Blanco Releases Katrina Records
Sunday, December 4, 2005
Thousands of documents released by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Friday night shed new light on clashes between state officials, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and the Bush administration as they struggled to respond to Hurricane Katrina.
Among the more than 100,000 pages of newly released records, which ranged from after-action reports to hand-scrawled notes written at the height of the storm, are memos showing Blanco frustrated and angered over delays in evacuations and the slow delivery of promised federal aid.
"We need everything you've got," Blanco is quoted in a memo as telling President Bush on Aug. 29, the day Katrina made landfall. But despite assurances from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that 500 buses were "standing by," Blanco's aides were compelled to take action when the FEMA buses failed to materialize, documents show. "We need buses," Andy Kopplin, chief of staff to Blanco, said in an e-mail to Blanco staffers late on Aug. 30, the day after the storm hit. "Find buses that can go to NO [New Orleans] ASAP."
Two days later, on Sept. 2, Blanco complained to the White House that FEMA had still failed to fulfill its promises of aid. While cloaked in customary political courtesies, Blanco noted that she had already requested 40,000 more troops; ice, water and food; buses, base camps, staging areas, amphibious vehicles, mobile morgues, rescue teams, housing, airlift and communications systems, according to a press office e-mail of the text of her letter to Bush.
"Even if these initial requests had been fully honored, these assets would not be sufficient," Blanco said. She also asked for the return of the Louisiana Army National Guard's 256th Brigade Combat Team, then deployed to Iraq.
Tensions between state leaders and the White House seemed at times near the boiling point. At 3:49 p.m. on Sept. 2, after spending three hours to appear with Bush at a Mississippi news conference, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) wrote Blanco's staff, "I am returning home to baron[sic] rouge in hoping I can accomplish something for the people I represent other than being occupied with PR."
He added that Bush's "entire effort on behalf of the federal government has been reflected in his and his people's nonchalant attitude to the people of LA. You may give him this to read."
The documents, which were posted on the Internet late Friday, also provide the most detailed account yet of the harrowing conditions at the storm's epicenter, as state officials and emergency workers fought to retain control amid rising floodwaters and failing communications systems. Their release comes amid new efforts by Blanco to defend her government's much-criticized response to the nation's costliest natural disaster.
Raw and frequently conflicting, reflecting the chaotic conditions in the initial hours after the storm hit, the records paint an intimate portrait of a state struggling to overcome extremes of weather and bureaucratic incompetence as the storm ripped its way across the state.
The documents were prepared in response to requests by two congressional committees investigating the federal response to Katrina. Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said the governor decided to release the documents "publicly not to vindicate herself, but to set the record straight."
"You can see the requests that were made, day after day, hour after hour," Bottcher said yesterday.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she has not seen the documents, but noted multiple reviews of the week of the storm are underway, "and all levels of government have a responsibility to take stock of what happened, act on it, and then make sure it doesn't ever happen again."