Budgets have been cut and used elsewhere," he said. He added that moving FEMA into Homeland Security had added a "couple of layers" of bureaucracy.

The DHS reponds that the move got rid of redundant functions.

...After years of dealing directly with Mr. Bush, the new department structure would add just "further layers" of bureaucracy between him and the president, Mr. Allbaugh said.
"It just didn't make any sense to me," he said...


His business, the Allbaugh Group, represents a pair of large engineering and construction companies - the Halliburton subsidiary KBR and the Shaw Group - that could gain from Katrina work. He said he doesn't lobby for them but rather does special projects and long-term strategic planning. It wouldn't bother him, he said, if there were lifetime lobbying bans for those who served in high government posts.
"It wouldn't hurt me - no skin off my nose or money out of my pocket," he said, "because it's not what I do."

Coburn, Obama want Carnival answers; Greece offered free ships?

Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) want answers on the DHS paying $192 million to Carnival Cruise Lines for ships which are now barely unused:

"Even if the Carnival contract were a good one - and it almost certainly is not - it is inexplicable why FEMA would fail to implement the Greek governments offer of free cruise ships," the senators wrote.
Greece on Sept. 4 offered to donate two cruise ships to the United States as part of humanitarian aid for Katrina evacuees, according to the European Union.
Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA, said the agency signed an initial deal with Carnival by Sept. 3 - before the Greek offer. He said he did not know when FEMA officials subsequently became aware of it.
Once FEMA officials did find out, they chose to move forward with the Carnival deal because it was not known how quickly Greece could provide the ships, Kinerney said.
John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said the senators want to know exactly when FEMA became aware of Greece's offer and why the agency hasn't tried to back out of the Carnival deal, particularly since the ships are hardly being used.


Is FEMA overpaying for roofing?

FEMA is paying contractors an average of $2480 to nail down blue tarps on damanged roofs. It's a two-hour job, and FEMA is providing the tarps for free. A company in Austin says they'd do the job for just $300: "Fixing roofs on Gulf Coast proves costly for taxpayers".
The contractors point out that they have to provide food and housing for their workers and thus have a very large overhead.
Let's assume that one crew can do three jobs in one day, and they have 10 people per crew. That would make the overhead $600 per person per day. What do you think?
UPDATE: Some of these workers are illegal aliens, making that a double-slap in the face.


"Brown told FEMA computers were inadequate"; AP bias

This report from the AP's Lara Jakes Jordan (click her name for more on that AP reporter) has some news, but let's see if we can spot some opinion:

WASHINGTON - Former FEMA director Michael Brown was warned weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit that his agency's backlogged computer systems could delay supplies and put personnel at risk during an emergency, according to an audit released Wednesday.
An internal review of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's information-sharing system shows it was overwhelmed during the 2004 hurricane season. The audit was released a day after Brown vehemently defended FEMA for the government's dismal response to Katrina, instead blaming state and local officials for poor planning and chaos during the Aug. 29 storm and subsequent flooding.

Blort! My opinion meter pegged with that last bit.

In an Aug. 3 response, Brown and one of his deputies rejected the audit, calling it unacceptable, erroneous and negative.
"The overall tone of the report is negative," wrote FEMA chief information officer Barry C. West in an Aug. 3 letter that Brown initialed.
"We believe this characterization is inaccurate and does not acknowledge the highly performing, well managed and staffed (informational technology) systems supporting FEMA incident response and recovery."

As a computer pro, I need a bit more information to judge what's going on. However, the report mentions "backlogged" systems. That would appear to be a human or human-resources problem, and not one specific to the actual computer systems.

The Rita Commission?

Some are complaining about FEMA's response to Hurricane Rita. A Houston evacuee center - originally for Katrina victims - reopened today, but was shortly shut down when some of the hundreds in line began fainting from the heat (about 90 degrees).

[FEMA spokesman Justin] Dombrowski said FEMA is asking refugees who do not need help right away to wait a few days. He also encouraged refugees to register with FEMA by telephone or the Internet.
Local officials, including Port Arthur Mayor Oscar Ortiz and Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith, whose county includes Beaumont, said FEMA's response has been inadequate.
Griffith said he has asked [Texas Governor Rick] Perry to set up a commission to study the emergency response to Rita. Congress is holding hearings this week on the federal government's response to Katrina.
FEMA spokesman Ross Fredenburg in Austin said communications between Austin and rural East Texas have been troubled, in part because of power problems. But he said FEMA had set up 27 distribution points in 27 southeastern Texas cities.
"I don't know what could have been done better since the materials were in place before the hurricane," Fredenburg said. "We're doing everything we can to get water and ice to whomever remains."
About 432,000 customers were without power in Texas on Wednesday.
To get the power back on in Southeast Texas, Perry asked the U.S. Department of Energy to sign a waiver allowing Entergy to plug into CenterPoint Energy's power source on the state's main electric grid and transmit it from Houston into the affected areas.
Entergy is not usually hooked up to Texas' main grid, its whole service area loses power when one part sustains significant damage.
Once the temporary lines are in place, much of Entergy's service area will regain power immediately, said Paul Hudson, chairman of the state's Public Utility Commission.
But it could take three to four weeks to restore power in the hardest hit areas, where nearly all transmission lines are down and homes are so damaged they can't safely receive electricity, Hudson said.

Is FEMA overpaying Carnival Cruise Lines?

FEMA has a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to use three cruiseships until February. The cost: $192 million, plus $44 million for fuel and other costs. That works out to over $10 million per ship per month.
And, that sounds excessive to California's gift to the world, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, as well as to Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave (R-CO). They want to see the contracts: "FEMA ship deal under scrutiny".

many evacuees told FEMA they had become afraid of the water after escaping Katrina's floods and wanted no part of a ship.

Well, I know they've experienced trauma and all, but: awwwww.

''Many of the berths are going unfilled, which could make the costs per person extraordinarily high,'' Waxman wrote Friday to Chertoff. ``Even if all the berths were filled, the cost for a family of five appears to exceed $20,000 per month. This would appear to be far more than other options, such as providing community-based housing.''
[CCL president Bob] Dickinson said the deal merely compensates Carnival for money it otherwise would have made and could result in a fourth-quarter loss of about $20 million.


Did Blanco tell people to ignore Mike Brown's evacuation warnings?

This is easy enough for some to check, and hopefully someone will leave a comment. From the transcript of Michael Brown, former head of FEMA:

[REP. STEPHEN BUYER (R-IN)]: ...Three days before Katrina made landfall, you were on CNN telling people to get out of New Orleans. Is that true?
BROWN: I don't recall if it was CNN. I was just doing show after show getting that message out.
BUYER: But is it true that you were telling people in advance then to get out of New Orleans, advance of the governor and the mayor of New Orleans?
BROWN: As I recall my interviews, I basically said I didn't care what the governor -- or regardless of what the governor or mayor were saying, if I lived in New Orleans, I would be evacuating.
BUYER: Is it true that shortly after you were on television asking people of New Orleans to evacuate, the governor of Louisiana went on television to say to ignore what you had said, that this is strictly voluntary? Do you know whether or not that is true?
BROWN: The sequence of events as I recall them is that I was in the FEMA studio doing those interviews. I made that statement. I had been trying to reach the governor that morning, was told by my office that they had -- the operations center -- they had finally gotten a hold of her. So I talked to her either in the studio or the operations center and told her what I had said and, you know, Are you going to order mandatory evacuation?
And her response was that she didn't know yet. She was going to talk to the mayor and they were going to issue some sort of proclamation or statement.
BUYER: So you're not aware of whether the governor of Louisiana went on TV to tell her people of Louisiana to ignore what you had said?
BROWN: I don't know that she said ignore. I do know that she went on television and said, you know, I would encourage people to leave.

So, what is it?


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