Bodies of people killed by Hurricane Katrina went uncollected for more than a week in the New Orleans area as the federal government waited for Louisiana's governor to decide what to do with them, according to memos released Thursday by a Republican-led House committee.
The 38 pages of e-mail between FEMA representatives and Pentagon officials contradict the contention by Louisiana's Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, two weeks after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, that the federal government was moving too slowly to recover the bodies...
The memos indicate that morgues were not ready to receive bodies until Sept. 7 - two days after the first memo complaining about Blanco's inaction, and nine days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast...
..."This issue must be addressed, and frankly, there is operations paralysis at this point," [Army Col. John J. Jordan, the military assistant to former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown] wrote [in a Sep 5 email]. "FEMA is pushing state to see what they want to do, and indications are that governor is involved in some of the decisions," especially regarding burial.
"Believe organized collection must begin today once morgue is operational or it will become evident to media that plan for collection is not in place," Jordan wrote in the e-mail, which was sent to Brown and Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, the military coordinator for the disaster.
But the morgue did not open until two days later, according to the Sept. 7 e-mail from Jordan.
"First morgue site is fully operational," Jordan wrote to the Pentagon officials. "...Believe media and family member interest will continue to cause security concerns."
Nearly a week later, on Sept. 13, Blanco lashed out at the federal government, accusing it of moving too slowly in recovering the bodies and saying it was disrespectful to wait so long.
Blanco spokesman Bob Mann said Thursday it was FEMA's responsibility for removing bodies, which was delayed because the agency failed to sign a contract with Houston-based Kenyon International Emergency Services to do so.
Blanco "was almost literally jumping up and down and screaming about FEMA's failure to execute the contract with Kenyon," Mann said. "There were few things during that period that were more important and more urgent to the governor than doing something about this body removal. It was important to her that these people be treated with dignity, that these bodies not be allowed to lay out in the street."
"Yes, there was paralysis, but it was on the part of FEMA," Mann said.
Kenyon International's president Robert Jensen said in a telephone interview Thursday night that it was his company's decision not to sign a contract with FEMA. He declined to give reasons, other than to say that money was not the issue. Kenyon later accepted a contract with the state...