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.The T-P reports “new documents reveal that 28 federal, state and local agencies — including the White House — reported levee failures on Aug. 29, according to a timeline of e-mails, situation updates and weather reports.”
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.
We already know that the day before the storm made landfall, the DHS sent an email to the White House with a warning:
“The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans,” it said. “Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months.”So the White House was informed that a levee breach could happen. They were told by an eyewitness that a levee breach *had* happened, and the report was backed up by over 20 other agencies.
Yet, the President is on record saying:
“I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees got breached...”And trying to explain that remark days later:
Q Did they misinform you when you said that no one anticipated the breach of the levees?First of all, someone *did* anticipate the breach of the levees and notified the White House. And with an eyewitness report of a levee breach and 28 agencies saying the same thing, a lot of people were telling the White House anything but “we dodged a bullet.” How can this President’s comments right after the storm be so removed from what really happened?
THE PRESIDENT: No, what I was referring to is this. When that storm came by, a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When that storm came through at first, people said, whew. There was a sense of relaxation, and that's what I was referring to. And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. And that was what I was referring to.
Of course, there were plans in case the levee had been breached. There was a sense of relaxation in the moment, a critical moment. And thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Virginia), chairman of the special House committee investigating the hurricane response, analyzes the situation:
"The president is still at his ranch, the vice president is still fly-fishing in Wyoming, the president's chief of staff is in Maine," Mr. Davis said. "In retrospect, don't you think it would have been better to pull together? They should have had better leadership. It is disengagement."Disengagement is a heckuva way to lead.