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"KATRINA ACCOUNTABILITY REPORT"
Feb. 16, 2006
Gerry M. Kaye
WASHINGTON - "The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans," said the "Katrina Report", written by a Republican dominated special House committee chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
"Passivity did the most damage," concluded the report,...The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are."
The deaths and suffering of thousands of Hurricane Katrina's victims might have been avoided if the government had heeded lessons from the 2001 terror attacks and taken a proactive stance toward disaster preparedness, a House inquiry concludes.
But from President Bush on down to local officials there was largely a reactive posture to the catastrophic 8/29/05 ( warning-8/28/05) storm, even when faced with early warnings about its deadly potential.
Describing similar delays, the report concludes that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin waited until too late to order a mandatory evacuation of the city. Despite warnings of Katrina's potential destruction 56 hours ahead of landfall, the evacuation order came only 19 hours before Katrina hit.
Charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross were described as overwhelmed by the sheer size of demands, leading to water, food and other supply shortages and disorganized sheltering processes.
A 520 page report, titled: "A Failure of Initiative"- C-SPAN, has been released with the hard-hitting findings allocating blame to state and local authorities and concluded that the federal government's single largest failure was in not recognizing Katrina's likely consequences as it approached. That could have prompted a mobilization of federal assets for a post-storm evacuation of a flooded New Orleans, the report said, meaning aid "would have arrived several days earlier."
It also found that Pres. Bush could have speeded the response by becoming involved in the crisis earlier and says he was not receiving guidance from a disaster specialist who would have understood the scope of the storm's destruction. "Earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response," the inquiry concluded.
White House spokesman Allen Abney declined to comment. White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend said Bush was "fully involved" in Washington's preparations and response to Katrina.
The inquiry into one of the nation's worst natural disasters looked at everything from the evacuation to the military's role to planning for emergency supplies and in each category found much to criticize. The House study is the first to be completed in a series of inquiries by Congress and the Bush administration into the massive failures exposed by Katrina.
Katrina left more than 1,300 people dead in Louisiana, countless yet missing, Mississippi and Alabama, hundreds of thousands homeless and tens of billions of dollars worth of damage. Bush has accepted responsibility for the federal government's shortfalls, but the storm response continues to generate finger pointing.
Some of the response failures dated back to months and even years before Katrina hit, the report found. A lack of warning systems for levee failures delayed their fast repair and poor communications equipment prevented federal, state and local emergency responders from coordinating their counterattack.
Moreover, federal agencies, including the Homeland Security Department, were unclear about their responsibilities under a national response plan issued a year ago. And lessons learned from Hurricane Pam, a fictional storm designed to test Gulf Coast preparedness, went unheeded even though officials knew of the dangers that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would pose to New Orleans.
Katrina was initially believed to be a Category 4 storm when it hit, but weather experts have since said it was likely a Category 3.
Despite its accomplishments, the committee "adopted an approach that largely eschews direct accountability," Melancon and Jefferson said in their assessment.
The report finds fault with Homeland Security Sec. Chertoff for failing to activate a national plan to trigger fast relief, and with Homeland Security for overseeing a bare bones and inexperienced emergency response staff. It found that the military played an invaluable role in the response but lacked coordination with Homeland Security and other relief agencies.
In Senate testimony last week, former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown singled out the Homeland Security Department and its chief, Secretary Michael Chertoff, as a muddled bureaucracy that slowed relief to the Gulf Coast. The White House and Homeland Security responded, describing Brown as a renegade who failed to follow a chain of command.
"None of this had to happen," investigators concluded in reviewing the evacuation effort. "Despite years of recognition of the threat that was to materialize in Hurricane Katrina, no one, not the federal government, not the state government, and not the local government, seems to have planned for an evacuation of the city from flooding through breached levees."
Moreover, federal agencies were unclear about their responsibilities under a national response plan issued a year ago; with lessons learned from Hurricane Pam, a fictional storm designed to test Gulf Coast preparedness, went unheeded.
Describing a similar delayed response, the report concludes that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin waited until too late to order a mandatory evacuation of the city. Despite warnings of Katrina's potential destruction 56 hours ahead of landfall, the evacuation order came only 19 hours before Katrina hit.
The House panel spent five months investigating the failures. It interviewed scores of federal, state and local authorities, sorted through more than 500,000 pages of e-mails, memos and other documents and held nine public hearings spotlighting sometimes feeble explanations by officials.
The House study is the first to be completed in a series of inquiries by Congress and the Bush administration about the massive failures exposed by Katrina.
Though some Democrats, mostly representing Gulf Coast districts, participated in the House inquiry, their party leaders boycotted it, holding out for an independent commission similar to the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Government at all levels took an indifferent stance toward disaster preparations after the 2001 terror attacks, leaving the Gulf Coast vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and contributing to the death and suffering the storm inflicted, a House inquiry concludes.
Finding fault with the White House down to local officials, the 520 page report determined that authorities failed to move quickly to protect people, even when faced with warnings days before the catastrophic storm struck last Aug. 29.
Special Report: "Tracking Katrina".
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C-SPAN- "A Failure of Initiative"
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